The CDS will be announced soon. | Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
The CDS will be announced soon. | Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
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The Narendra Modi government formally announced the creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff as well as a Department of Military Affairs. The CDS will be the secretary of the new department, which will deal exclusively with military matters and be a bridge between the civil servants and the armed forces. The DMA will, however, have no operational control over the Army, Navy and Air Force.

ThePrint asks: Modi govt’s CDS-Dept of Military Affairs: Cosmetic change or increasing defence efficiency?

Hope refinement will take place on the job, but much depends on space bureaucracy gives to CDS

Syed Ata Hasnain
Chancellor, Central University of Kashmir & Lieutenant General (Retd.), Indian Army 

The system of integration of the armed forces of any country through the concept of a CDS is complex and has taken many years to mature.

The Modi government has taken a decision that was pending for decades, but more specifically since 2001 when the Kargil Review Committee and the Group of Ministers recommended the creation of a CDS and the integration of the Ministry of Defence.

The CDS should have been a five-star General (or equivalent) heading the armed forces with control over all facets of the three Services, the merger of field commands into integrated theatres and single point advice.

As a four-star officer, the CDS is to head the new Department of Military Affairs as a secretary with powers to move files directly to the Raksha Mantri, something akin to the Ministry of External Affairs. It’s a positive thing, with the HQ Integrated Defence Staff probably becoming the core of this department, although the integration of the MoD is yet an aspiration.

With non-conventional components such as space, cyber and special forces agencies along with joint commands under his direct gaze, the CDS will also handle budgetary allocation to the three Services, modernisation, procurement, joint doctrine, training and render nuclear advice. The concept of single point advice will, in effect, become a four point advice since no operational command will be exercised over the three Services.

While a decision has at last been taken, it should be expected that refinement will take place on the job, with much dependent on the space that the political and bureaucratic communities give to the CDS. Theaterisation, although included in the initial communiqué, appears quite far for now.

I would judge the DMA and CDS on the role they end up playing in supporting defence indigenisation

Saurav Jha
Columnist and author 

This development certainly has the potential to increase defence efficiency given the remit of the Department of Military Affairs, which will be helmed by the Chief of Defence Staff. The fact that the CDS is not only going to serve as a principal adviser to the defence minister on tri-Services matters, but will also implement the five-year capital acquisition plans and two-year roll-on plans suggests that the post has been given some teeth. The CDS plays an important role with respect to the overarching aim of fostering jointness in a time-bound manner.

Jointness in procurement is the need of the hour given overlapping capability requirements and the role cumulative services requirements can play in helping India’s indigenous defence industry attain scale.

Indeed, the CDS is supposed to enhance the share of indigenous equipment in use by the military. Indigenous developments will prove especially important for the cyber and space joint commands, which will be under the CDS. As such, the CDS will also have the role of assigning inter-services prioritisation to capital acquisitions and can therefore, serve as an adjudicator in the matter of budgetary rivalries. Personally, I would judge this development on the role it ends up playing in supporting indigenisation.

Move shows Modi govt serious about future restructuring of armed forces

Deependra Singh Hooda
Lieutenant General (Retd.), Indian Army

The expected requirement of the CDS was to promote jointness and integration. Now that it is being set up, I believe this is a positive thing.

On the question of whether this would be a cosmetic change or would increase defence efficiency, I think it depends on how the roles and responsibilities assigned to the CDS are fulfilled.

The CDS will look after tri-services institutions and budgeting issues. There are three key things at play here. First, the CDS has been asked to look at the restructuring of the military commands. This will bring about greater efficiency in the military if it will subsequently lead to theatre commands. This also means that the Modi government is serious about the future restructuring of the armed forces, and is not limiting itself to the mere appointment of the CDS.

Second, the CDS has been asked for jointness in operations and logistics training, etc. The officer has been given three years and will have to work in a time-bound manner.

Third, the CDS will set the prioritisation of capital acquisition. Earlier, the three Services were making their own acquisition plans when they had a limited budget. Which Service is to be prioritised? The CDS can now solve this issue on the basis of the urgency of operations.

This move should alter and bring in greater synergy in civil-military relations, which haven’t been very effective in the past. I hope that with the appointment of the CDS, things will get better.

CDS & Dept of Military Affairs are big defence reforms, but they fall short on many fronts

Snehesh Alex Philip
Senior associate editor, ThePrint

The creation of the post of the CDS and the Department of Military Affairs are the biggest reforms that the Indian military has seen since Independence. But these fall short on many fronts.

The CDS will be a four-star officer and the ‘first among the equals’, which is actually the practice followed in the Services. Ideally, the CDS should have been a five-star officer.

Until 1955, the Indian Army chief was known as the Commander-in-Chief. But the office was changed to the Chief of Army Staff. This meant that he was the first among equals in terms of his relationship with Army Commanders, who are quite independent in their own right.

Though a positive step, there is a fear that the Department of Military Affairs will turn out to be just like any other department in the Ministry of Defence, which already has multiple secretaries.

Moreover, contrary to the past expectation that the CDS will be the single point-man to the prime minister on defence issues, the officer will be the principle adviser to the defence minister. And instead of heading the Defence Planning Committee, the officer will just be a member.

One wonders how the CDS will be able to brief the Raksha Mantri when an operational issue comes up. It should not be the case that the CDS paraphrases the views from each Service and presents it as a personal advice.

It remains to be seen how much the CDS will be able to actually push military affairs through the thick walls of the bureaucracy.

Through CDS-DMA, India can improve defence planning and budgeting and also create civil-military fusion

Pranav RS
Research analyst, The Takshashila Institution 

The Modi government’s CDS-Department of Military Affairs move will definitely increase military efficiency and lead to a much-needed balance in the relationship between civilians and military establishments.

There has always been a perception that the military doesn’t think civilians are equipped with the skills to understand its problems. This tension needs to be dissipated, only then there can be real military effectiveness so that we can understand what the military’s problems really are.

I believe this autonomy to the military was much needed. It goes back to the 1960s when Lord Mountbatten suggested the creation of the CDS post. However, the Jawaharlal Nehru government at the time thought that it would give a lot of power to the military. Owing to the same civil-military tension, the suggestion wasn’t implemented then.

But I don’t think this step will bring an immediate difference to India’s defence forces. This is a long bureaucratic process. In the future, if this new policy is implemented correctly, it could bring about real change — one where bureaucracy and military officials work together. India then will be able to utilise all its three defence forces and the military’s space agency.

For example, the Defence Space Research Organisation, a decision to set up which was taken in June, can be used to create an informed force. This force can be potentially ready for battles with China and Pakistan in the next five or 10 years.

The latest move, however, won’t alter civil-military relations in the government. The department will have an equal number of civilians and military officials. This is called civil-military fusion. It would improve India’s defence planning and budgeting and could build trust on both sides.

Also read: CDS was needed. But Modi govt also creating Department of Military Affairs is a big bonus

By Kairvy Grewal, journalist at ThePrint 

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  1. The success of any change lies in clarity of thought, vision, depth, simplicity and implementation..any half hearted effort defeats the very purpose of a meaningful step..the amplification notes covering the responsibilities and functions of CDS is a case in point
    1. The Raksha Mantri must be from the Defence Services
    2. The RM heads the Ministry of Defence and reports to the PM
    3. Abolish the post of Vice Chiefs..create 3 posts Secretary Army, Navy and Air Force, of Lt Gens and equivalent rank
    4. The MOD to have a mix of combatants and civilian experts in respective domains, with 2/3 representation from Defence Services
    5. This organization will have streamlined functionality without any ambiguities
    6. The uniformed personnel would have served in field formations and thus the Babu mentality, armchair expertise and turf wars will be eliminated
    7. The principal of Command and Staff is adequately balanced with Chiefs and Secretaries reporting to RM who in turn reports to PM

    • Two views are possible on whether Raksha Mantri should be from the armed forces. From 1947 onwards, the political system has been very clear about creating a firewall between the civilian government and the armed forces. The Editor drew a lot of flak for a story about what almost happened on one cold, foggy night in January some years ago. I tend to believe at least the part which said that the government was spooked out of its wits.

  2. The CDS will do no harm, possibly do a lot of good, in terms of coordination and creating “ jointness “. Why three service Chiefs – who were batchmates at NDA – cannot sit together regularly and achieve the same desirable object is a mystery. The system of the senior most of them being Chairman was a healthy practice. One would expect Raksha Mantri to meet regularly with all three officers and improve coordination. That would in fact be his primary task.

  3. The three service Chiefs do not accept – partly on account of Warrant of Precedence – the Defence Secretary to be their boss, in the way that DGPs of states, somewhat grudgingly, accept the Home Secretary to be. So it is intriguing that their CDS will now be one of a number of Secretaries in MoD where the DS is clearly the head, in the manner that the Finance Secretary leads a team of Secretaries in MoF.

  4. For CDS to have been a five star officer, with the three service Chiefs reporting to him operationally, is an impractical idea the government has fortunately not bought into. It would have reduced those three prime officers to subordinates, unable to lead their services with the kind of ultimate authority their posts require. Just a stray thought. If the government had offered Lt Gen Naravane a choice between COAS and CDS, which honour would he have selected ?

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