Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, Army Chief
Bipin Rawat and Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa 

In the history of India’s armed forces, an all-encompassing Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is a path-breaking initiative that would enable the nation to scale new height in national security

While PM Narendra Modi’s announcement on the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff has been welcomed by many, it has also raised certain questions in some sections of the armed forces as well as the general public which this article will attempt to clarify. Some of the questions are: What exactly is a CDS? Where does the idea come from? What is the need for a CDS? Why did we not appoint a CDS until now? What CDS means for the Indian armed forces? What will be his role? Will this also lead to reform in the MoD?


Creation of a CDS was recommended by the Group of Ministers that studied the recommendations of Kargil Review Committee which had recommended structural reforms in the armed forces. The aim was to create a post of CDS to bring in synergy amongst the three services and make him a single point contact for advising government.
Unfortunately, the proposal did not find favour with either the political class or the armed forces and the bureaucracy. Politicians were not inclined to concentrate power in the hands of CDS. Defence ministry officials were worried about the likely change in the civilian-military equation affecting their supremacy. Within the armed forces too, it did not find favour with the Navy and Air Force as they felt that a CDS would bring in total domination by Army.
Indian Armed Forces do have a post of the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) held by the senior-most among the three Service Chiefs. However, the structure and role of CoSC does not permit him to perform the role envisaged for CDS. He remains a “figurehead”. In 2002, the government created the post of an Integrated Defence Staff, which was to serve as the CDS’s Secretariat eventually but no progress was made thereafter. A post of Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, a better version of the CoSC recommended by Naresh Chandra Committee in 2011, could not be implemented due to the pulls and pressures from all the stakeholders.
Even though there is no clear blueprint announced for the office of CDS and the modalities are expected to be finalised in a few months, this announcement by the Prime Minister has removed the misplaced worry of the political class that this would make the military too strong. The bureaucracy is still anxious about the status of the CDS. They will not oppose the establishment of CDS; however, if it affects their seniority status, they would resist.
After initial hiccups about being subsumed by the Indian Army, and that this creation of CDS would
further lead to the formation of Theatre Commands, the IAF has reconciled to formation of the post of CDS.
However, it is still apprehensive of the concept of theatre command. Its stand has been that the size of India, the nature of its adversaries, the type of conflicts envisaged, limited availability of resources and the basic principle of use of air power - indivisibility of Air Power, does not argue well with the Theatre Command concept for India. The IAF’s position is that the entire country could be classified as one theatre. It believes that the wars of this century do demand an integrated approach and that Joint Planning must achieve the integration/ synergy.

Role of CDS

In general terms, CDS is a higher-level appointment which coordinates the working of the three Services, to provide a single point view of the armed forces to the Government. It will provide the Prime Minister and Defence Minister with the views and expertise of military commanders for informed decisions. He is to act as the sole adviser to the government on matters related to all the three services. The tri-service organisations would also function directly under him. The major tasks therefore could be summed up as enhancing the synergy between the three services, integration with the Ministry of Defence and take over the Command of the tri-service organisations – the Andaman Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command. The government will have to lay down his responsibilities towards the other three Agencies formed recently under the service headquarters – Defence Special Forces agency, Defence Space Agency and the Defence Cyber Agency. Modernisation of the armed forces would also be an area of his responsibility.
The exact modalities for the appointment of CDS have not yet been made public. It is not yet clear whether the new CDS will be a five-star or a four-star officer. If he is going to be a four-star officer, will he be the first among equals since the service chiefs are four-star officers? It is also not clear whether the CDS will be at par with or above the Cabinet Secretary. His exact role and responsibilities are also not yet known. Speculations are that he would be a four-star military officer, who would act as the single point adviser to the government on military matters. Whether the creation of CDS will lead to the creation of ‘integrated theatre commands’ is too early to predict.


Deciding the powers and the responsibilities of CDS would be key to the successful implementation of the PM’s decision. It is to be seen how the post of CDS is functionally created, i.e. the precise powers of the CDS in relation to the three service chiefs. The picture will be clear once the Prime Minister approves the modalities. Once established, the CDS would have to detach himself from his own service affiliations that has been built over years and look after the interests of all the three services in a balanced manner. Another important aspect will be to see how the government decides his status vis-a-vis the civilian bureaucracy. Lastly, it is also to be seen whether the government restructures the MoD itself as the mere appointment of the CDS will not be enough.
(The writer is a former Commandant of National Defence College of India and Commander-in-Chief of Andaman and Nicobar Command)