Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat is working on a timeline for the rollout of joint commands of the Army, Navy and Air Force beginning with an Air Defence Command.

  • The old civil-military relationship has been reformed, with far greater powers in decision-making now being given to the armed forces.

About CDS: The CDS is a high military office that will oversee and coordinate the working of the three Services, and offer seamless tri-service views and single-point advice to the Executive (in India’s case, to the Prime Minister) on long-term defence planning and management, including manpower, equipment and strategy, and above all, “jointsmanship” in operations.

Background of CDS in India-

  • The defence ministry is the chief link between the government and the armed forces. 
  • Civilian control over the military: Pakistan’s misadventures with military coups made the civilian leadership even more keen to ensure the separation of army and politics.
  • After Kargil war: The clamour for a chief of defence staff returned again after the Kargil war of 1999, where the lack of coordination between the army and the air force was criticised.
    • The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) came up with the proposal of CDS in 2000 for the first time and called for apex decision-making and structure and coordination between the three services.
    • Naresh Chandra committee recommended for the Appointment of a Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), There was no consensus on the creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)
    • A committee headed by Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar had earlier recommended three new commands: Northern, for China; Western, for the Pakistan border’ and Southern, for maritime security.
    • The government created the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) in late 2002 in preparation for the post. However, this has remained yet another vague department.
    • Finally, in 2019, The Union Govt. approved to create the post of Chief of Defence Staff in the rank of a four-star General with salary and benefits equivalent to a Service Chief.
  • In India, there is also a post named as the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CSC). The senior-most among the three Service Chiefs are chosen as head of the committee.
  • The United States has such a post named as chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC). The committee includes members of the chiefs of the United States Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and National Guard.

Need for CDS in India

The underlying rationale for appointing a CDS is to separate management and command of the Armed Forces. 

  • Better coordination among the three Services:
    • India is the only major democracy in which the Armed Forces Headquarters is outside the apex governmental structure.
    • The CDS office will help in planning, procurement, training, budgeting, and logistics among the Army, Navy and IAF
    • Removing the fragmented approach: Our entire military power will have to work in unison and move forward.  
    • Resolving problems with Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) post- CoSC is a toothless office because of its structure as a “figurehead”.

Perks and retirement of CDS

  • CDS will have salary and perquisites at par with the three services chiefs.
  • The Centre notified the retirement age for the CDS as 65 years, which will be three years more than the retirement age of the three service chiefs.

Role of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) : Fundamentally, the CDS will perform two roles, as the single point military advisor to the Defence Minister and as head of the Department of Military Affairs (DoMA).

  • First role: The CDS will act as the principal military adviser to the defence minister on tri-Services issues.
    • The three Chiefs will continue to render advice to the defence minister on matters pertaining exclusively to their service. 
    • The CDS is also vested with the authority to provide directives to the three chiefs.
    • He has no military command over the other services and can only advise the government on matters that concern all three services.
  • The second role: Additionally, the CDS will lead the Department of Military Affairs (DoMA) dealing with the three services. 
    • CDS will enjoy the rank of Secretary within the DoD and his powers will be confined to only the revenue budget. 
    • CDS is vested with the authority in prioritising inter-service procurement decisions as Permanent Chairman-Chiefs of Staff Committee. 
    • The CDS as the PC-COSC would administer all tri-Services organisations including the Strategic Forces Command that function under the Nuclear Command Authority. 
    • While the CDS does not enjoy any command authority, in its capacity as DoMA, it will wield control over issues governing promotions, travel, appointments to key posts, and overseas assignments. 

Why the dual role- A chief as well as an adviser? - There is a need for the CDS to act as a bridge between the political leadership and the military instrument, which has to encompass the shaping of the military through long term plans that are guided politically. 

Functions of CDS-

  • Promoting joint manship: This ‘single-point military adviser’ will be able to analyse the operational strengths and weaknesses and the interdependence of each of the services on the other to meet the complex emerging challenges in a nuclear environment.
  • Conceptualize and implement the transformation of the forces into theatre commands.
  • Optimize defence economics and make expenditure more effective as CDS will also be in charge of defence procurements under the revenue budget.
  • CDS will be member of Defence Acquisition Council and Defence Planning Committee: His role is to ensure that acquisitions do not exceed capital allocations.
    • It will be confined to the acquisition matters exclusive to each service. 
    • The Department of Defence (DoD) will continue to control  the procurement of big-ticket items such as warships or fighter aircraft, 
  • As the head of the Department of Military Affairs (DoMA) dealing with the three services. 
    • As head of department, the CDS will now be answerable to Parliament
    • Function as the Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority.


About India’s Nuclear Command Authority

The Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) of India is the authority responsible for command, control and operational decisions regarding India's nuclear weapons programme.

  • In 2003, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) constituted the Political Council and the Executive Council of the NCA. 
  • The Executive Council gives its opinion to the Political Council, which authorises a nuclear attack when deemed necessary. 
  • While the Executive Council is chaired by the National Security Advisor (NSA), the Political Council is chaired by the Prime Minister.
  • Earlier, without the CDS and the post of Chairman COSC being rotational, with some even having tenures of a month or two coupled with the prime responsibility of being Chief of Service, the required oversight of the Strategic Forces was perforce weak. 


What is the military restructuring plan of CDS?

  • The CDS has planned to form - six to nine commands. 
  • There will be two functional commands as well. 
  • A proposed Logistics Command will bring the logistics of all the service under one person, and the CDS is also planning for a Training and Doctrine Command so that all services work under a common doctrine and have some basic common training.
  • A study for a proposed Air Defence Command has already been initiated.
  • Not all naval resources will be given to the Air Defence Command, nor will all resources of the Air Force come under another proposed command, Peninsula Command, for the coasts. 
  • The Peninsula Command would give the Navy Chief freedom to look at the larger perspective in the entire Indian Ocean Region in which China’s presence is steadily increasing


  • Resistive nature of militaries for transformation: The CDS has to restructure the military commands into appropriate theatre or joint commands for which a critical prerequisite is ‘joint manship — a term that envisions the various arms of the armed forces working in unison towards a goal. 
  • The failure of the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command: the first tri-service command was set up in 2001 to focus on India’s interests in southeast Asia and the Strait of Malacca. The three services did not want to share their assets, and did not post their best officers on it.
  • The formation of one peninsular command not good enough as Indian Navy has to look Asia-Pacific region and align with the Quad of  India, the U.S., Japan and Australia.
  • Under the DMA, the military has been asked to perform complex administrative roles, professional military education within the armed forces is not up to the mark for taking adminstrative decisions.
  • Pruning the manpower in the Indian Army:  As it is a manpower-intensive fighting force, pruning the number of personnel in the Army will remain perhaps the most vexing challenge for possibly the entirety of Gen. Rawat’s tenure.

Presently, the Indian Army has 1.25 million troops. The army has the biggest share of the annual defence budget. But 83% of its outlay is meant for revenue expenditure that is for day-to-day running costs and salaries and merely 17% is left for modernisation.

  • The armed forces’ slow modernisation, mainly due to the financial crunch, is dangerous for the country’s national security. With a poor tooth-to-tail ratio, the army is not fully geared to effect swift high-voltage strikes.
  • Suspected bias: The CDS is from the Indian Army. If he privileges support for the Army, his parent service, he is likely to put himself on a collision course with the Naval and Air Force chiefs. 
  • Possible friction with the defence secretary: The Ministry of Defence (MoD) bureaucracy was unwilling to give up its power over the three Services. Like all other service chiefs, he will have the seniority of a cabinet secretary, which means he will outrank the defence secretary. 
  • The CDS is dual-hatted
    • Often, the Chief of Defence Staff will have to wear two hats simultaneously as part of the Defence Planning Committee headed by the NSA and Defence Acquisition Committee headed by defence minister. 
    • It will have to consider contentious issues initially at the inter-service level as PC-COSC, and thereafter as CDS at the departmental level. 

Way forward: We need a clear, realistic vision document about what our strategic interests are, and flowing from that, specific roles that the theatre commands need to be performed.

  • How do you allocate the resources, the permanent resources that need to be allocated, to a theatre command?
  • Sufficient tenure: It is also necessary that the first incumbent is given a term of three years so as to be able to carry the ambitious vision laid out in the cabinet note through to its conclusion. 
  • Trimming Indian Army’s huge work-force: This will demand innovation, given the fact that infantry-based operations geared for counterinsurgency warfare, are manpower intensive.
  • Indigenization: the capital-intensive services should rally behind a committed enterprise to support the native Research and Development for production and eventual deployment of weapons systems, which when procured from abroad drive a massive hole in the budget.
  • The defence ministry needs economists: It has many accountants and finance professionals, but the country is yet to see a defence economist in the government.
  • Provision for allowances: The job is strategic, requires personal supervision. Given the challenges and the limited time-frame within which to accomplish it, allowances will have to be made for attendant hiccups.
  • DMA’s focus on military-specific issues: the defence secretary and the CDS will have to work out the division of responsibilities, and that would not be an easy task for overlaps are inevitable at the departmental level and may require political intervention to resolve. 
  • Greater investment in Artificial Intelligence (AI): The application of AI technology is likely to lend itself to tanks and artillery systems, as is visibly evident from the vigorous pursuit of AI by China’s People’s Liberation Army.
  • Changing the civil-military balance: If done correctly, it will address some of the grievances of the Armed Forces pertaining to their status vis-a-vis the civil services. For example, A civil service recruit becomes a district magistrate in six years but an army recruit gets independent charge only after 18 years of service.
  • Promoting jointmanship: With information, cyberspace and space becoming military domains already, the jointness which is required surpasses merely getting the groups in uniform together.
  • Forming Theatre Commands would demand a large increase in expenditure with doubtful returns. Before that the government must evaluate the efficacy of the current Integrated Defence Headquarters including the two joint commands — the Strategic Forces Command and ANC (Andaman and Nicobar Command).
  • Founding the National Defence University: as the armed forces are not experts on higher education, we need to have a greater discussion among civilian policymakers, academics, military officers to think about training officers for performing complex decision making role in DMA.
  • Right now, the political leadership has led the way, and one hopes that the military and bureaucratic leadership will follow suit. 

About the current structure of defence forces:

  • There are 17 commands, divided among the three services. 
  • The Army and the Air Force have seven commands each, while the Navy has three commands. 
  • The commands under the Army are Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, Central, Southwestern and the Army Training Command. 
  • The Air Force has Eastern, Western, Southern, Southwestern, Central, Maintenance and Training commands, and the Navy is divided into Western, Eastern and Southern commands.
  • These commands report to their respective services, and are headed by three-star officers. Though these commands are in the same regions, but they are no located together.
  • Tri-services commands:
  • There are two tri-services commands at the moment. 
  • The joint command at the moment, the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), is a theatre command, which is headed by the chiefs of the three services in rotation. It was created in 2001 after a Group of Ministers had given a report on national security following the Kargil War. 
  • The Strategic Forces Command was established in 2006 and is a functional tri-services command.

What are joint commands?

  • It is a unified command in which the resources of all the services are unified under a single commander looking at a geographical theatre. 
  • The three services will retain their independent identities as well.


  • Integration and jointness the three forces: For instance, the head of one of the proposed commands, Air Defence Command, will have under him naval and Army resources, too, which can be used as per the threat perception. 
  • Avoiding duplication of resources: The resources available under each service will be available to other services too strengthening cohesion in the defence establishment.

International best practices: As part of its modernisation drive, China has already slashed its army strength by three lakh troops.