Background of Chief of Defence Staff in India

Post of Chief of Defence Staff, A critical analysis

Updated on 11 January, 2020

GS3 Security


  • Outgoing Army chief General Bipin Rawat has been appointed the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), effective December 31.
  • Lt Gen Naravane will be the next Army chief as he is the senior-most officer in the Army after Gen Rawat. 
  • The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister had 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.

Background of CDS in India-

  • Colonial India had a commander-in-chief, who headed the British Indian army. The commanders of the navy and air force were his subordinates.
  • After 1947, the post of a tri-service chief was shelved and the president was made the supreme commander of the armed forces. 
  • The defence ministry was made 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.
  • The Indo-China war triggered a reassessment in civil-military relations with the setting up of committees where military officers could take part in decision making. The armed forces were also given a free hand in tactical matters.
  • 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 among 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)
  • The government created the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) in late 2002 in preparation for the post. However, this has remained yet another vague department.
  • In India, there is 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.


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. 
    • Gen. Rawat will enjoy the rank of Secretary within the DoD and his powers will be confined to only the revenue budget. 
    • However, he 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 his capacity as DoMA, he will wield control over issues governing promotions, travel, appointment 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. 

Perks and retirement

  • 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.

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 he 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. 
  • There can be no doubt that a CDS is also vital for improving India’s nuclear decision-making structure.


About the Department of Military Affairs headed by CDS: The department of military affairs is a new addition to the defence ministry, which already had four departments: the department of defence, the department of defence production, the department of defence.

  • The charter of duties of the DMA was so far looked after by the Department of Defence, which is headed by the Defence Secretary, who is also the secretary in-charge of the Defence Ministry. 
  • Work exclusively pertaining to military matters will fall within the purview of the DMA, while the Department of Defence will deal with larger issues pertaining to defence of the country.
  • The DMA will deal with 
  • the three Armed Forces and their Headquarters 
  • the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), Territorial Army and procurement exclusive to the services 
  • It will not deal with capital acquisitions, which will continue to be dealt with by the Department of Defence under the defence secretary.


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.  All the three (Services) should move simultaneously at the same pace. 
  • Resolving problems with Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) post- CoSC is a toothless office because of its structure as a “figurehead”.


  • 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 ‘jointmanship — a term that envisions the various arms of the armed forces working in unison towards a goal. 
  • 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, including 43,000 officers, divided into six operational/regional commands and one training command. 
  • The army has the biggest share of the annual defence budget -- Rs 1.71 lakh crore out of the total Rs 3.18 lakh crore. 
  • 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. 
  • Fostering better cooperation between the MoD bureaucracy and the services and ensuring that projected and planned acquisitions of the services do not exceed capital allocations.
  • Possible friction with the defence secretary: Like all other service chiefs, he will have the seniority of a cabinet secretary, which means he will outrank the defence secretary.It remains to be seen who will wield more actual influence.
  • Encourage indigenisation to avoid expensive arms’ imports:  Cost saving is not simply about reducing manpower in the Army, it is equally about getting all the services, particularly the capital-intensive services, to rally behind a committed enterprise to support the native Research and Development for production and eventual deployment of weapons systems to avoid expensive imports.
  • Adapting to the dynamic security environment in the region, with the Americans preparing to move out of Afghanistan and the restiveness consequent to the dilution of Article 370.
  • The CDS is dual-hatted
    • Often, the Chief of Defence Staff will have to wear the 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 adjudge contentious issues initially at the inter-service level as PC-COSC, and thereafter as CDS at the departmental level. 
    • This could have been avoided if the relevant component of HQ IDS had become the mainframe for DMA. 
  • Opposition from various quarters- 
  • Ministry of Defence (MoD) bureaucracy was unwilling to give up its power over the three Services and this is a major reason why the CDS idea could not be implemented.
  • The Forces’ Chiefs feel that under a CDS, Services will be rendered virtual nonentities as each Service has its own ethos.
  • The IAF has long argued that the Indian Services are not an expeditionary force like the United States and other western militaries and CDS is a necessity for India.
  • No political guarantee for the CDS office to ensure its effectiveness: The political establishment of Indian is seen as being largely ignorant of security matters and hence incapable of ensuring that a CDS works.

Separation of Army and politics : Decades of careful separation between the government and the army should be maintained. Better coordination between the three forces as well as between the government and the military may be desired.


Other defence-related initiatives 

  • The establishment of an Air Defence Command (ADC): An integrated ADC will enable nationwide coverage, prevent fratricide in the event of war and sustain joint manship in air defence operations. 
  • Four major studies to undertake the overall transformation of the army: The aim is holistic integration to enhance the operational and functional efficiency, optimise budget expenditure, facilitate force modernisation and address aspirations. The overall transformation will also see a reduction in the size of the 1.3 million Army.
    • These include 
  1. Restructuring of Army Headquarters; 
  2. Force restructuring which includes creation of Integrated Battle Groups (IBG); 
  3. The cadre review of officers; and 
  4. Review of the terms and conditions of Junior Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks. 

Army’s first Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs): The key corps of the Army are likely to be reorganized into 1-3 IBGs. Three integrated military Theatre Commands, covering the Northern, Eastern and Southern territory, would subsume all operational functions of the existing 19 predominantly single-service commands in their respective geographical areas. 

About IBGs:

  • An integrated theatre command envisages a unified command of the three Services, under a single commander, for geographical theatres that are of security concern. The commander of such a force will be able to bring to bear all resources at his disposal from the army, air force and navy — seamlessly.
  • The army is raising new IBGs that can mobilise fast and strike hard across the borders with Pakistan and China as part of its ongoing endeavour to reform its entire warfighting machinery and give effect to the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine.
  • Issues with IBGs: The Western militaries call themselves expeditionary forces (our military is termed as defence forces) typically meant to create joint command, not for home-defence but to project their power overseas. We are not an expeditionary force.
  • IAF assets, including special weapons, are limited in number and are distributed across the country making it difficult to triplicate or quadruplicate them to every Theatre Command. 
  • Same is the case with skilled personnel and EW (electronic warfare) and C4ISR (command, control, computers, communications, intelligence and reconnaissance) equipment. 
  • The IAF has a serious shortfall in strength of combat squadrons

Aligning procurements: The Army Head Quarters’ restructuring is the first of the four measures being undertaken as part of the transformation of the force.

  • Under the plan, the Master-General Ordinance will report to the Deputy Chief to bring all ammunition under one head
  • One authority: The Army now has two Deputy Chiefs, one for information systems and training and the other for planning and systems. These functions are being brought under one authority to avoid overlapping. 
  • Improving intelligence: The Directorates of Military Operations, Military Intelligence and Operational Logistics will report to the Deputy Chief (Strategy).
    • A new post of Additional Director-General (ADG), Vigilance, is being created, and he will report to the Army chief.

India's military has initiated the formation of tri-service commands to manage space operations, cyber security, and special forces amid growing regional security threats.

Way forward

  • 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, which a large part of the Army is dedicated to the undertaking, 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 I am 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. Once decided, the Allocation of Business Rules will have to be amended.
  • Overcoming internal resistance to achieving jointness between the Services:  With the dual hatting as CDS and PC-COSC and with the required political backing, it should be feasible now to achieve rationalisation of facilities and major structural reforms like Integrated Theatre Commands.
  • 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).

Right now, the political leadership has led the way, and one hopes that the military and bureaucratic leadership will follow suit. The success of the reform measures would lie in the ability to carry out structural transformation with minimum turbulence. 

International best practices: China’s military reforms 

  • As part of its modernisation drive, China has already slashed its army strength by three lakh troops. 
  • Plus, it has a head start in integration with the PLA, PLA Strategic Support Force, PLA Rocket Force, PLA Navy and PLA Air Force much better integrated under Beijing’s Central Military Commission.

Sources: The Hindu, Indian Express, The Print

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