Chief of Defence Staff: Long-pending move

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15 from the ramparts of Red Fort announced the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who will be above the three Service Chiefs. This is one of the country's biggest higher-level military reform to bring in jointness and tri-service integration.

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 increase 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 and other strategic decision making issues.

The government has now asked the defence forces to submit their views on the creation of the new post of CDS for the three defence forces. A high-level committee has been formed by the government to streamline the structure of the new post to be created with defence ministry comprising of bureaucrats and tri-services officers.  

Bureaucratic leadership has always been against the appointment of CDS because their authority gets diluted in the MoD and they have been cleverly advising the political leadership that single-point military advisor may take over the country through a coup.

They perhaps are not aware that the Indian armed forces are purely apolitical and they are seeing ghosts when there are none.  Modi is clear in his thoughts and vision. He is a political leader who is calm under crisis and decisive in action. 

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat is the front-runner to become the first CDS as he will be the senior-most officer in the armed forces after October 1 when the IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa retires. Moreover, the CDS has to be from the Army, which has more than one million troops including aviation corps. 

The entire work on the creation of the new office of CDS has been driven by the National Security Council in consultation and coordination with the Defence Ministry bureaucracy. The move will pave the way for an integrated military, with the CDS being the prime minister's single point person on national defence issues. 
The government has already taken steps like the creation of tri-services agencies such as the Special Operations Division, and cyber and Space agencies for strengthening and working for the CDS.

The proposal for a CDS has been there for two decades. The K Subrahmanyam committee appointed after the Kargil conflict of 1999 to recommend higher military reforms, first made it. The group of ministers under the chairmanship of then deputy prime minister L K Advani had also endorsed the Kargil Review Committee’s report.

Then PM Vajpayee’s Cabinet Committee on Security had also approved the appointment of CDS. However, lack of consensus and apprehensions among services meant it never moved forward.

In 2012, the Naresh Chandra high-powered committee recommended the appointment of a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) as a midway to allay apprehensions over the CDS. The recommendations were biased towards bureaucracy found to be a diluted form of CDS.

The CDS is also one of the 99 recommendations made by the Lt General D B Shekatkar (retd) Committee, which submitted its report on December 2019, and which had 34 recommendations pertaining to the tri-services. Even Lt General D S Hooda, former Northern Army Commander and surgical strike strategist after the Uri episode, recommended CDS when he was detailed by the Congress to frame its manifesto before the elections.

In the absence of a CDS, presently the senior-most 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 B S Dhanoa took over as the Chairman COSC on May 31 from outgoing Navy Chief Adm Sunil Lanba. ACM Dhanoa will retire on September 30 and Gen Rawat too is set to retire on December 31 after three years in office.

All major countries, especially the nuclear-weapon states, have a CDS. The UK, from which the Indian armed forces and the Defence Ministry are modelled, has a Permanent Secretary, equivalent to the Defence Secretary, and also a CDS. The UK Government guidelines state that the CDS is the professional head of the British armed forces and, as military-strategic commander, and is responsible for how operations are carried out. He is also the senior-most military adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister.

Military veterans

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) is a body of senior uniformed leaders in the United States Department of Defence, which advises the President, the Secretary of Defence, the Homeland Security Council and the National Security on military matters.

Military veterans as well as strategic and defence experts hailed Modi’s announcement of creating the post of CDS, saying it was a long-pending move that will help in greater integration of the three services.

General V P Malik, the former Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) who led the force during the Kargil conflict in 1999, described it as a “historic step” that will ensure better jointmanship and multi-disciplinary coordination.

“..This step will make our national security more effective and more economical. It will ensure better jointmanship and multi-disciplinary coordination. Salute!” Malik tweeted.

Admiral Sunil Lanba, former Navy chief and ex-chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, said it is a great step, which was “long overdue”.  

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, former Srinagar Corps commander and Chancellor Jammu University, said, “The PM has made clear one nagging doubt that the CDS will be an appointment above the three Service Chiefs, making it the actual one point to render advice to the government.”

 (The writer is a defence analyst and commentator)

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