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Insights into Editorial: Giving shape to an elusive strategic concept

Insights into Editorial: Giving shape to an elusive strategic concept


In his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff to provide “effective leadership at the top level” to the three wings of the armed forces, and to help improve coordination among them.

Appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), is one that could have a far-reaching impact on the management of defence in India.


About office of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS):

In most democracies, the CDS is seen as being above inter-Service rivalries and the immediate operational preoccupations of the individual military chiefs. The role of the CDS becomes critical in times of conflict.

Most countries with advanced militaries have such a post, albeit with varying degrees of power and authority. The United States Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), for example, is extremely powerful, with a legislated mandate and sharply delineated powers.

The CDS is a high military office that oversees and coordinates the working of the three Services, and offers 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, “joints manship” in operations.


At present National Security Adviser advises India’s Prime Minister on military matters:

This has been especially so after the Defence Planning Committee was created in 2018, with NSA Ajit Doval as its chairman, and the foreign, defence, and expenditure secretaries, and the three Service Chiefs as members.

Now, Sources said the CDS will handle all tri-service issues and push for “greater jointness” among the Army, Navy and IAF, which often pull in different directions without any inter-service prioritisation, to systematically build the country’s military capabilities within budgetary constraints.

While implementing this reform, we should also focus on the important objective of indigenisation.

India is still among the top arms importers. This abject dependence on other countries, for weapons systems, components and even ammunitions, does not befit an aspiring great power.

There must be procedures and practices to ensure that every acquisition is structured in a way as to strengthen our indigenous technological capacities, in turn aiding defence self-reliance.


Past reports about the post of CDS:

  • The issue of efficient management of the higher defence organisation came into sharp focus after the Kargil war in 1999, when the Subrahmanyam-headed task force was asked to examine questions about the anticipation and detection of Pakistani intrusions in Kargil and the military response.
  • The strategic expert and his team highlighted the systemic issues bedevilling our national security structures, which included poor coordination and technological inadequacies.
  • On its recommendations, the Government tasked a Group of Ministers (GoM) in the early 2000s to undertake a review of national security management.
  • Their recommendations covered intelligence, internal security, border management and defence.
  • These resulted in an overhaul, which included the appointment of a National Security Adviser, a strengthening of intelligence coordination mechanisms, upgrading the technological capacity of security agencies, and sharpening institutional responses to traditional and emerging internal security challenges.
  • Defence management was the one area in which the implementation of the GoM’s recommendations was disappointing.
  • The intense rivalry and turf wars among the Army, Navy and IAF also put paid to all such plans.
  • In 2012, the Naresh Chandra Taskforce pitched for a permanent chairman of the chief of staff committee (PC-CoSC) a diluted version of the CDS with a fixed two-year tenure.
  • The CoSC currently comprises the three service chiefs, with the most senior among them acting as its ex-officio chairman till he retires.


Importance of CDS office post:

The first proposal for a CDS came from the 2000 Kargil Review Committee (KRC), which called for a reorganisation of the “entire gamut of national security management and apex decision-making and structure and interface between the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces Headquarters”.

Although the KRC did not directly recommend a CDS that came from the GoM it underlined the need for more coordination among the three Services, which was poor in the initial weeks of the Kargil conflict.

The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) Report pointed out that India is the only major democracy where the Armed Forces Headquarters is outside the apex governmental structure.

It observed that Service Chiefs devote most of their time to their operational roles, “often resulting in negative results”.

Long-term defence planning suffers as day-to-day priorities dominate. Also, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister do not have the benefit of the views and expertise of military commanders, in order to ensure that higher level defence management decisions are more consensual and broadbased.

The CDS is also seen as being vital to the creation of “theatre commands”, integrating tri-service assets and personnel like in the US military.

India has 17 Service commands at different locations and duplicating assets.

In 2016, China integrated its military and other police and paramilitaries into five theatres from the earlier seven area commands, each with its own inclusive headquarters, one of which has responsibility for the Indian border.

In contrast, India’s border with China is split between the Eastern, Western, and Northern Commands.



From an operational perspective, the concept of military conflict today extends beyond land, air and sea, into the domains of space, cyber, electronic and information.

In his announcement on the CDS, the Prime Minister mentioned past reports on defence reforms, the transforming nature of military conflict, the impact of technology and the need for modernisation, coordination and jointness.

This leads to hope that the GoM recommendations of 2001 will be implemented.

If carried out objectively, undistorted by turf considerations, this long-awaited reform would soothe frictions in civil-military relations and bring greater efficiency, transparency and accountability into decision-making on defence matters.