Defence minister Rajnath Singh with the three service chiefs at the national war memorial | Photo: ANI
Defence minister Rajnath Singh with the three service chiefs at the national war memorial | Photo: ANI
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address from Red Fort showcased an India that is strong, united and capable – ‘Sudradh, Sangathit, Saksham’ – ready to face the challenges of a rapidly changing world order.

A majority of these challenges will be related to domestic and external security, and that’s why the Prime Minister’s announcement of a new Chief of Defence Staff or CDS is significant. Defence modernisation is long overdue, and better-aligned armed forces under a single head will improve the integrated and synergised application of India’s military power.

The role of a joint CDS is not a new concept. Many armies across the world, including in the US, the UK, France, Australia and Pakistan, have a similarly defined concept with different titles and charters of responsibility. Although in India’s unique context, we will have to construct our own model.

Answers to four important questions will define the responsibility of India’s new CDS, and his role in making decisions that govern national security.

Also read: Modi gives India CDS, its biggest defence reform — what it means & how it’ll work

CDS will be from which arm?

The CDS will be a member of the armed forces, but he will come from which service?

The Navy with her ability to operate well beyond the frontiers of the state is best suited to lead India into modern warfare. In future, the Navy will be a potent instrument for India’s power projection.

The Army maintains India’s territorial integrity, which is the key component of our combined armed forces. But does this traditional arm have the strategic and the expansive edge as well as the international exposure needed for joint warfare decisions?

The Air Force is the main instrument of coercion, the first to strike fear in the hearts of an adversary and break their will to resist. But it operates in an exclusive zone, engaging little with either the Army or the Navy. All three forces lay equal claim to lead the combined military might of India, but clear and unbiased political will must be exercised to settle the matter in the best interest of the State. 

Will CDS get a permanent seat on CCS?

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is India’s highest decision-making authority on national security issues. Currently, high-ranking government officials and policymakers are invited to participate in deliberations on an as-required basis. Will there be a change in this practice?

The CDS must enjoy the full trust and confidence of the three combat services and be able to work closely with the Department of Defence under the defence secretary.

Further, it remains to be seen if the CDS is assigned a permanent observer seat on the CCS to provide a more balanced view, informed by the experience and concerns of India’s armed forces.

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

Will there be clash of roles between CDS and NSA?

The National Security Advisor (NSA) is currently an integral part of our national security set-up. He chairs the National Security Council and serves as the point person for the government on matters of national security. What then will the CDS bring to the table, to what extent will their advice be independent, and how well will it be received?

It is critical that the functional interplay between these two key security appointments remains free from ‘political distraction’. The CDS should be empowered to give independent military advice to the government, ideally drawing information from a dedicated and independent pool of sources. Only then can the CDS be an effective ‘check’ and provide the necessary ‘balance’ needed to shape the views of decision-makers.

What will be the exact role of CDS?

In the last few hours, there have been numerous questions over what will be the role of the CDS and if it will be similar to that of the current head of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

The appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff is one among the many bold and historic decisions taken by the Narendra Modi government. If executed well, the CDS could transform India’s warfighting and power projection capabilities. In a world where national security concerns are back in the limelight with faltering economies, the promise of a brighter and more secure India may well begin with this new role.

Also read: Outdated courses to rampant ragging: Why India’s National Defence Academy needs urgent help

The author is Former Director General Rashtriya Rifles. Views are personal

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11 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Sir, this ploy to create CDS is probably a step towards to ultimately have a civilian hegemon. This will simply replace the MOD. Nothing stops the government to appoint a IAS/IPS as CDS.

  2. India is built up as a military power. No talk about economic development of the country. Even when Modi talks about economy it is for projecting it for the development of few industrialists. No one is bothered about the common man. The entire tax payers money is being spent on fads. The concept of “high jumps” rather than incremental growth of economy is creating uncertainty in the investment climate in the country. People are scared to invest because they are scared as to what will happen to their business. This will lead to further deterioration of the economic atmosphere in the country. This investments in military will fascinate only top politicians and military brass. Will keep them engaged in modern warfare. The common citizen will be the loser all through.

  3. Because of democracy in India prevailing under a MAN like Mr Modi ( as against learned but spineless Dr. Singh) , the pski lover ‘the Print’ is beng able to print this kind of rubbish .
    Go to Pakistan or China to prove your liberalism ,you traitors.

  4. Narendra Modi is using his force(some pigs call it misuse of power and emergency like situation) for welfare of human beings. He is working above Hindu and Muslim aura…. It is for BENIFIT of all human beings. The people who are criticizing him, pity on their mental infrastructure. Indira Gandhi has imposesd emergency because of piggy greed of power. There is a difference in attitude of MODI JI and Indira Gandhi. Who fails to understand this has very low HR /EQ…. MORON MENTAL RANGE.. In that case there existence does not matter.

  5. India has to choose between a strong Defence Machinery or bureaucratic matrix to sooth the fear of Military take over and umpiring the turf war in North & South Blocks.

  6. Sir
    A very nicely written and we’ll articulated piece of opinion. I have a major difference of opinion. Why should the CDS work under defence secretary and why not vice versa. Can the matters of defence be best addressed by a person who has been in the field and grown up gradually to the post of CDS or by an IAS officer who has a superficial knowledge defence affairs?

    A food for thought and decolonisation of our minds.

    In ancient (samrudh) Bharat the senapati use to be directly responsible to the king and not through any mantri.

    Let’s try and bring back the old Samrudh Bharat.

    • And that ancient Bharat lost to Moslems, remember? It is a norm in developed countries that the forces should serve under appropriate civilian command.

  7. The question of rank and protocol dominate military thinking.
    Our Service chiefs are already on par with the Cabinet Secretary.
    Will the CDS rank higher than that? What will be his status vis a vis the Mos Defence?
    Will the senior most General/Admiral/Air Chief Marshal automatically become the CDS? OR will this be left to the discretion of our politicians?
    These are vexing questions.

  8. Who ever it is, he or she should be allowed to work independently. Also it is not right to use this decision in political forum as already started by home minister in Haryana. If BJP govt has done it fine but no politics please.

  9. In Pakistan, the CDS is a pale shadow of the army chief’s aura. Even in India, he would essentially be a staff officer, someone who has had a full tenure as chief of one of the three services, is unwilling to spend the entire day on the golf course. Historic decision, will transform India’s war fighting capabilities is a little over the top. No question of CDS being a permanent fixture of the CCS. National security is run as a very tight ship, with Cabinet Ministers of Home / Defence / External Affairs ( during the first five years; it has changed now for Home, perhaps not for MEA ) a little peripheral. The next CDS cannot dream of a clash with the NSA.


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