Chief Of Defense Staff And Its Out-Turn On National Security

Chief Of Defense Staff And Its Out-Turn On National Security

Nisha Patnaik_JudicateMe


This Blog is written by Nisha Patnaik from KIIT School of Law, Odisha. Edited by Ravikiran Shukre.



 The Indian military has been held in high respect over the world for their sheer coarseness and assurance. The one perceptible thing in the entirety of India’s outfitted clashes has been the individualistic methodology of each power. The three powers are occupied with various clash zones and have diverse operational belief systems. This accommodation presents the need for the production of the post of Chief of Defence Staff and the operational enhancements that the post would involve. The accommodation additionally investigates the historical backdrop of the post of Chief of Defence Staff, the issues with the production of the post. It additionally looks to the adjustments in the Indian national security strategy that could happen by means of examination with worldwide forces like France, UK and US.


In recent years, the question of national security has been put to debate in many countries like the United States, Turkey and India. Increasing terrorist activities has led to the widening of the scope of national security legislation. This is a direct result of countries becoming more aware and wary of both traditional and non-traditional threats. 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. Effective defence preparedness requires a ‘jointness’ of the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy in incorporating these domains into their war-fighting strategies. It also requires prioritisation of the weapons requirements of the forces and optimisation of their resource allocations based on a clearly defined national defence strategy.

The GoM had recommended better efficiency by integrating the armed forces headquarters into the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It had also pitched for the appointment of a CDS, who could promote an integrated approach to inter-service prioritisation and resource allocation as well as a pooling of common structures to avoid unnecessary redundancies. The CDS was to administer tri-service institutions such as the Andaman and Nicobar Command. In today’s context, his charge would also presumably include the recently established tri-service space and cyber agencies. He would provide coordinated military advice to the Defence Minister, incorporating the perspectives of the individual services. He would develop the national defence strategy, which itself should flow from a national security strategy that factors in traditional and non-traditional threats as well as internal security requirements and external strategic objectives.

This would be in collaboration with the civilian defence leadership of the MoD. The position of the CDS is not a new introduction into the Indian context, let alone the global context. The majority of countries with a well-equipped army, air force and navy have long-established a position of an overall chief of its armed forces. The global powers were quick to establish an overall head of the armed forces, with the experience of uncoordinated attacks and resultant disasters. For instance, when the British navy and army were unaware of each other’s plans during the attack at Gallipoli in the First World War, [1] the necessity of a joint command for the three forces was highlighted.


According to experts’ countries including the US, UK, France and Germany have a CDS-like post which helps in integrating military planning and operations. The Indian Armed Forces have 17 Single-Service commands, two tri-Service commands including Andaman & Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command. A CDS is expected to help in bringing jointness in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs, maintenance, etc. And he will also help in assessing plans for the ‘Out of Area Contingencies’ and other contingencies as well. According to the Ministry of Defence, the CDS is ‘first among equals’ among all the service chiefs and he will help in streamlining weapons procurement procedures and integrate operations of the Indian armed forces- Army, Air Force and Navy. He will also head the Department of Military Affairs as well as being the military advisor for the government. The office of the CDS will have the authority to direct the service chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force and to create the theatre commands when needed. Besides being a four-star from any of the services, it has been decided that the salary will be equal to that of a service chief. [2]


The CDS will help prevent duplication, streamline logistics and improve training. CDS presents the opportunity to optimize defence economics and make expenditure more effective as India’s defence expenditure has a lion’s share in budget expenditures. Moreover, India is the second-largest arms importer in the world in 2014-2018 (first is Saudi Arabia).

CDS helps the Armed Forces to make optimal use of the national resources allocated to them. Hence CDS acts as an economist to the defence ministry, which is the need of the hour. The appointment of the CDS will certainly change the civil-military balance and will address some of the grievances of the Armed Forces pertaining to their status vis-a-vis the civil services.

The CDS will be dealing with the three services chiefs for better coordination, especially towards modernisation which will be made more compatible with each other in terms of weapon systems and communications being procured. This will ensure that one service doesn’t modernise way ahead of the others and all will remain at par.

India’s prevailing security environment is marked by regional instability with a nuclear overhang, unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, Pakistan’s proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and repeated air space violations, more than ever before, it is now necessary for the national security decision-makers to be given “single-point military advice” that takes into account the operational strengths and weaknesses and aids to meet complex emerging challenges. Such advice can come only from an empowered CDS.

The creation of the post of the CDS is merely a stepping stone in the unification of the three services of the armed forces.  Some recommendations from various committees were accepted, such as the integration of the Services Headquarters with the Ministry of Defence and its christening as Integrated Headquarters. However, the operational reality remained unchanged with the civil bureaucracy still effectively in control. The most effective solution was the appointment of a CDS.

Multiple doubts remain in the minds of various commentators as to the creation of such a post. In 2001, when all the preparations were made to appoint a CDS, the government halted the process in order to consult the other parties and make a decision with an overall consensus. This effectively meant the end of the CDS appointment. [3]

The 2001 scenario can be attributed to the overall fear of the political parties that the single leader of the armed forces could stage a coup and overthrow the government. However, this seems to be rather irrational as the practice in all other global powers appoints the CDS only as a supervisor of the services and a direct single military advisor to the relevant authorities. Furthermore, India has never seen an instance where the military was threatening to overpower the government and to bring up such claims now would be rather unfounded historically and logically.

Secondly, the civil supremacy will remain unfettered as the only role being played by the CDS is to coordinate the decisions of all three commands oversee the development of the forces. The authority over major decisions will still be with the government and its bureaucracy. Lastly, there have been fears of resentment from the air force and the navy with the idea of a CDS because they feel it would reduce their power. A simple answer is to maintain a rotation between the service from which the CDS would be appointed.

To examine the changes in the national security mechanisms, the examples of countries like France, USA and UK who have long adopted the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff.

The structure for there being three independent defence chiefs to take charge of all matters in their respective force was supposed to be temporary as created by Mountbatten. Mountbatten himself suggested the establishment of the post of CDS, [4] but has somehow continued till date. Global powers like the UK, USA have long integrated their three commands and have had a supervisory officer. This has led to their capability of launching joint attacks even in distant corners of the world due to the closely-linked operational tactics and methods of all three forces.

In France and the UK, the CDS holds effective operational command oversees everything related to combat activities. He/she has several subdivisions working under him/her that look after training, acquisition and maintenance of the three forces.

The USA, however, only gives the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee the power to act as the transit point of all information between all chiefs and the President. The President does not instruct the Chairman as to all combat operations but the unified combat commanders themselves. This clear demarcation arises from the Goldwater-Nichols Act in the USA and India could benefit heavily from having a policy or Act itself clearly demarcating the power and role of the CDS. This will go on to quell the fears regarding supreme power with the CDS and overpowering of the civil by the CDS.

India currently operates seventeen single service commands over the country and only one trilateral command at Andaman and Nicobar Islands which is being effectively run by the navy since 2015. The French and British models of command by the CDS would greatly help India, with these seventeen commands being reduced to three or four operational theatres where all the forces are unified in their respective theatres. [5]

Creation of additional commands, as has been done by these three countries to answer contemporary threats such as cyber warfare is also a necessity. Effective logistics divisions and training is also key to the three CDS in France, UK and USA.

The defence budget of India is unlikely to see a radical increase. In times of budget constraints, the appointment of a CDS is essential to have expedited training and cooperation between the joint commands. It also makes possible effective disposal of resources in the three services. An important part of the CDS’ duties could be the command of the Strategic Forces Command, responsible for the execution of nuclear missions. In India, all nuclear-related decisions are taken by the Nuclear Command Authority, where the CDS would logically serve as an advisor.

In the USA, all nuclear decisions solely reside with the President, however, in France reports suggest that the CDS is also involved in the process. In the UK, the CDS does not seem to be involved in the nuclear affairs of the state. [6] However, the one common thing between the UK, USA and France that will most definitely be adopted would be the role of the CDS as the single point military advisor to the NSA, PM and any relevant authority or council.


The job visualized for a CDS in India is that of creating multi-area military techniques, fortifying tri-administration cooperative energies and empowering viewpoint arranging. It is simply in the wake of accomplishing jointness in preparing, activities and foundation that the achievability of local orders can be investigated in the particular setting of India’s geography and the idea of its inward and outer dangers.

The CDS can add to level headed protection obtaining choices, forestalling repetition of limits among the administrations and utilizing accessible monetary assets. It is, therefore, clear that under the present prevailing economic condition, no major acquisition for and reforms of the Indian Armed Forces can be undertaken in a tearing hurry. Under the prevailing budgetary constraints and its likely continuance for few more years and considering the Nation’s long-term strategic goal of becoming a Regional Power, the CDS may, therefore, first clearly set targets to be achieved harmonising the available resources with realistic timelines.

All in all, the creation of the post of the CDS has been long overdue in the Indian system. The probable fears regarding the post can be ignored due to its benefits and the lack of rationale behind such fears. The post will definitely lead to increased cohesion within the three forces. Unified theatres of command and increased efficiency in the operations of the armed forces will be a natural offshoot. It marks the ushering in of the era of military reforms that Indian armed forces have needed for the past 73 years. 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.


1. [1]. Christopher Klein, Winston Churchill’s World War Disaster, History (May 21,2014)

2. [2].

3. [3]. Abhijit Singh, The Chief of Defence Staff needs an enabling institutional structure, The Hindu (August 28, 2019)

4. [4]. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Harwant Singh, A CDS for The Armed Forces Must Come with Full Play, The Economic Times (August 20,2019)

5. [5]. Vijai Singh Rana, Enhancing Jointness in Indian Armed Forces: Case for Unified Commands, Journal of Defence Studies 2015 Vol.9.

6. [6].







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