The Chief of Defence Staff

The Chief of Defence Staff
The Chief of Defence Staff

In 2001, a group of Ministers was set up under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani for analysing the recommendation made by the Kargil Review Committee. After analysing, they proposed the CDS for the first time and said that it must headed by a ‘five-star officer’.

The Naresh Chandra committee set up in 2012made recommendations of creating a ‘Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC)’ as a midway for allaying the apprehensions over the CDS. They recommended that the senior most among the Army, Navy & Air force chiefs would act as the chairperson. In 2015, CoSC was described as ‘unsatisfactory’ & its chairperson as a ‘figurehead’ by then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.

The CDS was also one among the 99 recommendations forwarded by Lt General D.B. Shekatkar (retd) Committee in December 2016 which consisted of 34 other recommendations on matters pertaining to the tri-services. It was in February 2018 when the question on creating the post of CDS came up in the Parliament to which government replied, “Creation of the post of CDS was recommended by group of ministers back in 2001”. A decision in this regard needs to be taken after consultation with political parties.”

Currently, all major countries, especially the nuclear powered states like the US, UK, France, China have a CDS or a post equivalent to the CDS. But what does CDS actually means for the Indian Armed Forces?

What Is The Office Of The Chief Of Defence Staff (CDS)?

The Chief of Defence Staff is a high military office which oversees and coordinates long-term planning, training, procurements & logistics of the three services (Army, Navy & Air Force). Additionally, it would also be entrusted with task of offering seamless tri-service views & single-point advices to the executive (i.e. Prime Minister in case of India). With the advancement in the technology, modern warfare are becoming short, swift & network-centric, hence, it is crucial to have effective coordination among the three services. Also with the increase of stress on resources and defence budget remaining flat, the way ahead is resource optimisation by integrated planning & training.

As the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is above the three service chiefs, its implementation is expected to play a crucial role in optimising procurement, streamlining the processes and evading duplication among the three services. Moreover, India being a nuclear weapons state, it is expected that CDS would play a critical role as the military advisor to the PM on nuclear issues.

The Rationale Behind Having A CDS

What was once desirable has become a pressing necessity now. Horrific incidents of Pulwama & Balakot, the over and again proposal for mediation in Kashmir by the President of US, the imminent withdrawing of US troops from the soils of Afghanistan; which would provide Pakistan & its proxies the leverage for becoming the dominant players in the terrain with possibility of blowback into Kashmir, besides the abrogation of Article 370 & 35A, are a few critical element that has conferred the urgency to take a step like the CDS which would provide a single-point military advice to the government and frame robust defence policies.

Secondly, India’s higher defence management is along the lines of JSOC (Joint Chief of Staff), where the senior most chief appointed as the chairman of JSOC is either from the Army, Navy, or Air Force. The Secretary of Defence works in close liaison with the political executives & armed forces. Moreover the Armed Forces of the country are still deemed to be the ‘Attached Offices’ of MoD (Ministry of Defence) & the responsibility of the country’s defence & security is bestowed on the Defence Secretary.  This creates a lacuna between the military bureaucracy & the civilian. Additionally it is the secretary of the defence who represents the country in all professional symposium & play the role of advisor to the ‘Raksha Mantri’ – this consequently deprives the expert advice of the political executive to the service chief. Hence, there is a critical necessity to cut across bureaucracy& direct one point military advice. Further various elements were introduced through the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) decision which demands for a chief to look at those decisions beyond service loyalties. Thus appointing a CDS would bring in the requisite professional focus.

Third, the MoD is almost without any military professional – the bureaucrats lack military background & hardly have any knowledge or experience in ruling the roost. The head-honchos remain busy in hiding their incompetence & ineptitude under their cocoons & appeasing the political sachems. As a result, India lacks optimisation of national security strategies, indeterminate national security objectives; lack of rationalization & streamlines in higher defence organizations. With the institution of the CDS, it is expected that not only this problems would be eliminated but will also bring in synergies between the three services, coordination joint structures and system to work. It would not only work on the goodwill but also in structural manner with increased efficacy.

Fourthly, when we come across the three services, we see long term integrated perspective plans which require substantive procurement, but there are limited financial resources which require prioritization. But the issue is who to do it? This prioritization issue would only be properly managed & solved by somebody having the knowledge and understanding of the three services and hence CDS was the correct choice.

Apart from all these, there was also a much felt need of an entity that could be able to integrate the capabilities of the Armed Forces, do the networking in terms of system engineering & comprehensive national power and also subsequently deal and efficiently handle structures such as Strategic Force Command, Andaman & Nicobar tri-service theatre command, Nuclear Command Force and Joint Organizations like Defence Cyber Agency (DCA), Defence Intelligence Agency (D.I.A) Information Warfare (IW) branch, Defence Space Agency (DSA) and Armed Forces Special Operation Division (AFSOD).


The demands & challenges confronting a CDS would be the first of its kind that military leadership will face. There is no clear blueprint for the office that would certify its effectiveness. As who would be holding the post of the CDS is going to be announced in December 2019, the tenure and the ambit of the office needs to be decided urgently. It would be tough act to balance the national interest, shed its own service affiliation and look after all the three services’ interests. Additionally, he should have the world view & political awareness necessary for engaging with diverse stakeholders.

The CDS is expected to bridge the lacunas and response time between the three services. It would be too early to predict that whether its creation would lead to an ‘integrated theatre command’, but the immediate tasks should be – enhancing inter services synergy & designing the road map for time bound integration; achieving a seamless integration between the MoD and service headquarters; formulating the operational responsibilities of the tri-service commands and all other agencies; and manoeuvring the inception of the integrated battle groups for numerous contingencies as a precursor to substantiate concept of theatre commands.

Looking into the challenges confronting India, the mere announcement of the CDS would not be enough unless government implement reforms for integrating each services HQ within the Defence Ministry. It is necessary that the services shed their parochialism & get used to work together as a unit. The more early this could be done, the better would be India’s position at confronting its competitors and also in achieving its ambition of becoming a military power from a military force to combat the next generation wars.



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