Creating an Effective CDS for India’s National Defence
VIF Study Group Report

Nearly two decades after submission of the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) report in 1999, the Group of Ministers (GOM) Report in 2001 and recommendations of the Naresh Chandra Task Force in 2012, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for the Indian armed forces has become a reality. Implementation was set into motion following Prime Minister Modi‘s announcement to this effect on August 15, 2019. Thereafter, a high-level committee under the National Security Adviser (NSA) set about evolving a framework and charter of responsibility for the CDS. After nearly four months of extensive deliberations, the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS), on December 24, 2019 accorded approval for creation of the post of the CDS.

A surprise but welcome `supplement’ to this was the creation of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) as the fifth vertical in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), (others being the Department of Defence (DOD), Department of Defence Production (DDP), Department of Defence Research and Development (DRDO) and Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW). Finally, following a formal notification regarding revision of retirement age of CDS to 65 years, the outgoing Army chief General Bipin Rawat who was to superannuate on December 31, 2019 was designated as the first CDS. The year 2020, thus dawned with the long-awaited CDS for the Indian armed forces finally becoming a reality.

A formal notification was issued on January 9, 2020 allocating work and staff between Department of defence DOD and the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA)1. Following this notification, two Joint Secretaries (JS), 13 Deputy Secretaries and 22 Under Secretaries have now been posted to this newly created department.

While the CDS is in place and the DMA is in the process of being created, it is well appreciated that this institution, which is vital for national defence and security is still at a nascent stage and needs to mature with collective wisdom and support of the strategic community. Towards this end, a brainstorming session with select participants was held at the VIF on January 14, 2020. The aim was to elicit ideas and recommendations to make the offices of the CDS and DMA effective and capable of fulfilling their stipulated mandate, in the larger national interest. Following members participated, with Dr Arvind Gupta, the Director VIF in chair:

  1. Gen NC Vij (Retd)
  2. Amb Satish Chandra (Retd)
  3. Mr. Mohan Kumar (former Defence Secretary)
  4. Lt Gen RK Sawhney (Retd)
  5. Vice Adm Satish Soni (Retd)
  6. Air Marshal K.K. Nohar(Retd)
  7. Lt Gen Anil Ahuja(Retd)
Special Invitees
  1. Lt Gen AS Bedi,– DG Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA)
  2. Air Marshal Rajeev Sachdeva,– Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (Policy Planning and Force Development)
Highlights of Discussion

Discussion was structured to elicit views and to evolve a better comprehension of the role and functioning of the newly emerging structures in the ‘Higher Defence Organisation’. Following aspects were primarily discussed:

  1. Rationale for creation of the DMA and placing CDS to head it instead of simply placing him to head the nearly two decades mature ‘Headquarter Integrated Defence Staff (IDS)’.
  2. Relationship and distribution of responsibility between the DOD and the DMA and between DMA – HQ IDS and Service HQs.
  3. Rationale for the VCDS (the present CISC) not heading DMA, despite the accepted equivalence of the Defence Secretary (and other Secretary level officers) being with service Vice Chiefs.
  4. Assigned charter of CDS and distribution of subjects between DoD and DMA.
  5. Priority expectations from the office of CDS.
Creation of the DMA

There was a unanimity of opinion that although creation of DMA has come about as a surprise decision, it is a positive and a tangible step in integrating the Services with the MoD. However, sharing of responsibilities with other departments of MoD, in particular, between the DoD (the department from which it has primarily been carved out) and DMA merit much greater deliberation. Some of the views expressed were as follows:

  1. The subjects delegated to this department should be such that they lend themselves to better handling of operational matters by military leadership and not get too involved in the administrative matters. These would primarily be GS (General Staff) matters, e.g. - acquisition of munitions, WWR (war wastage reserves of arms, ammunition and equipment), War and Peace establishments of units, joint military exercises , training of personnel in India and abroad, military assistance to neighbouring countries, creation of border infrastructure, military intelligence issues, operational deployments of troops/ships/aircraft etc. Some subjects presently assigned to the DoD, viz. command and control of Indian Coast Guard (ICG), Hydrographic survey, diving etc. were specially highlighted as being preferred DMA subjects.
  2. Likewise, it was opined that most AG (Adjutant General), Legal, MS (Military Secretary) and Q (Quarter Master & logistics) branch matters, other than aspects related to policy formulation (which should rightfully be done in consultation with the Services) would be better handled by permanent defence civilian staff and should continue to be with the DOD.
  3. Promotions and postings of officers should remain a Service specific subject with respective Service HQs. The final redressal of complaints and representations should however rest with DOD/Defence Secretary for an independent review outside the ambit of the services.
  4. The guiding principle should be that the charter of the DMA should not be so administratively overwhelming that it leaves little time to the CDS to do strategic thinking, to be able to give well considered military advice to the national leadership.
  5. IDS must continue to assist the Services and the CDS in the erstwhile role or as assigned by the CDS from time to time.
Inter Se Relationship Between Verticals

The functional relationship between Headquarter IDS and DMA on one hand and between IDS/DMA and other departments of MoD, in particular with the DOD, DG Acquisition and with Defence Finance merits deliberate consideration. Appropriate financial and administrative powers need to be formally delegated to the CDS and military officers of HQ IDS, functioning at the levels of Additional Secretaries (AS) and Joint Secretaries (JS). Integrated Financial Advisers (IFA) and legal advisers also need to be posted to DMA for appropriate staff advice. To avoid CDS being unduly burdened with the responsibility of routinely running a full-fledged department, designation of VCDS (present CISC) as Chief of Staff /Secretary DMA, would be a great help and needs to be examined.

Streamlining of Defence Acquisitions

Perhaps the most serious weakness impacting defence preparedness in India is the formulation and implementation of `financially supported’ Perspective Plan for capability development and the processing of Capital acquisitions. Implementation of Integrated Capability Development Plans and assigning inter service prioritisation to Capital acquisition proposals forms a significant mandate assigned to the CDS. Reports appearing in media, related to the span of control of CDS suggest that the entire process of `categorisation and vetting’, done presently by the HQ IDS led SCAPCC (Services Capital Acquisition Categorisation Committee) and SCAPCHC ((Services Capital Acquisition Higher Categorisation Committee) is now to be transferred to the DOD under the Director-General (DG) Acquisitions. This, it is considered, to be a highly retrograde step and would adversely impact the quality of professional vetting by tri-service officers under the CDS. In fact, having SCAPCC and SCAPCHCC and DG Acquisitions in different departments, as it exists presently, would provide a mechanism for checks and balances. Also, this is the only way that the CDS can accord inter-service priority for Capital acquisitions and relate acquisitions to the defence budget (or vice versa). It would also be desirable to allocate Capital budget to the Services through HQ IDS as an outcome of discussions on this aspect and finally as directed by the CDS. Detailed modalities for this need to be worked out.

Role of CDS in Evolving National Security Strategy (NSS) and Formulating National Defence Strategy (NDS)

This is one of the high priority responsibility for the CDS in consultation with all other concerned components of national security. The foundation of entire process of force structuring, capability development, acquisitions, evolving strategic partnerships with friendly foreign countries rests on visualising the security challenges and nature of multi domain future conflicts that the country may be called upon to combat. Unfortunately, this overarching framework, basic to the entire planning process, does not exist in the country. It is imperative that the CDS, supported by Service HQs and his staff at the HQ IDS provide essential military inputs to NSA/NSCS to support formulation of the NSS. This office should also provide the politico-military interface at the national level from where the NDS should emanate.

The announcement of the intent to create a unified Air Defence Command, made by the CDS immediately on taking over, though a viable proposition seems to be a `one-off’ idea which would be better implemented if it emerges as part of analysis of the larger concept of war fighting in the Indian context. As a matter of fact this is an old proposal. This suggestion has serious implications in both the defensive and offensive operations especially for the Army, and thus needs to be examined threadbare. However, this is a good idea for which the time has come. This would perhaps also be the only way for us, as a country, to rescue ourselves from the trap of arming without aiming.

Consolidation of Strategically Significant `outlying’ Branches/ Departments

The experience of existence of HQ IDS and tri- service commands/ branches suggests that there are existing (SFC, ANC, DIA), as well as newly emerging, agencies/ organisations (like Cyber and Space Agencies and Special Operations Divisions) which remain `outliers’, i: e. beyond the direct span of command and control of Service HQs/ HQ IDS. Consequently, there is either a state of neglect, as experienced in case of the ANC or `transition’ of command authority (by default) to NSA/ NSCS, as seems to have happened in case of DIA and SFC. It is thus imperative that the CDS consolidates all defence and security related structures by firmly taking these under his command. In fact, going further, he should help nation consolidate the fragmented command and control structure of ITBP, BSF, Assam Rifles and Coast Guard, whenever they are employed for operational tasks in conjunction with the armed forces. This issue has been long pending and needs to be resolved now for optimising our defensive/offensive potential.

Strategic Planning.

CDS has been designated as the military adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA). The nature of responsibility and authority inherent in this assigned role however remains ambiguous. It remains ambivalent whether the CDS would be a member of the Executive Council (EC) or of both, the EC and the Political Council (PC). Delineation of authority/ responsibility with respect to `Strategic assets’ between the NSA and the CDS and the chain of command and control of C-in-C SFC merits greater deliberation and amplification. Our recommendation is that the CDS should be made a member of the National Command Authority.

Extent of Authority to be the Principal Military Adviser and Primus Inter Pares (first amongst equals) with the Service Chiefs.

The notification regarding appointment of CDS designating him as the Principal Military Adviser to the RM on

all tri-service matters,

concurrently gives explicit authority to the Service Chiefs to continue advising RM on matters concerning `their respective Services’. The notification also states that CDS will not exercise any military command including over three Service Chiefs. It is well appreciated that under the current scheme of things, while the advice of the CDS to the RM would have primacy in aspects related to capability-development but for aspects related to conduct of operations, the Service Chiefs will continue to have an overriding say. This is because the responsibility of operational success still devolves on them. As a corollary, the significance of advice of Service Chiefs on issues related to service specific weapons and equipment acquisitions will also become more pronounced, presenting a challenge to the authority of CDS in inter service, Capital Acquisition prioritisation. Under these circumstances, it remains anomalous as to how the CDS would acquire the power and authority to bring about `break-through’ reforms that he has been assigned to implement in ensuing years. There is a strong point that this aspect needs to be addressed deliberately.
Attaining jointness in operations is a major aim and goal of the new higher defence structure. As to exactly how it will be implemented needs to be examined and evolved jointly threadbare by all the Chiefs and the CDS.

Theatre commands

CDS as the head of DMA has been mandated to facilitate restructuring of military commands and establish Joint/Theatre commands. This is a concept which is more applicable for expeditionary forces and not for our country. We do not have any overseas operational design except for certain out of area contingencies. We also neither have the resources and nor the understanding of the command of inter Services forces. Deliberations on the subject suggest that it would be in order to first consolidate existing tri-service structures of ANC and SFC and perhaps upgrade the Cyber & Space Agencies and Special Operations Divisions. Another idea being floated is the creation of a tri-service `Indian Ocean command’ for the Western Indian Ocean Region. This idea is in its nascent stage and needs to be considered deliberately over a period of time in all its dimensions before it can be taken up.

Creation of Theatre Commands is still some distance away since it neither seems to be an urgent operational necessity nor an easily achievable goal due to various reasons mentioned above.

Reducing the number of commands to a `fewer number’ from existing 17 single service commands is more of an `eye-catching’ rhetoric, which is unlikely to result in substantial financial and manpower savings. In the Indian context, the way forward would be in incrementally developing `jointness’ in operations, streamlining tri-service communications, intelligence – surveillance – reconnaissance (ISR), procurements, training, logistics support, infrastructure development etc. Over a period of time, this would pave way for creation of Joint Theatre Commands. A hurried action to create these needs to be guarded against.

Integration of DRDO and Services

The DRDO has matured substantially since its inception in 1958. It has also emerged as an important independent department of the MOD since 1980. Despite various mechanisms being in place for interaction between DRDO and the Services, the synergy for joint development of defence technologies and weapon systems and the success rate of `mission mode projects’ remains barely modest. It is imperative that HQ IDS and DMA work deliberately to bring about greater synergy between the DRDO and the Services.This is an overriding imperative for promoting use of indigenous equipment by the Services, which the CDS has been tasked to ensure.

Recommended Priority of Tasks for the CDS

From the foregoing deliberations the following priority of tasks emerges for the CDS:

  1. Review of overall security environment and visualisation of likely pattern of manifestation of these across multiple domains in consultation with all concerned elements of national security paradigm, that the security forces may be called upon to combat.
  2. Formalisation of the National Security Strategy (NSS) and evolve National Defence Strategy (NDS), in consultation with all concerned to serve as the framework of defence planning, force structuring, capability development and allocation of defence budget.
  3. The Armed Forces need to prepare themselves to fight the next generation warfare. This will warrant a very judicious mix of technology and manpower, especially in view of the terrain obtaining along our borders. Overly tilting in one direction will not be advisable.
  4. CDS must judiciously work out and Project a well-considered defence budget requirement.
  5. Drastically reform the process of Perspective planning for Capital acquisitions, revamp the acquisition organisation and streamline the procurement process.
  6. Consolidation of existing tri-service organisations and structures (HQ IDS, ANC, SFC, Cyber Agency, Space Agency, Special Operations Division, tri service training establishments).
  7. Promote `Jointness’ in operations. The mechanics of this needs to be evolved with great care. Also bring in jointness in integrated tri service surveillance and communication networks, training, logistics including transport repair and maintenance, utilisation of available infrastructure and services. Also prepare a roadmap for the transition to creation of joint commands and theatre commands over next 5-10 years.
  8. Perspective planning and roadmap for International defence cooperation including for future defence acquisitions on strategic considerations.
  9. Strengthening of DMA through VCDS and streamlining charter and relationship with other departments of MoD, DRDO and services.
  10. Harmonise overall concept of conventional warfare, strategic deterrence and war in other asymmetric domains, including conduct of `grey-zone’ operations.
  11. Revision of allocation rules of business and allocations of responsibilities in the Ministry of Defence must be rationalized and formalized.

Appointment of CDS is a bold and significant defence reform. Evolving its functional relationship with other stake holders, its role, charter and operational modalities are however still at a nascent stage. These would require to be matured with collective wisdom.

Creation of the DMA has added an altogether different dimension to the creation of this post. The currently promulgated distribution of responsibilities between DMA and DoD should be considered only `tentative’ in nature and the charter must be allowed to be progressively refined. Most significantly, the office of the CDS should not be overly burdened, administratively, because this will come at the cost of allowing him space for `strategic thinking’, which is his overriding responsibility.
Smooth inter-se functioning between the CDS and the Services HQ forms a very important aspect. Wherever, there is a difference of opinion amongst the Chiefs, all the three Chiefs and the CDS should jointly discuss that subject with RM/PM.
Great maturity and tact on the part the CDS and the cooperative attitude of the Services Chiefs and the Defence Secretary will go a long way in optimising the efficiency of India’s Higher Defence Structure.

  1. Ministry of Defence, DoD Note :F.No 38(1)/2020-D(O&M) dated 09 January 2020.

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