A long-awaited reform in India’s military and higher defence organisation took place on 24 December 2019, when the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally approved the post of Chief of Defence
Staff (CDS). This follows the 15 August 2019 announcement by the Prime Minister in his address to the nation, where he stated that “India should not have a fragmented approach. Our entire military power will have to work in unison and move forward…All three (Services) should move simultaneously at the same pace. There should be good coordination and it should be relevant to the hopes and aspirations of our people. It should be in line with the changing war and security environment with the world…after formation of this post (CDS), all the three forces will get effective leadership at the top-level”.
Political and bureaucratic resistance had earlier stymied these reforms, over the past five decades. There was a possibility of a CDS being appointed post the victory in the Liberation War, but that proposal was scuttled by a recalcitrant bureaucracy. Many years later, at the termination of the Kargil war, The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) was set up by the Government of India, on 29 July 1999 “to examine the sequence of events and make recommendations for the future”.
Following the KRC report, a Group of Ministers (GoM) was set up by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on 17 April 2000 to consider the recommendations of the KRC. The GoM recommended the creation of the post of CDS, and that proposal has finally fructified now.
The post of Chief of Defence Staff has been created in the rank of a four-star General with salary and perquisites equivalent to a Service Chief. The Chief of Defence Staff will also head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), to be created within the Ministry of Defence and function as its Secretary. Apart from being the head of the Department of Military Affairs, the CDS will also be the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He will act as the Principal Military Adviser to Raksha Mantri on all tri-Services matters. The three Chiefs will continue to advise RM on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services.
CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership.
The Department of Military Affairs headed by CDS will look after the following:
- The Armed Forces of the Union, namely, the Army, the Navy and the Air
- Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence comprising Army Headquarters, Naval Headquarters, Air Headquarters and Defence Staff
- The Territorial
- Works relating to the Army, the Navy and the Air
- Procurement exclusive to the Services except for capital acquisitions, as per prevalent rules and
Apart from the above, the mandate of the Department of Military Affairs will include the following areas:
- Promoting jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the Services through joint planning and integration of their
- Facilitation of restructuring of Military Commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through the establishment of joint/theatre
- Promoting the use of indigenous equipment by the
As the Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee, CDS will perform the following functions:
- CDS will administer tri-services organisations. Tri-service agencies/organisations/commands related to Cyber and Space will be under the command of the
- CDS will be a member of Defence Acquisition Council chaired by Raksha Mantri and Defence Planning Committee chaired by
- Function as the Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command
- Bring about jointness in operation, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance, etc of the three Services, within three years of the first CDS assuming
- Ensure optimal utilisation of infrastructure and rationalise it through jointness among the
- Implement a Five-Year Defence Capital Acquisition Plan (DCAP), and Two-Year roll-on Annual Acquisition Plans (AAP), as a follow up of Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP).
- Assign inter-Services prioritisation to capital acquisition proposals based on the anticipated
- Bring about reforms in the functioning of three Services aimed at augmenting combat capabilities of the Armed Forces by reducing wasteful expenditure.
It is expected that this reform in the Higher Defence Management would enable the Armed Forces to implement coordinated defence doctrines and procedures and go a long way in fostering joint manship among the three Services. The country would be benefitted by coordinated action on greater joint manship in training, logistics and operations as well as for prioritisation of procurements.
The job profile as given above is what has been promulgated by the government. It is detailed and fundamentally alters the existing civil-military relationship by making the military central to defence-related and military-related decision making. We now have a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which earlier was tenanted
by the senior-most officer amongst the three service chiefs. This had its drawbacks, as the Chairman had a limited tenure and lacked a clear job profile. The creation of a Department of Military Affairs headed by the CDS makes sense as a great deal of duplication can be avoided and processes streamlined in procurements for the forces and in the execution of works. There will be a better appreciation of the requirements as there will be professional military leadership to guide the process, which hitherto was carried out by civilians who had no ground experience and who had but limited knowledge of the subject.
The Department of Military Affairs (DMA)headed by the CDS will deal with issues that relate exclusively to military matters, while the Department of Defence (DoD) will deal with the larger issues pertaining to the defence of the country. Much greater role clarity is however needed, as perforce, the role of the Defence Secretary will now get diluted. Both the CDS and the Defence Secretary will have direct access to the Raksha Mantri.
As of now, the Department of Defence deals with the three Services i.e Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard. It also deals with the Inter-Services Organisation. It is also responsible for the Defence Budget, establishment matters, defence policy, matters relating to Parliament, defence cooperation with foreign countries, and coordination of all defence-related activities. It is headed by Defence Secretary who is assisted by Director General (Acquisition), Additional Secretaries and Joint Secretaries. Defence Secretary is also responsible for coordinating the activities of the other Departments i.e DDP, DESW and DRDO in Ministry of Defence.
With the CDS heading the Department of Military Affairs, he will evidently deal with most of what is currently being dealt with by the Defence Secretary. Perhaps the role of the Defence Secretary will be restricted to the defence budget, defence policy (In conjunction with the CDS), capital acquisitions, matters relating to parliament defence cooperation with other countries and in coordinating the activities of the other Departments i.e DDP, DESW and DRDO in Ministry of Defence.
It is the job of the CDS to facilitate the restructuring of Military Commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through the establishment of joint/theatre commands. As of now, the CDS has not got any operational role. But this state will have to change in future, once the theatre commands are formed, as the only person who can command such a force is the CDS. There would be a requirement to factor this into account once the theatres are integrated. How this will pan out remains to be seen.
If integrated theatres are formed, a likely scenario could be the formation of four Theatre Commands. One theatre could be on India’s Western land border, dealing with Pakistan and partially with China (where the Union Territory of Ladakh borders Tibet and Xinjiang). The second theatre could be on India’s land border with Tibet in Arunachal Pradesh. This would also look after India’s security interests in Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The third theatre could be on the maritime front, which would include both India’s Eastern and Western sea coasts as also all the Island territories. And the fourth theatre could be an overarching one, covering the air and space above India and would include the cyber domain. These theatres, if formed as suggested here, would have to be commanded by a four-star ranked officer. The job of the CDS would then be overall security coordination and would merit an upgrade to five-star rank.
An important part of the responsibilities of the CDS is his role as the Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority. While nuclear war is but a distant and very unlikely possibility, its occurrence will have very serious consequences for India and indeed for the entire human race. A strong nuclear capability and effective command and control mechanisms are nevertheless vital as a deterrent to potential nuclear attacks against India. The control over the nuclear button will always be with the Prime Minister and its execution a political decision, but the fact that we now have a CDS to advise the political authority on the consequences and implications of the use of nuclear force will ensure that strategic oversight is exercised over the Strategic Forces Command. This indeed is a welcome forward step. In the
event of a conflict, while each theatre commander will be engrossed in his own concerns, it is the CDS who will have the space to look into issues more holistically, from a national and international perspective. This role of the CDS would be vital in providing advice and other inputs to the political authority on the use of nuclear force.
The CDS, as the principal military adviser to the defence minister on tri-Services issues and the three Chiefs, will continue to render advice to the defence minister on matters pertaining exclusively to their service. This is a welcome step. While the CDS will not exercise military command (as of now), while carrying out his functions as the head of DMA, he would most likely be involved during the war in Joint Services operational decision making as PC-COSC (Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee). It thus appears that the CDS will have to adjudge contentious issues initially at the inter-service level as PC-COSC, and thereafter as CDS at the departmental level. He will also be wearing two hats simultaneously as part of the Defence Planning Committee headed by the NSA and Defence Acquisition Committee headed by Defence Minister. This would require to be streamlined as time goes by, based on the experience gained in determining the shortcomings if any. But importantly, the CDS will be a bridge between the political leadership and the military.
A major challenge, which may require political intervention would pertain to the division of responsibility between the CDS and the defence secretary. There would be overlaps, but if the defence of the nation is the real priority of the government, the post of the defence secretary would have to be done away with. It is laughable that even now, the role of the Defence of India has been assigned to the defence secretary. If this has been done to temporarily appease the IAS babus, it is understandable. But if India wishes to be a major player in world affairs, then the CDS must be the prime mover. It would be necessary to abolish the post, or at least place the defence secretary under the CDS. Then India can aspire to be a world power.
A major concern of the CDS would be to internal resistance to change. Undoubtedly, there is a need for joint manship between the Services and for greater integration within the MoD. The CDS, with his dual hat as CDS and PC-COSC and with the required political backing, could make a start in breaking such resistance, but he would require political backing.
Finally, without the DMA, the CDS would have been challenged to fulfil the roles envisaged. With it, the CDS is empowered and structurally positioned to be the prime mover to significantly improve military effectiveness. The first step has been taken, which perhaps is the most significant military decision since independence by the political authority. Time will tell, whether the party in power can walk the talk, or will give way to pressure front the babus, who hold sway over the government. But with the Modi government, there is hope that for the first time since independence, national interests will take centre stage over other issues.