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Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS): Can it act as a catalyst for further defence reforms? [Mains Article]

The current government has the needed momentum to not just appoint a CDS, but to continue with a top-down reform of national security structures.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
August 21, 2019


  • Why it was in News?
  • What is Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)?
  • Which other countries have CDS?
  • Need for CDS
  • Arguments against CDS
  • What was before the CDS?
  • Background
  • Suggestion
  • Conclusion

Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS): Can it act as a catalyst for further defence reforms?

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Why it was in News?

  • On Independence Day, Prime Minister announced the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).


What is Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)?

  • CDS is the most senior military officer and military adviser to the President, and his remit extends to the National Security Council and the Defence Secretary.


  • CDS oversees and coordinates the working of the three Services: Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force.
  • The CDS is seen as being vital to the creation of theatre commands (all the various arms of the military participate in a single format during wars), integrating tri-service assets and personnel, like in the US military.


  • A single-point military advisor to the government on long-term defence planning and management, including manpower, equipment and strategy.
  • Act as the military advisor to the Prime Minister on nuclear issues.

Immediate tasks for the CDS

  • Improving inter-services synergy and laying the road map for time-bound integration
  • Attaining a seamless integration of the Ministry of Defence
  • Assuming the operational responsibilities for all tri-service commands and agencies
  • Steering the creation of integrated battle groups for various contingencies as a precursor to validating the concept of theatre commands.

Which other countries have CDS?


  • All major countries, especially the nuclear weapon countries, have a CDS.
  • Examples of a CDS exist in many other countries: The Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, the Chief Head of Defence (CHOD) position within NATO countries, the CDS in Sri Lanka and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in Pakistan.
  • The U.K. from which the Indian armed forces and the Defence Ministry are modelled on has a Permanent Secretary, equivalent to the Defence Secretary, and also a CDS.

Need for CDS


  • As the senior most among the three Service Chiefs is appointed as the head of the CoSC, CoSC office lapses with the incumbent’s retirement.
  • The CoSC system is a leftover from the colonial era, with only minor changes being carried out over the years.
  • In 2015, then Defence Minister described the CoSC arrangement as unsatisfactory and said that it did not further tri-service integration, resulting in inefficiency and an expensive duplication of assets.

Arguments against CDS

  • Unlike the United States and other western militaries, the Indian Services are not an expeditionary force, for which a CDS is a necessity.
  • The appointment of a CDS would also lead to theatre commands leading to diminution of individual arm of Indian army’s operational role.
  • India’s political establishment is seen as being largely ignorant of security matters and hence incapable of ensuring that a CDS will work.
  • Militaries by nature tend to resist transformation such as creation of CDS post.
  • An implementation committee has been established comprising the Defence Secretary, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and other that will determine the power of CDS. However, the committee should ideally be headed by a political leader and/or a rank outsider.

What was before the CDS?


  • Before CDS, India had an equivalent of CDS known as the Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), which was recommended by the Naresh Chandra Task Force in 2012.
  • It comprises chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force and the senior-most among them acts as its chairman.


  • In 1947, the Government of India requested Lord Louis Mountbatten to formulate a system of higher defence management for independent India. Their suggestion was to create a Commander-in-Chief for each service, as well as a Chiefs of Staff Committee to coordinate with the centre.
  • However, after independence, this arrangement was discarded in favour of having chiefs of staff for each service (Army, Navy, Air force), with the powers of the Supreme Commander given to the President of India.
  • Following independence, each service was placed under its own Commander-in-Chief, with the title renamed in 1955 to Chief of the Army Staff, Chief of the Naval Staff and Chief of the Air Staff.
  • Till the 1960s, only the Navy and Air Force were headed by three-star officers, while the army was headed by a four-star officer. This ensured the primacy of the army.
  • However, Parity was brought about after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 war with all three services getting four-star chiefs.

Demand for CDS post

  • The need for a unified command was made apparent following the 1962 war against China and the 1965 war with Pakistan.

kargil war Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS): Can it act as a catalyst for further defence reforms?

  • A high-level committee set up in 2000 to examine the gaps in the country’s security system in the wake of the Kargil War in 1999 suggested for the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff as a single-point military adviser.
  • As a result, the government created the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) in 2002, which serve as the CDS’s Secretariat. However, over the past 17 years, this has remained insignificant department within the military establishment.
  • Yet, the proposal of CDS was not accepted due to the fear of concentrating too much military power in the CDS’s post.
  • In 2011, the government set up the 14-member Naresh Chandra Committee on defence and security. The Committee suggested that the Chairman CoSC in the rank of a four-star officer would have a fixed tenure of two years. He would have more powers than the Chairman CoSC.
  • The CDS is also one of the recommendations made by the Lt General B. Shekatkar (retd) Committee which submitted its report in December 2016 which had 34 recommendations pertaining to the tri-services.


  • India should focus equally on the powers and capacity of the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), which will serve as the secretariat to the CDS.
  • In selecting first CDS, the government should not adopt the seniority rule and should instead consider a deep selection from current pool of officers.
  • While choosing the CDS for the first time, an Army officer should not be assigned to this post to lessen the fear of the smaller services. Moreover, it is not necessary for a former service chief to be appointed as the CDS.
  • After creating the post of CDS, the government should look at the relations between the military and the Ministry of Defence, to focus on capacity, expertise, decision-making powers and aligning responsibility.
  • The relations between the civilian bureaucracy and the military are among the biggest fault-lines in the defence sector. Hence, remedial actions are required on both sides, to create a professional and qualified bureaucracy which integrates both civilian-military expertise.


  • Prime Minister’s announcement of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is a landmark shift in policy, answering decades of calls for a single commander of the armed forces.


  • However, the demands and challenges confronting a CDS will be of the kind that the military leadership has never faced before.
  • CDS must have the world view and political awareness necessary to engage with diverse stakeholders. As seen from the Western experience, this will happen only after years of joint-service assignments, an exposure to working with government and educational interludes in a military career.


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