PM Announces Chief of Defence Staff for India: Way Forward for Implementation

The much awaited and overarching role of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is finally on the horizon. But it does put the task more complex with the varied Commands and Agencies within the system. How does the Government make it work with roles and clear cut responsibilities?


Prime Minister Narendra Modi during 73rd Independence Day speech announced  the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for Indian Armed Forces, to further sharpen coordination between the forces. The announcement of much required CDS is a welcomed step towards synergisation of military might of the country, making a single point professional military advice to the decision makers’ possible.CDS is a proven appointment already functional in many democratic countries in different forms; hence will also be successful in India after few teething problems, as it drives support and traction from highest decision making office. The present system of having Chairman Chief of Staff Committee (COSC), who is the senior most Service Chief has not been found very effective to bring synergy in Armed Forces.


The need of such an appointment was always felt, whenever we analysed our strengths and weaknesses after every war from 1962 till Kargil Conflict. It was after this conflict that the Group of Ministers (GoM) Report, after a thorough study recommended it, which was also supported by many subsidiary studies on the subject. One more specific lesson always came out loud and clear after every war, was that the military and political hierarchy were not on common understanding in most cases, credible one point military advice was missing, the joint planning has rarely been optimal and the synergy amongst all the three services, Intelligence agencies, and other elements of the Government was not in the best form. The concept of so called ‘Jointmanship’ did not work well in many cases, and there had been sub optimal utilization of resources including logistics. To set right all the anomalies mentioned above some amount of restructuring at the apex level of military and related bureaucracy will be required to make the appointment of CDS deliver the wide ranging expectations listed for him.

Why Indian Military needs CDS Urgently

Before we propose the charter and role for CDS in India, let us look at the system in some of the other major defence forces.In China, the President being the Commander in Chief of PLA, National Command Centre and heading the Central Military Commission (CMC), the problem of the top decision maker not getting direct professional military advice is not there, but the PLA allegiance to Communist Party of China(CPC) makes it a political Force. In case of US, despite being a multiparty democratic country, the institution of Joint Chiefs of Staff has been in place since 1947, which makes it possible to render one point professional military advice directly to National Decision makers. Unfortunately in India, with undue fear of politicisation of Indian military amongst political class since independence, fueled by growing over-dependence on bureaucrats, the gradual reduction in status, importance, and emoluments(which decide relative status) of military, it got distanced from decision making process for tackling external and internal threats. 

The nation faced the ill effects of this system in 1962 conflict, where the advisors of Prime Minister never conceived and prepared the military and nation for war with China, left the borders undeveloped and unoccupied,leading to historical embarrassment to the nation. To the contrary, during 1971 war, the Army Chief was in direct communication with the Prime Minister, more due to personal equation between them and the results were glorious, but the structured system was not put in place. Later during Kargil intrusion the intelligence failure, equipment shortage and not so perfect bonhomie between the Army and IAF brought victory at a very heavy cost of casualties. These anomalies should get mitigated at the apex level by appointment of a credible, empowered, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), who has the right place in decision making hierarchy to fill this professional military vacuum,so crucial for national defence, with adequate wherewithal.

Proposed Organisation, Roles and Implementation of CDS

To implement the decision of having an effective and functional CDS with minimal teething problems, few basic parameters will have to be applied. We need to make maximum use of existing joint military structures and the changes should not cause such turbulence in the inter se equation of hierarchy, that it does not receive adequate support from existing appointments to make it ineffective. It should bring minimal changes to the existing organizations, status and powers of the Service Chiefs and other affected appointments; yet achieve joint strategic planning and desired integration. The charter of CDS and related bureaucracy has to be clearly laid down to avoid mistrust and ego clashes. The existing CIDS Headquarters and all organizations under CIDS, along with the functions being performed by them should be placed under the CDS. All the current responsibilities of CIDS like Joint Planning & Formulation of Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan(LTIPP), joint intelligence (Defence Intelligence Agency), centralised procurement planning (including allotting inter se priority amongst Services), budgeting, and other similar tasks being performed by CIDS should become part of the responsibilities of CDS. The CIDS should become his Deputy Commander to ensure easy transition.

The National Command Centre should serve as the operational Headquarters for CDS. The existing Andaman and Nicobar Integrated Theatre Command (ANC) and the Strategic Force Command (SFC) should be placed under his command immediately,strategic/nuclear with no change in the existing arrangements for use of strategic/nuclear weapons, which should continue to be controlled by Cabinet Committee on Security, as per the existing arrangements for execution.The proposed Aerospace Command (presently an Agency) encompassing combat elements including military satellites and newly tested space defensive system could be placed under CDS, but ISRO must remain an independent entity as hitherto fore. 

The Cyber Command (which should be upgraded to Information Warfare Command, but presently approved as Defence Cyber Agency), and Special Operations Command (integrating Special Forces Units of all Services) should also be placed under CDS. The basic requisites for this system to work, which exist in some form in US model, could be that CDS should be a four star General, first amongst Service Chiefs, equivalent to Cabinet Secretary, invitee to CCS to start with, so that these appointments do not feel reduction in their status. We need to follow the principle of right professional for right job. The Defence Secretary should continue with existing responsibilities of peacetime policy making, providing wherewithal to Defence Forces and interaction with other ministries as hitherto fore, being best suited for it. The operational matters including rendering military advice to Defence Minister and CCS should be dealt by the CDS, who must be a military professional. 

The National Security Advisor, who presently seems to be having every possible security responsibility including some issues of foreign affairs, should continue to look at overall national security architecture with greater focus towards internal security and coordination of intelligence agencies best suited to him, whereas the CDS should be responsible for Joint operations, Out of Area Contingencies, Military operations other than War (MOOTW) and asymmetric warfare. CDS should have a priority right over military resources, in consultation with Service Chiefs for any type of joint operation. The organizations under CDS should be treated at par with Fourth Service, and his status as first amongst four star Generals.

Integration of Logistics and Training under CDS

At national level there are various ministries looking after various components of logistics, however the coordination for military logistics is being done by Ministry of Defence (MoD). Major military powers across the world have steadily integrated their military logistics for enhancing efficiency and rationalize defence spending. Indian Military has majority of logistics as Service specific component, and a very limited component on Joint logistics like Medical services, MES, DGQA, DRDO and few more organisations, being controlled directly by MoD. This is not a cost effective model. There is a need to introduce incremental changes towards commonality in logistics functions.CDS can be an important bridge between Ministry of Defence and Service Headquarters.The ‘Defence Logistics Cell’ which interacts with respective service Headquarters can be placed under CDS, to coordinate the Integrated Logistics System. There is a crying need for posting some military officers in MoD of each rank for better understanding and accountability.   The Department of Defence Production could have professionals with domain expertise and need to be answerable to CDS, who should be entrusted with monitoring the procurement priorities as per LTIPP for Military. The MoD can pursue procurements as hitherto fore, once the priorities are clearly laid down.  

In Indian military, the level, scale and magnitude of joint training needs to be enhanced. Except for Defence Services Staff College, a small capsule at Army War College, and National Defence College, there is very little joint training being conducted in Services. We need to expand and utilise Tri-Service organisations like CENJOS, USI of India and NDU to organise more Joint Training Courses for all Services to promote integration and jointmanship. This responsibility can be undertaken by CDS and all the institutions mentioned above placed under him.

Should it be linked with Raising of Integrated Theatre Commands?

After announcement of CDS, some views have emerged to link it with conversion of existing 17 Service specific Commands (seven each of Army and IAF, and three of Navy, which are not co-located) into Integrated Theatre Commands under CDS. The idea has derived traction from reorganization of PLA and the existing model of US military. Its applicability to India needs to be objectively analysed.  Any nation needs to have a sound ‘National Security Strategy’ to achieve its national aims. 

The kind of military hierarchy and command structure will then be dictated by the roles assigned, the geography/terrain, the threat envisaged, the technological advancements and all the resources of the nation including economic resources. US has global strategic interest and needs an expeditionary military force capable of global deployment. It has no direct military threat to its mainland (leaving aside terror strikes). 

In 1986, after Goldwater and Nichols Defence Reforms Legislation was passed to ensure closer integration of the US military, leading to evolution of the present structure based in Unified Commands. The five regional unified commands are expected to operate independently, away from the mainland and other commands, generally on expeditionary role in designated areas of the globe, require integrated combat power of the three services, which justifies the need of unified commands. They do require some other force multipliers needed to be controlled centrally; hence they have functional US Space Command, and the Strategic Command. For Special Operations, a Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) is formed to execute operations regardless of their geographical location. The experience of US in operation Anaconda reveals that the unified structures can facilitate forcible co-operation up to a limit, but the true test of actual jointmanship lies in dismantling established mindsets.

In case of China the National interest is to grow economically, and militarily, invest globally to fuel its growth, with an aim to become a Superpower by 2049. In the interim be the most influential regional power; protect its claimed sovereignty, and strategic interests. It also faced a change in threat perception with saber rattling in South China Sea (SCS), East China Sea (ECS) and Taiwan Strait. China with her growing global ambitions, economic muscles and threat perception needs to have global connectivity to offload trade surpluses and over-capacities, security of SLOC for inflow of energy and raw materials. PLA Intent of expeditionary design to increase its global footprints, and protect its SLOC and trade interests globally can easily be inferred from National Military Strategy and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) documents released in 2015. It is because of these expeditionary roles and the distances involved, PLA has adopted the model of Integrated Theatre Commands, because switching of combat resources from one theatre to another may be difficult in their case.China has been able to generate adequate numbers of military hardware required for theatre Commands.  

Problems and Compulsions of India leading to Existing Regional Commands 

India’s National Interest is peaceful development, inclusive growth, and it has indicated no expeditionary interest so far. It needs a grand strategy to have comprehensive national power, to be able protect its strategic interest, strategic choices, sovereignty, maintaining peaceful periphery, and protect its growing area of interest. There being no structured National Security Strategy in public domain, there are many contradictions in decision making for security for the country. 

The contradiction starts from the fact that except for Line of Control with Pakistan, the entire land borders of the country are being manned by Para Military Forces, operating directly under Home Ministry and not Armed Forces/Defence Ministry. The Home Ministry, directly responsible for internal security, is increasingly involved in borders, and conversely the Military is getting increasingly involved in internal security. 

Indian geography/terrain, border commitments, conventional and sub conventional challenges, counter insurgency/terrorism involvements, threat perception and military resources has led to formulation and location of Service Commands in the manner they are currently disposed on ground. Amongst Army Commands, except for Southern Command, not many operations with Navy are visualised, unless some formation is picked up for Out of Area Contingency Tasks or MOOTW. In case of coastal region, a major responsibility of Andaman and Nicobar and islands in Bay of Bengal has been taken away by correctly raising the Integrated ANC. In most cases the Indian Navy is looking after Indian Maritime interest from Malacca Strait to Gulf of Eden, largely with its currently organised Naval Fleet Commands, in coordination with Coastal Guards for coastal security, and Indian Air Force (IAF).

The IAF is working in close cooperation and coordination with all the Army and Naval Commands. In India the existing locations of their Command Headquarters is a compulsion, and its co-location with Army or Naval Commands is not practical due to many reasons. Firstly the IAF has grossly inadequate air resources (approximately 31 Squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons and would be needing more in case of two front war); hence it is not possible to dedicate air resources to all integrated commands. India does not have the luxury of adequate IAF resources to be allocated to Army/Naval Commands ab initio; hence switching IAF resources from one theatre to another is an operational compulsion. 

Secondly the IAF has the flexibility to mobilise the required No of aircrafts at the point of application which is more relevant than the co-location. To coordinate that a skeleton integrated staff has already been co-located with all these Command Headquarters, with some elements at Corps Level. Thirdly the distances in Indian theatres are not as large as US integrated theatres; hence the requirement of co-located Air Force is more critical in their case, in comparison with India. Fourthly the IAF like other Services is a National Resource, which has many other national commitments besides being exclusively available for Army/Naval Commands.

With no major change in geography, border commitments, counterinsurgency/terrorism involvements, threat and military resources we should not disturb the existing structure of Service Commands. We can think of Integrated Theatre Commands after we have adequate air resources and there is a major change in some of the factors mentioned above


The model of having a CDS to give single point military professional advice to the National Decision makers, and having integrated Theatre Commands, has been successful in many countries. Over 70 countries in the world have similar appointment in their military. China has also adopted the idea of Integrated Theatre Commands, but India should adopt only those changes which suit us, in light of our peculiar geography/terrain, threat perception, peculiar challenges, resources and technological threshold. The paper recommends empowered CDS and not glorified CIDS, no change in existing Service Commands for the time being.One major factor which is changing rapidly is technology; hence the paper supports the proposal of Information Warfare Command with Cyber capability as a component, and proposed Space Warfare Command and Special Operation Command.

The views expressed are of the author, who retains the copyright. The author is reachable  asthana_shashi on twitter, and personnel site     email  


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