In a major reform of higher military management, the Cabinet has delineated the role of the chief of defence staff (CDS) as a single-point military adviser to government and responsible for injecting synergy in planning, procurement and logistics across the three services. CDS will be a four-star general with the same pay and perks as the three service chiefs, and head a new department of military affairs within the defence ministry. The latter is mandated to promote jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the services and facilitate restructuring of military commands, including through establishment of joint theatre commands.
CDS will also have direct command over tri-service organisations related to space and cyberspace which are critical to fighting new-age wars, and will be a member of the defence acquisition council chaired by the defence minister and the defence planning committee chaired by the national security adviser. Overall, CDS will have a bird’s-eye view of the armed forces. The need for such an integration-oriented post has been felt for two decades, with the Kargil Review Committee highlighting several shortcomings stemming from lack of coordination between the services.
But turf instincts within the armed forces, civil-military tussles and exaggerated apprehensions about the CDS becoming an all-too-powerful position capable of challenging government had delayed the creation of this post. However, the evolving nature of modern warfare and security challenges finally prevailed over decision-makers. The military can no longer work in silos. For example, when the country is looking to develop a blue water navy fronted by aircraft carrier groups, strict distinctions between naval and air operations no longer apply. Besides, India is a late-comer as over 70 countries like the US, UK, France, Germany and even Sri Lanka have CDS-like posts for integration in military planning and operations.
The appointment of India’s first CDS will lay the foundation for a modern, integrated and nimble fighting force. But much work is needed insofar as shedding flab and achieving a better teeth-to-tail ratio for the military is concerned. Actualising joint theatre commands will also require change in mindsets within the services. Since CDS will not exercise any military command over the services, it remains to be seen how assets are combined and optimised on the ground. Nonetheless, CDS clears the decks for deeper operational reforms throughout the forces.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.