Military & Aerospace

Chief of Defence Staff – are we kidding or serious?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 20 Feb , 2015

Going by media reports, the MoS Defence, Rao Inderjit Singh, has stated on the sidelines of an international seminar ‘Aerospace Vision: 2050’ on 16 February that the MoD has decided to create the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to advise the government on all matters military and to take an independent decision on issues like requirements of all three Services.

10 years down the line, the Chairman COSC is still out of the nuclear loop with SFC directly under the NSA.

The MoS Defence reportedly added, “The three Services have agreed, and we now have to get all parties involved, since it is a political decision. I think we are going to write to all the political parties and ask them as to what their opinion is on this. Once they give their opinion, we will take a decision”. The question is are we kidding about appointing a CDS or are we serious about it? What has changed over the years?

About a decade back in late 2005, the then Defence Minister (now the President of India and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces) surprised a tri-Services gathering at HQ IDS saying some months back the government had actually taken a decision to announce the CDS and had even identified who the first CDS would be, but then there was no political consensus on the issue. He however, added in the same breath that when there were 101 things on which political consensus is not there but some decisions are still made.

The audience had included the then Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) & Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), the Vice Chief of Air Staff (the Chief of Air Staff being away on a foreign tour) and the CISC, all of whom consented to the requirement of the CDS when questioned individually by the then Defence Minister. In fact, the consensus was to have a CDS with “full operational powers”.

The Chairman COSC & CNS also pointed out that the Chairman COSC had been quietly taken out of the nuclear loop by putting the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) directly under the NSA; a bureaucratic machination, which needed to be rectified by bringing the Chairman COSC back into the loop and of course the CDS as and when appointed must be part of the nuclear loop as well.

Are we without a National Security Strategy and in this pathetic state of military equipping and military jointness because of lack of Services consensus?

10 years down the line, the Chairman COSC is still out of the nuclear loop with SFC directly under the NSA. So you have a situation where the Chairman COSC is out of preparation and contingency planning of the SFC including nuclear riposte.

The present MoS Defence has stated that the three Services have agreed to the requirement of the CDS but then that was never wanting. As mentioned above, there was complete consensus in 2005, as witnessed by response to query by the then Defence Minister directly to the Service heads.

If there has been dissent reported on occasions, it was orchestrated by design by the MoD bureaucracy or the political hierarchy to avoid appointment of the CDS. For example, one Service Chief who at the 2005 meeting above was vehement that “CDS should be appointed with full operational powers without further delay”, stated just before retiring that we should not appointment CDS till we resolve our insurgency problems – as if the two are related. It is a different issue that it may or may not have added to brownie point helping him bag a constitutional post. For those who have been against the appointment of a CDS, there was never a problem; statements could be obtained on promises of reward, mischievous items for perception management could be inserted through paid media or simply an outright statement that Services do not agree could be made, as done by the then NSA at the National Defence College during 2000.

So who are we kidding? Since when has the MoD or political hierarchy bothered about consensus from the Services, with Service Headquarters still relegated as “Attached Offices”? Are we without a National Security Strategy and in this pathetic state of military equipping and military jointness because of lack of Services consensus? Haven’t a whole series of decisions on matters military been taken in the past ‘without’ consensus of the three Services? Services consensus sure is good excuse and a convenient at that, as being used for not declassifying the 1962 Hendeson Brooks report or for that matter the 1965 and 1971 war accounts.

…the MoD bureaucracy has always been and will continue to be dead against the appointment of a CDS.

As to seeking political consensus for appointing the CDS, it was obviously sought on earlier occasions too including at least in 2005 going by the statement of the then Defence Minster. So which political parties replied, which did not, what were the replies and who objected on what grounds. Are we going to see a report of the same drama? Going by the trend of communalization, corruption and criminalization of politics in India with many political parties (1759 political parties were registered in India by 16 September 2014) ready to sacrifice national security on the altar of politics?

Are we unaware of the nexus of politicians / political parties with terrorist and radical organizations at home and abroad, funds flowing in from dubious sources to destabilize India, and those acting under blackmail having used hawala for black money transactions? What justification, if any, for the political party that came to power after the recent cameo in Delhi stating publicly that India should not buy any weapons from Israel? And what about the nexus of political parties in J&K and West Bengal that are hand in glove with radical organizations across the borders and revel on such jaundiced strength? What response does MoD expect, if at all from those political parties who do not want India to be militarily strong? Why not have open debate in Parliament; let those who object be showcased in public along with their objections?

The Defence, Defence Minister and the political hierarchy should understand that the MoD bureaucracy has always been and will continue to be dead against the appointment of a CDS. This is also because of the arms mafia resident in the MoD and our governmental defence-industrial complex. That in the past the arms mafia has had links beyond MoD has been commented upon, including the money pipeline going all the way up to the PMO and even beyond. Then the MoS Defence has said that the CDS would be taking independent decision on issues like requirements of all three Services.

Appointment of a CDS should be an absolute priority for the political hierarchy with the mounting threats to our national security, array of destabilizing forces aligning against us…

One wonders if this line was fed by the bureaucracy! What does the CDS taking an “independent view” imply? Is the MoS Defence aware that the MoD document that authorized the CDS was craftily drafted to say “as and when the CDS is appointed, he will have equal voting rights as the Service Chiefs and in case of two Service Chiefs not agreeing, MoD will arbitrate”. In other words, the CDS will hardly be the single point decisions on behalf of the three Services, for it is the generalist bureaucrats of MoD devoid of experience of matters military who will preside. Are we looking for such a CDS?

Is the Defnce Minister aware that the Defence Secretary, not the Defence Minister, is charged with the country’s defence and the Services HQ are labeled “Attached Offices” since the British Raj. This needs a drastic overhaul. The Defence minister needs to seriously consider replacing the MoD with a Department of Defence (DoD) under the Defence Minister manned by military professionals with appropriate civilian cells. To bridge the vital void of integration, HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) should be completely merged with the MoD as recommended by many study reports, or more appropriately form part of the proposed DoD. This will also fill the absence of an institutionalized strategy formulation set up in the existing MoD and kill the civil-military divide that is officially not acknowledged but actually has been growing drastically.

Appointment of a CDS should be an absolute priority for the political hierarchy with the mounting threats to our national security, array of destabilizing forces aligning against us and India as a sponge for global terrorism suiting many countries including the United States. Appointment of a CDS had been strongly been recommended as recommended by the Kargil Review Committee, Group of Ministers Reports and Arun Singh Committee Reports. This is vital not only for providing single point military advisory to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and the Defence Minister but also to bring synergy between the three Services completely lacking at the moment and to transform the three Services into Network Centric Warfare (NCW) capable forces. Our military jointness, an absolute imperative, is far from the required measure despite hoopla to the contrary.

…in addition to appointing a CDS, it would be advisable to have appropriate military advisory cells with the Prime Ministers, External Affairs Minister and Home Minister.

The Prime Minister’s call for a digitized military will remain incomplete without a CDS to integrate the Services. As importantly,  National synergy is essential with asymmetric threats that overlap all type of conflict situations through the entire the spectrum of conflict. Therefore in addition to appointing a CDS, it would be advisable to have appropriate military advisory cells with the Prime Ministers, External Affairs Minister and Home Minister. Such measures would provide a boost to defence preparedness, usher in a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), evolve requisite strategies and policies for national security, response to asymmetric war, defence procurements, R&D, technology acquisition and reorganizing the defence-industrial base etc.

In UK, the debate over appointment of a CDS raged for 18 years with the bureaucracy playing similar games to keep the Services divided and enjoy the fun. Then the British political authority simply took the decision and appointed the CDS. We don’t have the luxury of fooling around with the type of threats we are facing. So, getting back to the statement of the MoS Defence, hopefully it is not to keep the Services in humour, as done by previous governments. For seeking political consensus there can be no better way but to debate it in the forthcoming Budget Session of Parliament. It should also be worthwhile checking what response political parties gave when the previous government sought the consensus in 2005. The Defence Minister should simultaneously address the other issues discussed above. In the final analysis, redressing defence of India, which requires hard decisions, is only going to be possible with due focus by the Defence Minister supported by the Prime Minister.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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8 thoughts on “Chief of Defence Staff – are we kidding or serious?

  1. The CDS can be appointed without a political consensus and there is not need for the government to wait for it. CDS is imperative for national security and government should not wait for political consensus to take decisions on national security. The CDS should have complete operational powers and not just an advisory role. Appointment of CDS alone will not suffice. 2 other changes are critical. Firstly, the bureaucracy should be moved out of MoD. Military officers should be appointed in their place. Secondly, the services should be integrated with a top down approach. Appointment of CDS will obliviously be the first step. Next the chief of IDS should be made equivalent to a General/Admiral/ACM. He should directly report to CDS, along with other service chiefs. The senior among the 4 should be made deputy CDS. Chief of IDS should be responsible for integrating the services into operational, functional, support and administrative commands. In order to integrate the services operationally, the different commands of the 3 services should be realigned. India should be divided into 7 theater commands i.e. Northern, North Western, Central, Eastern, Western, Southern and A&N command. India should setup bases abroad and group them into 4 commands. These should be West Asia command, Central Asia command, South West Indian ocean command and Pacific command. These theater commands should be headed by an officer of the rank of Vice Chief. Further, these 11 commands should be grouped under 3 military regions. These regions should be commanded by an officer of the rank of General/Admiral/ACM, directly reporting to CDS. The Northern, Central & Eastern commands facing China should be under 1 region. The Northwestern, western, central asian and west asian command facing Pakistan should be under second military region. The Southern command, A&Z command and SW Indian ocean command should be under the third region. A national defence command center should be setup for coordination.

  2. Sir, The babudom is not going to let go its suffocating grip on the Armed Forces. Even if we have or get a CDS how does it help the Armed Forces? Won’t he also be a ceremonial head, an ineffectual part of the pomp and pageantry (Band Baja Barat) of the Indian System? What will his powers be? Will he have a balanced approach towards the needs of the services or he will be another one lobbying and manipulating the system for his own branch of service. If he is just going to be a titular head we are better without him. It’s not just the CDS alone – the whole Defence System of the country need an over haul and restructuring. The first to be restructured is the Defence Ministry which needs to be staffed by predominantly by the Armed forces. An appropriate level of civilian babudom should be maintained. The Defence Secretary can be a civilian but the MOS for defence should be an Ex Armed Forces man. In the Defence Ministry we need to have a Strategic Defence Council which is staffed by eminent strategists by appointment, the Service Chiefs, Bureaucrats from the MEA, economists with international exposure and regional specialists; its purpose being to formulate a comprehensive Strategic Policy for the country and be an advisory to the PM on such matters. The Defence forces should be factored into the country’s’ foreign policy. Even Armed forces need to be restructured and have a strategic orientation. We need to have Strategic Commands looking at their respective areas. As an example there should be one command looking at the Chinese and not three as we have now. It will have more focus and will be more poised and balanced for offensive operations. The Country needs to give up its defensive force policy. It needs a face change into being an offensive force. This sends a different message across to our adversaries and the region. Regards.


  4. What is India and what type of leaders we elect. It is unimaginable that SFC is under a NSA- an advisor to the PM. Do our netas have any idea- what they are doing or suppose to do, or they are all ears for bab(oo)ns only, who have only personal interest,and have created a fear psychosis in the minds of political class that Armed forces can overtake if given any power or access to Political Leadership. Bab(oo)ns have no word as Nation in their dictionary. It is all Them. What idea a Civilian official have about strategic command- he may read from books nothing more. I do not think that with such thinking of Netas abley(sic) advised by bab(oo)ns we will ever become a world power.

  5. Well said, general.

    More than India needing a CDS is a clearing of the air about the whole situation. If the MoD wants that there should be no CDS but an alternative arrangement or even no arrangement at all, let it be so. As it is, it is the Defence Secretary who is responsible for the defence of India.

    Let the service chiefs say so openly. This they do not do and take on responsibility for everything. When they invoke the defence minister, why don’t they put the defence secretary in the limelight by diverting media questions to him?

    I recall that there was a lot of heart burns over the presumed late stage for induction of Air Force into the Kargil conflict. Why did no chief say that the decision was to be taken by the defence secretary and divert the question of timing to him? Was it timidness, intimidation or just supplicant attitude?

    If the defence forces are looking towards parliament to overrule the bureaucracy and bring reforms into defence structure, they are barking up the wrong tree.

  6. ISSUE OF APPOINTMENT OF CDS has been aired time and again since decades. The Author Veteran , Lt Gen Katoch (R) has quoted some headway in 2005. But it has remained as it was since then .? Political outfit and more the Bureaucracy which has acquired immense “powers” to dominate Govt functioning . Pitiable that Politicians rely more on them Even National Security for that matter. Public specially the agitating Foot soldiers are kept happy thru subsidies and FREEBIES That being the Vote Bank. Recent Victory by A new born Party caused biggest upset in Delhi Assembly Elections. Besides Communal card was played just to grab piwer. Kudos is due to Gen Katoch for a hardhitting Article.

  7. Continued from my earlier post:

    (a dozen flotsam and jetsam for three months) and this was beyond the Air Force budget despite complimentary training and accommodation laid on by Digital at Bostonl. Here, then, was a High Tech Air Officer who put style above the substance of National Security in the spitting image of the inferiority ridden Civilian Over lords. In such a situation, adding another four star tier in an armed forces where the tribe of four stars is ever increasing, festooned with medals and bars, under the “glass ceiling” and leadership of an entirely unfit for purpose Politician-Bureaucrat nexus fixes nothing but creates yet another Adarsh golfing sinecure for yet another adept at wielding the ketchup bottle. The culture is bad. OLQ has been drubbed out of the system together with English, a sense of humour, family background and school background. One can only wonder at the assiduity with which India’s Neta-Babus have achieved a subservient Armed Forces that are inter se incompatible, medal hunting, far distanced from the Chetwode Code, and more a danger to themselves than to their civilian over lords or the Nation’s enemies in perfect harmony with quality and quantity of weapons provided to them. The Armed Forces need to be integrated at Brigade level and above based on terrain and threat addressed , and, at the very least, as thorough an over haul as India’s Constitution, laws, bureaucracy, police methods and judiciary.. Putting a single cherry on top of this three-in-one sundae will not help.

  8. The Indian Armed Forces is a “Stove Pipe Organization” It has become so AFTER 1947, with the the application of the “Divide and Rule” penchant of the very insecure Jabberlal Neckscrew who, with Patel, began to even grow the paramilitary as a bulwark against “Military Take Over”. The British culture held on through the days of the King’s Commissioned Officers which enabled, through informal networking, the interoperability of the Armed Forces. My father’s eldest brother who commanded the Joint Service Wing at Dehradun and established the NDA (though credit went, on a political basis, to a “minority” commandant) was of the view that its contribution to interoperability would be negligible as the armed forces grew with splintering specializations brought on by technology and that the brief get together at the DSSC and elsewhere would do little to stem the entropy of turf wars, “whose is bigger than whose”, and so on to establish a pecking order rather than focus on National Security, in the spitting image of the bureaucrats who rule over the armed forces. The nature of the culture of the Indian Armed Forces now is that of its Civilian over lords entirely given to hollow pomp, pageantry and “status” with the quest for “medals”. (The term “Medal Hunter” was extremely pejorative among King’s Commissioned Officers) with Ketchup Colonels and Adarsh Generals and Admirals whose competence in military matters is extremely questionable as India’s fiasco in Kargil show cased. I personally got a taste of the pettiness of Senior Command when I had put my neck personally on the block for India through false certification to get ruggedized VAX-VMS for the Low Level Radar Networking Project. despite a US ban on exporting this to India except for strictly civilian use. The Air Officer Commanding the project was more like a Flight Sergeant in terms of his “Officer Like Qualities” and the deal nearly fell through because he insisted on his team flying First Class to Boston for training

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