On December 24, the Government finally approved the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The Press Information Bureau release (December 24) informed that the CDS will:
- Be a four-star General with salary and perquisites equivalent to a Service Chief.
- Head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), to be created within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and will function as its Secretary.
- Also be the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (PCCoSC); a member of Defence Acquisition Council chaired by RM and Defence Planning Committee chaired by NSA; and a Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA).
- Act as the Principal Military Adviser to Raksha Mantri (RM) on all tri-Services matters. However, the three Chiefs will continue to advise the RM on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services.
- Not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs.
Till now, the post of Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee was held by the senior-most Service Chief, who tenanted it for a period ranging from a year to just a few months. The short tenures meant that the advice likely to be rendered during a crisis may be subjective and not institutional. Besides, in a war-like situation, the Chiefs are likely to be pre-occupied steering their own respective Services. Thus, the post of a CDS addresses a grievous void related to rendering of sagacious, integrated joint forces, strategic advice to the Raksha Mantri and the NSA.
The CDS will simultaneously hold the posts of Secretary (DMA) and the PCCoSC. Thus, when participating as a member in the Defence Acquisition Council (under the RM) and the Defence Planning Committee (under NSA), the CDS would have to reconcile the demand(s) of the Services projected by him as PCCoSC with the requirements/constraints of his own Department in the MoD. Additionally, given that each Service usually over-projects its requirements, there would also be a need to resolve the demands of each Service to meet the overall operational capability required at the national level and within the finite defence budget. There is thus a view that this constant balancing could have been avoided if the existing HQ IDS had been placed under the CDS, moved to the MoD and subsumed as the DMA but with a wider ambit. Nevertheless, it is expected that a CDS, with his long years of experience, and with no forces under his command, should be able to reconcile the conflicting turf requirements of each Service, and yet provide a platform for bridging the civil-military divide.
That said, there are a number of issues of concern.
Presently, the MoD has four main departments, each headed by a Secretary-rank officer. These are (i) Department of Defence Production (DDP) under the Secretary (DP); (ii) Department of Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare (DESW), under the Secretary (ESW); (iii) the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO), which is headed by the DRDO’s chief; and (iv) the Department of Defence, headed by Defence Secretary. Assisted by the Director General (Acquisition), Additional Secretaries and Joint Secretaries, the Defence Secretary is also responsible for coordinating the activities of the DDP, DESW and DRDO. In other words, the Secretaries/heads of DDP, DESW and DRDO report through the Defence Secretary, although the Secretary (DDP) also reports directly to the Rajya Raksha Mantri (RRM).
This raises a question: what is the charter of the DMA under the CDS vis-à-vis the Department of Defence under the Defence Secretary? And in case of conflicting views, whose advice on military matters would be binding? Unless clearly delineated, this ambiguity may lead to overlapping responsibilities and inevitable conflicts.
Next: The Vice Chiefs of the Services and the C-in-Cs of Commands (Army/Navy/Air Force) are considered equivalent to the Defence Secretary. The Service Chiefs are senior, with the Cabinet Secretary being deemed as ‘primus inter pares’ (‘first among equals’) with regard to the Service Chiefs. By creating a new Department within the MoD and appointing the CDS as its secretary, the Government has, in a way, perhaps equated the CDS (and by corollary, the Service Chiefs too) as equal to one of the other Secretaries in the MoD, and who report to either the Defence Secretary or RRM. Therefore, unless clarified by the Government, it is possible that the order of precedence as regards the CDS (and the Service Chiefs) versus the Defence Secretary could start to be a subject of dispute and acrimony.
Ideally, the CDS should have been an advisor to the Prime Minister and the CCS/Cabinet, and heading the Defence Planning Committee. In the USA, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the equivalent of a CDS), is that nation’s highest-ranking military officer and the Principal Military Advisor to the President of the USA, Secretary of Defence and the National Security Council. Even in the UK, the CDS, whose post was downgraded in 1997, yet is the professional head of the British Armed Forces, as well as the most senior uniformed military adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence and importantly, to UK’s Prime Minister.
It does therefore seem that instead of appointing a CDS who acts as an Advisor to the Prime Minister of our nation, the Cabinet has in a way, merely made permanent the post of the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and that too in a four-star rank with equivalence to the Service Chiefs. That said, the appointment of a CDS is step in the right direction and it is hoped that this is the first stride in the evolution of a proper CDS.
 Annual Report MoD, UK