India Creates Chief of Defence Staff to Synchronise Military Affairs

In a historic move, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to fulfil the demand for a chief of defence staff (CDS) during an address to the nation on India’s Independence Day. The creation of a CDS comes around 19 years after a high level committee set up to review the Kargil War with Pakistan recommended it.

The Indian government has formally announced the decision to appoint a chief of defence staff for the country, a four-star post with a salary equivalent to the service chiefs to lead the newly created department of military affairs of the country.

“CDS will head the Department of Military Affairs which to be created under Ministry of Defence and will function as its Secretary”, India’s federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Jawadekar announced on Tuesday after a meeting of the federal Cabinet Committee on Security, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The government said that the CDS shall pursue the armed forces’ objectives for better effectiveness in a dynamic security requirement. “Facilitate restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about integration in operations, including through establishment of joint/ theatre commands”, the government notification about the role of the CDS reads.

There were serious concerns about the overlapping responsibilities of the service chiefs and CDS, but the government has made it clear that the CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three service chiefs.

On 15 August 2019, Modi promised to appoint a CDS who would act as head of the Army, Air Force, and Navy. Demand for a CDS first came as a suggestion by the Kargil Review Committee and Group of Ministers in 2001 after a conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.

The committee felt the need for an integrated approach to the world’s second-largest armed forces. Currently, there is a tri-service theatre named the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) which is looking after the Indo-Pacific Region.

Nevertheless, it is widely speculated in Indian media that the current army chief, General Bipin Rawat, the most senior among service chiefs, will be made the first CDS.

Rawat is scheduled to retire from the post of army chief later this month. One of the most vocal army chiefs in recent years, Rawat was instrumental in undertaking some major reforms in the army, including adopting more automation in the service.