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We have got it all wrong-India’s Chief of Defence Staff is a self-deceiving exercise
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Brig V Mahalingam | Date:04 Feb , 2020 9 Comments

The Government release on the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) issued on 24 Dec 2019[1] says the CDS will be in the rank of a four-star General with salary and perquisites equivalent to a Service Chief. He will also head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), to be created within the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and function as its Secretary.

Apart from listing out the areas to be dealt with by the DMA headed by the CDS, the mandate of the DMA and the functions of the CDS as Permanent Chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee (COSC), all of which boils down as responsibilities to be shouldered by the CDS, the notification goes on the say “The CDS, apart from being the head of the DMA, will also be the Permanent Chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee. He will act as the Principal Military Adviser to Raksha Mantri on all tri-Services matters. The three Chiefs will continue to advise RM on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services. 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.”

The responsibilities listed in the Release are more than 35 involving the Army, Navy, Airforce and their headquarters, the Territorial Army, works relating to the three services, procurement exclusive to the Services except capital acquisitions as per prevalent rules and procedures, jointness in procurement, training, and staffing for the Services, establishment of Joint/Theater Commands, promoting indigenous equipment by Services, tri services organisations, of which cyber and space will be a part and will be under the command of CDS etc. He will be a member of Defence Acquisition Council chaired by Raksha Mantri, Defence Planning Committee chaired by NSA and Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority. He is expected to bringing about jointness in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance, etc. of the three Services. He will bring about reforms in the functioning of three Services aimed at augmenting combat capabilities of the Armed Forces by reducing wasteful expenditure

In addition to the above, the Department of Defence has issued an Order[2] transferring a laundry list of 419 works along with two Joint Secretaries, 13 Deputy Secretaries/Directors, 25 Under Secretaries and 22 Section Officers with supporting staff to the DMA.

An analysis of the Government Release and the Order raise the following questions:

•  Were the Kargil Review Committee and the country demanding the establishment of CDS to perform and shoulder responsibilities listed in these two documents?

•  One of the aims of establishing the CDS was to provide a single-point Military Advice to the Government besides take prompt decisions and actions in the midst of a war in a digitised environment, as, during Kargil war, the advice provided by the Army and the Air Chiefs to the Government were contradictory resulting in a delay of 13 days[3] for the Government to take a call on the employment of Air Force causing considerable avoidable casualties to the ground forces.  In this connection, the remarks of the thirty sixth report of the Standing Committee on Defence (2008-2009) (Fourteenth Lok Sabha), Ministry of Defence, Status of Implementation of Unified Command for armed Forces is relevant[4]. Why have we violated the Parliament’s directions?

“6. In the light of the fact that the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) has no command and control authority over the Services other than his own, the Committee have expressed their surprise whether such a system will prove efficacious enough to ensure quick response and coordinated action in emergent situations. Considering the fact that the key to success in modern day warfare operations is the ability of the different wings of the Armed Forces to integrate their efforts under a single command without any loss of time, the Committee have opined that the creation of an additional post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to act as Chairman of the COSC is essential to ensure optimum level of jointness among the different wings of the Armed Forces and to provide single-point military advice to the Government. The Committee, have also recommended that till such time the post of CDS is created, the Government may take steps to give appropriate authority to the Chairman COSC in the present set up to command and control the resources of the Defence Services whenever the situation so demands.”

•  Parliamentary Standing Committee in their report has expressed their doubt that since the Chairman COSC has no command and control authority over the Services other than his own, ifthe present system will prove efficacious enough to ensure quick response and coordinated action in emergent situations. In fact, they have suggested an interim measure to be adopted till such time the CDS is created. When the system of Chairman of the COSC has failed, why bring in that even after creating the CDS?

•  Since the CDS is not to exercise military command and the Service Chiefs have been mandated to advice the RM “on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services” only, who out of the four is expected to advice the RM during operations involving more than one Service? To be able to provide realistic assessment and suggest appropriate action not just the Chiefs but their operational staff too will have to be in the full know how of the operational situation. That implies the operational staff of all the services being in the operational loop. Is that possible?

•  If the CDS is to provide advice in war situations, what practical advice relating to the course of action to be adopted based on the existing ground situation can he suggest to the Government in the midst of the war in a digitised battlefield,if as per the Government Release the “CDS is not to exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership”. In war situations under these directions, the CDS will be clueless on the actual military situation on ground, enemy’s potentials and thus will be unable to give any meaningful advice. At best he can seek information from the Service Chiefs in the midst of the operations, paraphrase them and render them as his own advice to the Government. What if the advice of the Service Chiefs opining on their respective Service is contradictory to one another?  Do we want this? For the uninitiated it may be stated that during the course of the war vital decisions on areas such as timing and stage forwarding of reserves, launching counter penetration / counter attack actions, trans-theater move of forces and their employment, the need, aim and the timings for launch of counter thrust etc. which have serious implications affecting the success or failure of operations will have to be taken at short notice and acted upon.

•  The Government Release says “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.” What does this mean? Are we trying to say that in war situations our military commanders act in the interest of the Service rather than the country?

•  If we go as visualised, the political leadershipwill be burdened with advice from five sources, namely, the three Service Chiefs, the National Security Advisor (NSA) and the bureaucracy. Do we still want a repeat of Kargil?

•  In a war situation shouldn’t the highest political authority, which in India’s case is the Prime Minister receive Military advice directly from the military commander in charge of operations rather than from the Raksha Mantri who would have received Military advice from five different sources as stated above and is possibly confused?  

•  The Release says the first CDS within three years of his assuming office will bring about jointness in operation, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance, etc. of the three Services. An impossible task. Three years is too short a period. Obviously, the authors of the document are unaware as to what all such a direction involves. In my perception based on Chinese and US experience, it may take anything from 15 to 20 years for the changes to be effected.

•  CDS who has no stakes in the military operations has been tasked to establish Joint/Theater Commands. In an operational situation, from whom is the Theater Commander expected to take orders or seek advice from? Army Chief, Navy Chief or Air Chief or from the non-operational CDS? Military operations cannot be piloted under such ambiguous command and control set up. 

What have we created in the name of CDS?

We have not created the CDS to prepare India’s Defence Forces to fight an integrated Joint Operations in a digitised environment. Instead, what we have done is to position yet another senior officer of the rank of General, coined an organisation called DMA under him and dumped on him responsibilities other than those which he needs to attend to, to prepare the Defence Services for a future war. Since he has been kept at the level of a General like in the case of other Service Chiefs with no authority to exercise military command over them, it will be left to the discretion of Service Chiefs to implement orders issued by the CDS pertaining to integration or training to be imparted to their personnel or on other matters connected to war fighting.

There has been a growing demand for inducting Defence Services officers in the MOD at the decision-making level so as to ensure better synergy and understanding between the Civil and the Defence Services. Instead, we have managed to create a separate Department within the MOD to be headed by the CDS as its Secretary. The Service Headquarters continues to work as ‘attached offices’ under the MOD[5]. The spirit of the Kargil Committee’s Report does not seem to have been understood.    

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9 thoughts on “We have got it all wrong-India’s Chief of Defence Staff is a self-deceiving exercise

  1. He has a long years of experience and exposure to various environments, but still remains a Team Player.He is basically a well grilled tactician, not a Strategist.
    Analysis is not his strength , and thus I do not think this man can coherently communicate . He seems to a person right out of Peter Principle Book: Everyone Rises to his level of Incompetency” and if you cannot Kick him out then BOOT HIM UP ( to next level)

  2. Brig V Mahalingam has very rightly concluded that the creation of a CDS has been a self-deceiving exercise (for the Defence Forces).The Govt has created the CDS to fulfill its election manifesto to partially satisfy the Defence Forces like the OROP. However, the Politicians and the IAS Babus have a lingering fear of a coup from a strong hot headed CDS. The aim of creating the CDS was to have a single point advice to the RM. But if the Chiefs are to continue advising the RM than where is the considered joint single point advice to the RM? In the present form CDS is a further slow down with the Babus having the last laugh! However, a welcome beginning has been made and hope in due course the CDS is able to provide a single point advice to the Govt on all military matters.

  3. The ‘gentleman’ affected accepted his status as a secretary on being appointed as CDS.Thank goodness he was appointed in the status of a secretary.He could have done worse !
    In fact,he would be happy… because his predecessor joined in the vacancy of a joint secretary !!!

  4. CDS is the boss
    With no authority
    But accountability

    He is the boss but Defence Secretary is uncrowned king
    All money & Defence policy with Defence Secretary.

    In nutshell
    I am the boss with permission to say so of Defense Secretary
    Show quoted text

  5. I have been extremely worried about the CDS. General Bipin Rawat has launched a scheme for the deradicalisation of young 10-12 year old children in Kashmir. Has this got the clearance of the government and the military elite for this radicalised action by the CDS. Any playing with the minds of small children is not acceptable under any circumstances. Surely the military has been amiss in not stopping this experiment with small children. Kashmir, in any case, is not the right place for such experiments. Nor have seasoned medical doctors and psychiatrists and psychologists interviewed the children and their families. This whole exercise is atrocious.

  6. It is abundantly clear that the NSA in concert with bureaucrats played the trick on the Armed Forces by installing a toothless CDS. The three Chiefs and the Chairman COSC either did not speak up or acquiesced in order to be appointed the CDS. The question of reorganizing the Ministry of Defence and appointing a CDS has been shut forever. My articles ‘CDS and DMA, a clever masterstroke’ (The Tribune January 2, 2020), ‘The Faux Pas of Military Affairs’ (The Citizen – Jan 6, 2020) and ‘Chief of Defence Staff – First Among Equals?’ (Geopolitics – January 2020 edition) may also be pursued..

  7. Basic essence of KRC and the Group of Ministers report compromised. There is nothing like one amongst the equals in the Armed Forces parlence. There is only one commander who has the last word. Well shall I be optimistic and say that the system will evolve. First baby step.
    The answer for futureistic view is creation of theatre commands which will be autonomous in operational matters. The conduct of high tech future warfare will throw much more serious challenges and flexibility in concepts will be the order of the day and we will keep evolving.

  8. Sir, in usa, operational command is vested with Theater commanders, not the cds or service chiefs. We need to trust that commander to take the right action based on the national strategy, clearly enunciated. This seems to be a work in progress. Hopefully, it will get resolved once joint commands are firmed up and competent commanders assigned

  9. The CDS has also strongly supported the “deradicalisation” of young children of 10-12 years of age. Surely, this is not the way deradicalisation should be done, if at all. And what is the need for this kind of treatment for children.

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