CDS & The Path To Jointmanship

In his Independence Day address, Indian Prime Minister 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. 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, “jointsmanship” in operations.


  • K. Subrahmanyam Committee: The proposal for a CDS has been there for two decades. It was first made by the K. Subrahmanyam Committee appointed after the Kargil conflict of 1999 to recommend higher military reforms. However, lack of consensus and apprehensions among services meant it never moved forward.
  • Naresh Chandra Committee: 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.
  • D.B. Shekatkar Committee: 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 which had 34 recommendations pertaining to the tri-services.
  • Present Status: In the absence of a CDS, presently the senior most of the three Chiefs functions as the Chairman COSC. But it is an additional role and the tenures have been very short.

Issues Associated with Defence Planning and Procurement

The 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 broad-based.
  • 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. For example 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
  • India has 17 Service commands at different locations and duplicating assets and wasting resources.

In this light, government has acted with reasonable alacrity to create the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), who will head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA). The DMA will focus on promoting jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the tri-services.

Role of CDS

  • Coordinate Planning and Procurement: The CDS is meant to be a single-point military advisor to the government, and to coordinate long-term planning, procurements, training and logistics of the three services.
  • Jointsmanship in Operations: As future wars become short, swift and network-centric, coordination among the three services is crucial. The CDS will act as the principal military adviser to the defence minister on all tri-services matters and the three service chiefs will continue to advise the minister on matters exclusively concerning their respective services.
  • Optimisation of Resource: Also as the stress on resources increases and defence budgets remain flat, the way forward is optimisation of resources by joint planning and training. The CDS, being above the three Service Chiefs, is expected to play this role by optimising procurement, avoiding duplication among the services and streamlining the process.
  • Military Advisor on Nuclear Issues: India being a nuclear weapons state, the CDS will also act as the military advisor to the Prime Minister on nuclear issues.


  • Internal Tussle: Fears in the minds of the three services — the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force — of how such a development could impact on the role and functioning of the three arms of the armed forces, in terms of curtailing or inflating their importance.
  • Bureaucratic Inertia: There must have been a parallel thought in the bureaucracy how such a shift would affect them too. This move will install the CDS, in the rank of a four star general, as Secretary, DMA.
  • Lack of Clarity: There appears to be no clear blueprint for the office to ensure its effectiveness. India’s political establishment is seen as being largely ignorant of, or at best indifferent towards, security matters, and hence incapable of ensuring that a CDS works.
  • Resistance to Transformation: Militaries by nature tend to resist transformation.
  • Integration: Experts say the principal challenge for the country’s first CDS will be to integrate the armed forces into the government edifice to enable them to participate fully in decision-making.

Way Forward

  • There is no doubt that the job of the CDS will be exceedingly challenging, a task which is easier set than done. Since Independence, the armed forces have been working separately, with no concept of jointness. The job calls for total transformation of traditional military mindset. All that will have to change and change quickly, for a variety of reasons, not least the security environment in the region, with the Americans preparing to move out of Afghanistan and the restiveness consequent to the dilution of Article 370.