CDS, Chief of Defence Staff: Benefits and Challenges – Explained, pointwise

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The Government has appointed Lt. General Anil Chauhan as the next Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) of India. The post has been vacant since the death of the country’s first CDS Gen. Bipin Rawat in a helicopter crash in December 2021. The appointment has been welcomed by defence experts. It is expected that the new CDS would carry on the reforms process in defence forces initiated by the Gen. Rawat. Indian defence forces face considerable challenges, including the possibility of two-front war with hostile neighbours. Making the forces future-ready would be one of the top priorities of the CDS.

About the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is the highest-ranked officer of India’s armed forces. The CDS is the Chairperson of the Chief of Staff Committee (CoSC). He is the single-point military adviser to the Union Government and brings synergy in the matters of the tri-services i.e. the Army, Navy and Air force. A CDS is a 3- or 4-Star General belonging to any of the three sectors of the Indian armed forces.

The post of the CDS was first officially recommended by the Group of Ministers (GoM) in 2001 based on the recommendations of the K Subrahmanyam Committee (Kargil Review Committee (KRC)) in 2000. However, there was no significant movement in this regard. Subsequently, similar recommendations were given by the Naresh Chandra Task Force (2012) and the Lieutenant General D. B. Shekatkar Committee in 2016.

The decision to create the post of CDS was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security in December 2019. Gen Bipin Rawat took charge as the first CDS on January 01, 2020. The post of the CDS has been aimed to enhance the quality of Military Advice to Political Leadership through integration of Service inputs and to develop and foster expertise in defence matters for better and more informed decision making.

Simultaneously, the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) was created in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on January 01, 2020. The DMA has been created with the purpose of promoting jointness of tri-services in various areas such as procurement, training and staffing.

Together, these two reforms have been termed as the most important reforms in the defence organization.

What are the recent amendments in relation to the post of CDS?

The Union Government had recently amended defence laws to allow any serving or retired 3-star officer under the age of 62 to be eligible for the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The amendment has expanded the pool of officers that are eligible to the post of CDS to include the Lieutenant Generals, Air Marshals, and Vice Admirals. Earlier only 4-star Generals, (the Service Chiefs, Generals, Air Chief Marshals, Admirals) were eligible.

The Amendment has also allowed the Union Government to extend the tenure of the CDS as per requirements subjected to a maximum age of 65 years. Service chiefs have a tenure of 3 years or until the age of 62, whichever is earlier.

What are the roles of the CDS?

First, The CDS heads the Department of Military Affairs and acts as its ex-officio Secretary. The mandate of the Department of Military Affairs includes facilitation of restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands.

Second, The CDS is the Permanent Chairperson of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and a member of the Defence Acquisition Council and the Defence Planning Committee.

Third, the CDS acts the principal military advisor to the Defence Minister on all matters related to the tri-services and military advisor to the Nuclear Command Authority.

Fourth, the CDS has a responsibility for coordination among the three services in equipment and arms procurement, training and staffing.

Fifth, the CDS assigns inter-services prioritisation to capital acquisition proposals (i.e., procuring new equipment) based on the anticipated budget.

Sixth, the CDS is also charged with bringing about reforms in the functioning of the three services with the aim to augment combat capabilities of the Armed Forces by reducing wasteful expenditure.

Seventh, CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership.

Why are the benefits of the CDS?

Several initiatives have been undertaken since the creation of the CDS.

First, It is necessary to have a professional body to render single-point military advice to the Government on matters of national security. The Department of Military Affairs (DMA), by virtue of being a truly integrated department, will achieve better results at all levels through effective coordination between the Armed Forces and the Civil leadership. This will help facilitate inter-service integration and better civilian-military coordination in the Nation’s Higher Defence Organisation.

Second, It will also strengthen the process of Joint Planning, Operations and Procurement, thereby making Armed Forces more effective. Under this new Department, the Logistics structure is being fully revamped to make it more efficient. In this regard, three Joint Services Study Groups (JSSG) are developing common logistic policies for Services that will enhance all supply chain functions such as planning, procurement, inventory-maintenance, distribution, disposal and documentation. A pilot project based on the establishment of three Joint Logistic Nodes (JLN) at Mumbai, Guwahati and Port Blair has already been rolled off.

Third, A concerted effort is being made to move forward from a Single Service approach to integrated planning and execution. Towards this, three Joint Doctrines have been formulated in the last one year, while four new joint doctrines namely Capstone, Space, Cyber and Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) are at an advanced stage.

Fourth, in order to enhance Combat Capability and balance defence expenditure, more than 270 logistic installations of the Indian Army have been closed or scaled down, resulting in substantial savings to the exchequer. It will also help in increasing the ‘Teeth to Tail’ ratio.

Teeth to Tail Ratio

The teeth-to-tail ratio (T3R) is the amount of military personnel required to supply and support (‘tail) each combat soldier (‘tooth’). Teeth-to-tail ratio is often inversely related to its technological capabilities. A force with a high teeth-to-tail ratio will have more personnel devoted to combat, but these soldiers will lack the support provided by the tail. Such support includes the logistics and communication infrastructure on which modern forces depend. A force with a higher teeth-to-tail ratio may have more combat troops, but each will be less effective.

Fifth, A holistic review of the training methodology is also underway to modernise, integrate and rationalise training, as also to ensure optimal utilisation of infrastructure and resources.

Sixth, A ‘Tri–Services Joint Working Group’ has also been setup to study and work out the nuances of integrating Communication Networks between the Services.

What are the challenges?

First, bringing jointness in operations including through establishment of integrated theatre commands is a complex task. This may invariably encroach upon the domain of the services chiefs and will face resistance during conception and implementation.

Proposed Integrated Theatre Commands CDS UPSC

Proposed Integrated Theatre Commands

Read More: Integrated Theatre commands in India – Explained, pointwise

Second, Another hurdle will be to prioritize the budget allocation and acquisition of latest technologies in order to meet the requirements of the tri-services. The 3 services have competing claims (e.g., to build new aircraft carrier for the Navy or more fighter jets for the Air Force), and it will be difficult to establish balance. The CDS will have to ensure efficient logistics resource management and avoiding duplicity of effort. This can be carried out by streamlining the current policies and preparing a Joint Logistics Doctrine.

Third, In the operational realm, the biggest challenge will be aligning operational preparedness to meet a 2-front threat. Combined with the threat of proxy war, makes it a two and a half front war.

Fourth, the biggest and foremost challenge is to prepare the military for next-generation warfare. This includes Non-Contact Operations (Like cyber/information warfare), Low Intensity Conflict, Asymmetric Warfare and Network Centric Warfare. There are also challenges related to raising the technology threshold and dealing with nuances of multi domain warfare. In fact, the nation has to be prepared, as some of these threats cut across all boundaries, extending beyond the military domain.

What steps can be taken going ahead?

First, The CDS has to make an integrated capability development plan to ensure a synchronised modernisation among the services. A National Security Strategy will be of great help in laying down the pathways to achieving security, thus assisting in inter-services prioritisation.

Second, the integration between the DMA and MoD needs to be enhanced with time and more cross postings at higher levels will help in achieving the desired civil-military balance.

Third, There is need to incentivise the entry of private sector in defence industry and hand holding of the defence industry by respective service in trying to develop weapons and equipment. The services need to take ownership but the CDS/DMA can drive the initiatives..

Fourth, Greater synergy is also required with economic and diplomatic/foreign affairs. Military to military cooperation can assist in improving bilateral relations. It will be beneficial to grouping of nations like the QUAD and SCO.


The Indian armed forces are in midst of a transition. New age technologies are changing the nature of warfare. Non-contact warfare is gaining primacy and more lethality. China intends to replace the US as the global superpower. It has reflected in China’s aggression in Ladakh. It is in this backdrop that the transformation of the armed forces and the integration of the services must take place. The role played by the CDS assumes criticality in this regard.

Syllabus: GS III, Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate.

Source: Indian Express, Indian Express, The Times of India, IDSA, PIB

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