New Delhi: Army Chief General Bipin Rawat is the front-runner to become India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a new position announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that is the biggest defence reform in independent India.
The move will pave the way for an integrated military, with the CDS being the prime minister’s point person on national defence issues.
“Our forces are India’s pride. To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision. India will have a Chief of Defence Staff. This is going to make the forces even more effective,” Modi said in his Independence Day speech Thursday.
Top sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint that the PM’s announcement is more like an “in-principle approval”, and that modalities to create the CDS post are being worked out. They said the decision had been pending for two decades, since the Kargil conflict in 1999, but the process could now be completed in one to three months.
Sources said Rawat is the front-runner even though Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa is the senior-most of the three service chiefs. Dhanoa is set to retire on 30 September, while Rawat will superannuate on 31 December.
Sources said the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, had been working on this for the last three months, and had briefed the PM multiple times.
Question of seniority
It is not yet clear whether the new CDS will be a five-star officer, or a four-star officer who is first among equals since the service chiefs are four-star officers.
It is also not clear whether the CDS will be at par with or above the Cabinet Secretary, the senior-most civil servant in the country. Sources said in all likelihood, the two posts would be at par.
What it means for the Indian armed forces
The CDS will act as the sole adviser to the government on all the three services. While exact modalities are yet to be firmed up or made public, sources said all procurement matters will come under the CDS, as will budgetary allocation for the three services.
“The modernisation process will be driven by the CDS. The picture will be clear once the prime minister approves the modalities,” a source said.
The CDS is aimed at bringing integration, which PM Modi has stressed on multiple times. Chairing the Combined Commanders Conference in 2015 on board the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, Modi had rolled out his plan for the military, which he said should be agile, mobile and driven by technology, not just human valour.
“We should promote jointness across every level of our armed forces. We wear different colours, but we serve the same cause and bear the same flag. Jointness at the top is a need that is long overdue,” he had said.
The CDS post was first recommended after the 1999 Kargil conflict to ensure better coordination between the three services.
A high-level committee headed by K. Subrahmanyan, which was set up to examine the gaps in the country’s security structure, had recommended a CDS-like structure.
A Group of Ministers formed in 2001 and headed by the then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani studied the recommendations of the Kargil review committee and proposed the CDS, which it said should be headed by a five-star officer.
In 2012, the Naresh Chandra Task Force had recommended creating the post of a permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), which comprises the Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs. The senior-most among them would act as chairman.
In 2016, then-defence minister Manohar Parrikar told reporters that he was in favour of the CDS, and said a proposal would be made to the prime minister.
A question on whether the government plans to create the post of CDS also came up in Parliament in February 2018. The government, in its reply, had said: “Creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was recommended by Group of Ministers in 2001. A decision in this regard was to be taken after consultation with political parties. Subsequently, Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security recommended creation of the post of Permanent Chairman Chief of Staff Committee in 2012. Both the proposals are simultaneously under consideration of the government.”
Currently, major countries like the US, France, the UK and China all have a Chief of Defence Staff.