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Appointment of CDS is a game-changer

By General Anil Chait (retd)
August 16, 2019 14:39 IST
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'Earlier the planning process was services specific, with others coordinating.

'Now we shall have an apex leader backed by a structure, who is accountable to provide single-point advice, based on best of all options dependent on geographical and situational intrigue, and that too, after validation,' says General Anil Chait (retd), the former Central Army Commander.

IMAGE: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Chief of Army Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh and Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa. Photograph: Vijay Verma / PTI Photo

The need to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff was perhaps the longest awaited requirement of India’s armed Forces.

The GoM Report of 2000 had recommended the need to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff.

The role of the CDS suggested was:

(a) To provide single-point military advice to the government. Under the existing system, each of the service chiefs renders military advice to the civil political executive independent of one another, which the GoM Report considered to be unsatisfactory.

(b) To administer the strategic forces. The CDS should exercise administrative control, as distinct from operational military control over strategic forces.

(c) To enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning process through intra- and inter-service prioritisation.

Accordingly, one of the most vital tasks that the CDS would be expected to perform is to facilitate efficiency and effectiveness in the planning/ budgeting process to ensure the optimal and efficient use of available resources.

(d) To ensure required “jointness” in the armed forces.

No dilution in the role of the defence secretary as the ‘principal defence adviser’ to the defence minister was envisaged.


The GoM had correctly felt that the defence secretary should be responsible to the defence minister for policy advice; supervising the department of defence; co-ordinating the functioning of all departments in the ministry.

It expected the defence secretary to function as “principal defence adviser” to the defence minister in a manner similar to the role to be performed by the CDS as the “principal military adviser” and both will enjoy an equivalent status in terms of their working relationship as distinct from the Warrant of Precedence.

The Naresh Chandra Task Force recommended the appointment of a permanent chairman, chiefs of staff committee, as a precursor to the eventual appointment of the CDS.

The PM’s announcement overrides the NCTF recommendation and goes on to announce the appointment of the CDS itself.

Some grey areas remain, that would hopefully be addressed in the notifications to follow. Some of these are, whether the appointment would be tenanted by a 4- or 5-star rank officer, the areas in which he would have primacy over the three Services Chiefs, his tenure, and importantly, the future of the ‘Chairman Chiefs of Staff’.

Why a ‘game-changer’

This decision to appoint the CDS was long overdue and should have come much earlier. There are several benefits that the CDS would bring:

First, is a joint and integrated military decision-making process -- versus services-led, service-biased solution to military problems.

Second is a joint capability development model that facilitates modernisation of the military, under conditions of austerity.

Thirdly, what we shall get is an institutionalised architecture for aggregated and integrated use of force (contact as well as non-contact), tailored for calibrated and optimised effects.

Earlier the planning process was services specific, with others coordinating.

Resultantly each service looked at building its own capability. At times, three plans emerged with no audit of which will provide the best pay-off.

Now we shall have an apex leader backed by a structure, who is accountable to provide single-point advice, based on best of all options dependent on geographical and situational intrigue, and that too, after validation.

With the CDS done, one would assume that in going forward, not only shall we see a better strategic decision-making process but also the creation of an integrated theatre command and a procurement process, for creating a need-based, time critical, integrated and composite order of priority for procurement and acquisitions.

It is most important, however, that the appointment is empowered with the requisite strength to initiate and oversee the processes of integration. For this, it is imperative that the role of the CDS, and also the three services chiefs, in the structure of the government is specified with requisite clarity in the GoI rules of business.

Only then would the CDS get the authority and space to execute his functions in a manner that matches national expectations.

General Anil Chait (retd) served as chief of the Integrated Defence Staff; he was also Central Army Commander.

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General Anil Chait (retd)