In one of the biggest decisions for the military, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 15 August 2019 announced the creation of the Chief of Defence Staff to integrate the efforts, training, operations and planning of the three defence services. Modi made the announcement during his address to the nation from the Red Fort on the occasion of the 73rd Independence Day.
  1. The CDS will provide effective leadership and synergise the efforts of the three defence services- army, air force and navy. This is needed to be in sync with the changing times and emerging security threats.
  2. The CDS is the single-point reference to the government on all matters related to the military. The four-star rank officer heads the three services. The services will continue to have their own chiefs, but will report to the CDS.
  3. The need for a CDS was first recommended after the 1999 Kargil War by a high-level committee, which was appointed to review the shortcomings in the security during the conflict. 
  4. A group of ministers examining the required reforms in national security also favoured appointing a CDS. But, the recommendation didn’t transform into action. 
  5. In 2012, the Naresh Chandra task force had recommended creating a permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee
  6. This was to be a four-star rank officer and was being looked in place of the CDS to which there was some resistance. Instead, a Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) was created
  7. The senior-most among the three chiefs is appointed as the Chairman. Currently, it is the IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa. But the Chairman COSC doesn’t have powers like the CDS.
Who is a CDS?
  1. The CDS is meant to be a single-point military advisor to the government, and to coordinate long-term planning, procurements, training and logistics of the three services.
  2. As future wars become short, swift and network-centric, coordination among the three services is crucial. Also as the stress on resources increases and defence budgets remain flat, the way forward is optimisation of resources by joint planning and training.
  3. The CDS, being above the three Service Chiefs, is expected to play this role by optimising procurement, avoiding duplication among the services and streamlining the process. India being a nuclear weapons state, the CDS will also act as the military advisor to the Prime Minister on nuclear issues.
Is this proposal new?
  1. The proposal for a CDS has been there for two decades. It was first made by the K. Subrahmanyam committee appointed after the Kargil conflict of 1999 to recommend higher military reforms. However, lack of consensus and apprehensions among services meant it never moved forward.
  2. In 2012, the Naresh Chandra committee recommended the appointment of a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) as a midway to allay apprehensions over the CDS.
  3. The CDS is also one of the 99 recommendations made by the Lt General D.B. Shekatkar (retd) Committee which submitted its report in December 2016 which had 34 recommendations pertaining to the tri-services.
What is the current status?
  1. In the absence of a CDS, presently the seniormost of the three Chiefs functions as the Chairman COSC. But it is an additional role and the tenures have been very short. 
  2. For instance Air Chief Marshal (ACM) B.S. Dhanoa took over as the Chairman COSC on May 31 from outgoing Navy Chief Adm Sunil Lanba. However, ACM Dhanoa will be in the role for only few months as he is set to retire on September 30 after which the baton will pass to Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat who will then be the seniormost. Gen Rawat too is set to retire on December 31 after three years in office.
How do other countries work?
  1. All major countries, especially the nuclear weapon states, have a CDS. The U.K. from which the Indian armed forces and the Defence Ministry are modelled on has a Permanent Secretary, equivalent to the Defence Secretary, and also a CDS.
  2. The U.K. Government guidelines state that the CDS is the professional head of the British armed forces and, as military strategic commander, is responsible for how operations are carried out. He is also the most senior military adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister.
  3. The Permanent Secretary is the government's principal civilian adviser on Defence, has primary responsibility for policy, finance and planning, and is also the Departmental Accounting Officer.