File photo of PM Narendra Modi | SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
File photo of PM Narendra Modi | SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointing a Chief of Defence Staff is not an incremental change superimposed on an archaic and inefficient system. The bold ‘political’ move must be utilised to bring radical reforms in higher defence structure and the armed forces. The challenge, however, will be execution and preventing the political apprehensions, bureaucracy-military and inter-service rivalry from scuttling these reforms.

The appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) will necessitate far-reaching changes in the functioning of the National Security Council (NSC) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The command and control of the armed forces and their structures too have to be reformed.

Logically, the CDS should be the highest-ranked military officer and the principal military adviser to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the NSC, the defence minister and the home minister (in relation to disturbed areas and border management).  He should also command and control the future tri-/bi-service theatre commands and the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) responsible for LoC and LAC management.

Also read: Will Chief of Defence Staff’s role clash with that of NSA? A Lt General answers it for you

The wish list

  • The Chief of Defence Staff should be a five-star general and the senior-most armed forces officer. His status must be equal to that of the cabinet secretary.
  • He must be the principal military adviser to the Prime Minister, the CCS, the NSC, the defence minister and the home minister (on internal security in disturbed areas and border management).
  • He must assist the NSC to formulate and review the national security strategy and execute it.
  • He must exercise direct operational command over the armed forces through tri-/bi-service theatre commands as well as the CAPF managing the Line of Control (LoC) and the Line of Actual Control (LAC)
  • The CDS must be responsible for capability development and modernisation of the armed forces. He should draw the plans for budget management and long-term force development in consultation with the chiefs of the three services and the defence secretary.
  • The Ministry of Defence (MoD) must be integrated with the headquarters of the armed forces. The integrated MoD must be headed by the CDS with an armed forces headquarters under the vice-chief of defence staff and a department of defence under the defence secretary. The latter must also act as the secretariat of the defence minister. Armed forces headquarters should be modelled on the structure of the present Integrated Defence Staff with addition of relevant directorates of the three services. The headquarters of the three services headed by their chiefs, in truncated form, must be a part of the armed forces headquarters to ensure better capability development, administration and training of the three services. There should be seamless cross-appointments between the military officers and civilian officials to avoid duplication, particularly with respect to financial management and procurement.
  • With the appointment of the CDS, the charter of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the functioning of the NSC will require a review. Currently the NSA, who heads the Defence Planning Committee and the Strategic Planning Group, is the de facto CDS. He has both advisory and executive functions. The roles of the defence minister, the CDS, the cabinet secretary and the NSA need to clearly defined.

The reform process

Execution is all about focusing on the details, without compromising on the intent.
The appointment of the CDS will have a far-reaching impact on the political-military-bureaucracy relationship. It would be a folly to follow the usual procedure of the cabinet or defence secretary heading an ‘executive committee’, with token military representation, to work out the details of the higher defence structure and armed forces’ reforms.

Ideally, an empowered committee under the defence minister – with the home minister and the NSA as the political members and a balanced representation of the military, bureaucracy and domain experts – should work in a time-bound manner to finalise reforms. The CCS must give a political directive to the empowered committee. The CDS, with a provisional charter, should be a member-secretary of the empowered committee.

The approved recommendations of the committee must be translated into a ‘National Security Bill’, which can then be tabled in Parliament.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act is an excellent example of how national security reforms were implemented in the US in 1986.

The reform process will be slow and arduous, and is likely to take five years to fructify.

Also read: Modi must appoint chief of defence staff – and prove India’s political class isn’t fearful

A trigger for reforms

The Prime Minister has taken the first big step towards defence modernisation by announcing the appointment of a CDS. He now has to ensure that these reforms are not derailed by inter-service and military-bureaucracy rivalry.

The all-powerful ‘man on the horseback’ in India is not ‘the usurper of power’, but only carries the Tiranga as per the directions of the government.

Such instances are rare when a momentous decision triggers a chain-reaction of reforms. The decision to appoint the CDS is one such moment, which can trigger holistic national security reforms. The opportunity must not be lost.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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7 Comments Share Your Views


  1. While I broadly agreed with the article, I feel the author’s contention that the CDS needs to be a 5 Star ranked officer, overseeing the MoD and Service HQs are both misplaced and impractical.
    For any constructive security structure, there needs to be complete synergy in the Civil-Military structure. Herein, the CDS should remain in the specialist role as the Principal Advisor to the Govt, instead of running the MoD. The template could be either the Australian way, where both the CDF and Secy Def work in tandem and advice the Minister. Even in the US concept, the CJC does not run the Services, who work through their respective Secretaries Nor does he control the Combatant Commanders. He
    To start with HQ IDS and the Service HQs should form part of the Ministry as its fifth department in the First Schedule of AoB Rules, 1961. Till such time, the internal restructuring of the Services take place, with reallocation of Roles from Service specific domains to a Jt Organisation (HQ IDS), the CDS will have to function like a permanent Chairman COSC. He will be in charge of all Jt structures and Ops (at a later stage).
    The aim should be to have an integrated functioning between the Service HQs, Dept of Def Prod and DRDO. The org structure will need a change, wherein the dept would need to work like the COSC, with the Service Chiefs, Def Secy, Secy DP and Secy DRDO being part of the collegiate.

  2. Well articulated sir. The point to note here is not supremacy of one cadre over the other. It’s all about domain expertise STUPID. Here we have a generalized bureaucracy lording over everything from defense, aviation, health and what not and the result is there for all to see. It’s time that the present dispensation takes stock of things and implement measures that aim to bring the nation’s interest to the fore rather than succumbing to narrow interests of the bureaucracy or the armed forces for that matter.

  3. If wishes were horses beggars would ride!
    However Your proposals are exactly what is needed if India is not to lose the next war!
    The sorry state of India’s armed forces if not rectified will result in a future catastrophe.
    There is not doubt Your proposals if implemented in their entirety could start a chain reaction of reform in other parts of our Government too.
    Your article is going to be belittled by our entrenched self serving bureaucracy.
    The CDS a five star General equivalent to the Cabinet Secretary! This idea Will get a big laugh from the IAS Association.
    According to them the supremacy of the IAS cadre over everything must be maintained. The cabinet secretary is paramount over the Army..
    They will ensure the new CDS will have no teeth, he will be four star, Our inter service empire building and rivalry will continue unabated . There will be no jointness no future overall defence strategy.
    The Indian army’s performance will continue to be measured by how well the Army can bully the docile Kashmiri people and how many insurgents it can shoot dead.
    Medals will be distributed from time to time. But In future combat with an opposing army, like the PLA or even Pakistan, out army’s AFSPA will offer no protection. Our WW2 Army needs modernisation at present it’s little more than a militia killing militants, civilians and infiltrators.
    It is a well known fact that armed forces used constantly against civilian popular uprisings. become degraded both morally and operationally. The Israeli Army is a case in point, while it’s happy to fight civilians in Gaza it is hesitant to fight the revamped Hizbollah in the South.

  4. National Interest Is ALWAYS Supreme!! Petty Personal Interests Shouldn’t Have NO VALUE!! Any Indian/Bureaucrat Who Creates Obstacles To National Objectives, Should See A Physiologist Or RESIGN!!

  5. MoD baboos will definitely find a way to sabotage PM’s directive, if it hinders their power status quo. Modi needs to set a deadline and fire few baboos on either side to put in place what he wants. He needs to set their tailgate on fire!

    • What’s wrong with you? You mean to say that an army officer must be superior to bureaucrats ? Army officers might be good at combat skills but maintaining bureaucracy isn’t their cup of tea. Even our Constitution says that civil administration has to be always above military.


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