Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday announced the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who will be above the three Service Chiefs. What does it mean for India and its armed forces. This is one the country’s biggest higher level military reform to bring in jointness and triservice integration.
Who is a CDS?
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. 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.
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?
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.
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.
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 2019 which had 34 recommendations pertaining to the tri-services.
What is the current status?
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. For instance Air Chief Marshal (CM) B.S. Dhanoa took over as the Chairman COSC on May 31 from outgoing Navy Chief Adm Sunil Lanba. However, ACM Dhnoa 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?
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.
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.
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.
What is the way forward?
According to Defence sources, the Defence Ministry will now initiate the process of creating this position and this is expected to take few months.