In a major decision for higher level military reforms and tri-service integration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday announced the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who will be above the three Service Chiefs. The modalities are expected to be finalised in the next few months, defence sources said.
“I announce that there will be a Chief of Defence Staff going into the future who would be above the three service chiefs. This is going to make the forces even more effective,” he announced in his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. The creation of the CDS will eventually lead to the formation of tri-service theatre commands intended to create vertical integration of the three forces. However, it is not clear from the announcement if the CDS will be a four-star or a five-star officer.
The CDS will be a single-point military adviser to the government and synergise long term planning, procurements, training and logistics of the three Services. This is expected to save money by avoiding duplication between the Services, at a time of shrinking capital expenditure within the defence budget. “The Defence Ministry will constitute an implementation committee which will finalise the modalities which is expected to take few months,” a defence source said.
Given the time frame, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat could be the front runner to be the country’s fist CDS as he has tenure till December 31 and would be the seniormost officer after Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, also the current Chairman of COSC, who retires on September 30.
The creation of a CDS to act as a single point military adviser to the Prime Minister on strategic issues was one of the key recommendations of the Kargil review committee on higher military reforms after the 1999 conflict. Despite much deliberation, the issue did not make progress due to lack of consensus and apprehensions from Services. In 2012, the Naresh Chandra committee recommended the appointment of a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) as a midway to allay apprehensions over the CDS. Currently, the seniormost of the three Chiefs functions as the Chairman of the COSC but it is an additional role and the tenures have been very short.
The CDS is also one of the 99 recommendations made by the Lt. General D.B. Shekatkar (retd.) Committee which submitted its report in December 2016 and had 34 recommendations pertaining to tri-service integration.
Speaking to The Hindu on the announcement, Lt. Gen. Shekatkar said that with the fast changing security and defence environment this is the right moment for India to have a CDS. He said that during the Kargil conflict if India had a CDS it would not have suffered so many casualties in the initial stages as the Indian Air Force took time to come for support and “so it was felt there is need for a central point authority who can advise the government.”
He further added, “There are three different agencies buying the same thing. You are wasting the resources. The accounting systems are different. All these have been looked into by the committee and recommended a CDS.”
Another aspect Lt. Gen. Shekatkar stressed was the growing importance of military diplomacy in India’s strategic engagements. “Military diplomacy is today supporting the conventional diplomacy. That can’t be done by different Services. Each Service can’t play a different role,” he added.
“The announcement of the institution of CDS by Prime Minister Modi has been made keeping in view of the much needed reform to streamline and further improve the coordination among the three forces and their functioning. CDS will have a long lasting and a positive impact on India’s security,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in a post on Twitter.
The issues of the single point military adviser and the creation of theatre commands have been on the agenda of the government in the previous term as well. This was emphasised by Mr. Modi during a discussion with the Combined Commanders Conference at Dehradun in 2017.
A pointer to the impending announcement was made by Mr. Modi in his speech on Kargil Vijay Diwas last month where he stressed on “jointness” and said it was time to connect among three Services in terms of “action and system.”