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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 10 Comments

What is Required?

Under the present structures the views of individual Service Chiefs will have to be heard and given due consideration in an operation where more than one service is involved. This requires time and meeting of the three Chiefs with no clarity on who will be in charge of conducting the operations. Such consultations might have been possible when the operations were slow moving with very limited information available about the enemy. But in an informationised digital environment where speed of decision and actions are vital to pre-empt enemy actions to gain the initiative, operational priorities and actions cannot be left to the choice of individual Service Chiefs or decided by voting. Joint operations under the present system can only go through if there is consensus amongst the three Chiefs. This needs to Change.

The answer lies in appointing Theater Commanders who will be responsible for conducting operations in their respective Theaters. Command and Control of forces will be linear and the present vertical chain will have to go. CDS will then be responsible to lay down the operation’s objectives based on the Political directives issued to him and after due consideration of the overall situation in all the Theaters. Trans-theater movement of troops and resources will be decided by him in consultation with the Theater Commanders and the Government and its implementation coordinated.

It may be of interest to all that in US and in China, military operations are conducted by the Theater Commanders equivalent in their respective theaters with CDS equivalent coordinating the actions of theaters. Service heads have nothing to do with operations. If we adopt the system suggested, we will not be doing anything different from what the major military powers of the world haveimplemented.

The Digitised Environment and its effect on Military Operations

In a digitised battlefield system consisting of net-worked command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) and counter C4ISR capabilities, a network interlinks weapon systems, aerial platforms, surveillance, and communications systems, allowing the exchange of vast amounts of real-time information of the enemy and the capability to communicate that information to all forces in near real time. The system provides the capability to employ weapon systems mounted in various platforms of different Services with minimum delay.

Under such conditions, military operations on a broad front will unfold in the format of simultaneous operations on land, maritime, airspace, electromagnetic, space and cyber battle space dimensions, as considered necessary, probably timed appropriately. Such operations will incorporate various entities of war fighting such as missiles, armament support, and the three Services besides various battlefield systems which embraces intelligence, reconnaissance, communications, Electronic Warfare (EW), cyber, space etc. Trans-regional mobility will be an essential part of the strategy to meet the requirement of resources in such fast-moving battle conditions.

After the operations have commenced, targets that come up while the operations are in progress will have to be dealt with instantaneously by allocating resources which are most appropriate considering the target and its location irrespective of which service owns them. Networked weapon systems allow employment of weapons at the press of a button. The massing of fire power at the point of decision instead of forces, from widely separated weapon platforms and assets of all the fighting forces will be the norm of the future. In nutshell, operations in the said environment will be fast moving requiring the resources of all the Services including the non-contact war tools such as Electronic Counter Measures (ECM), Cyber and Space, to be employed in an integrated manner.

The Role of CDS

The CDS will be responsible to translate the political aim of the Government issued in the form of directives to the military, spell out military tasks to the Theaters, evolve broader strategy for the operations in consultation with Theater Commanders and decide on operational priorities and allocate resources. Based on information that unfolds during the operations, the CDS in consultation with the Theater Commanders will be responsible for making changes to operational plans and effecting such changes. He should have the authority to decide on switching of forces from one theater to the other based on priorities and the prevailing operational situation. Other than operations and operational logistics, all other issues including Human Resources Development (HRD), must be handled by the Service Chiefs and the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The CDS will be responsible for structuring Headquarters of the CDS, Theater Commands and all other subordinate static Headquarters such as Area Headquarters all of which will be tri-service organisations. The Static Headquarters will cater for the needs of all the Services. Barring the headquarters of the three Services, training establishments of individual Services such as Regimental Centers and Record Officesall other establishments will betri-service so as to avoid each Service having its own establishments. The present logistic organisations and chains will have to be replaced by a Logistic Corps capable of handling logistic requirements of all the Services. This will need time. Training of officers at all levels to handle the new war methodology will have to be undertaken and to that end concerned training establishments will have to be restructured and their training syllabus modified. Priorities for procurement od equipment to meet the needs of the Services will be decided by the CDS based on larger military strategy.


The present system of each Service having its own logistic arrangements and chain will need change. There is a need for a Logistic Corps to replace the present system with independent status like the other Services to manage logistics both in peace as well as in operational areas. It will be an integrated Service, trained to meet the logistic requirements of all the Services. While procurement and movement of commodities including creating and stocking maintenance areas as required between places of procurement or storage to the theater will be the responsibility of the Logistic Corps, their movement beyond the theater’s logistic establishment to forward troops will be that of the Theater Commanders with manpower and transport being provided by the Logistic Corps. 

Change in Logistic set up will result in huge saving in manpower.


The two documents structuring the CDS has probably been created by the bureaucracy without any practical knowledge of war fighting or understanding of future war. The consideration has probably been to ensure no loss of turf to the Service Chiefs, status, clout, authority, power and order of precedence to the bureaucracy and to keep the services happy by creating one more senior officer besides generating a number of chain vacancies all around. The need to structure compact organisations that will reduce manpower and at the same time bring in integration and efficiency amongst services has been given a go by forgetting that reduction in manpower is not achieved by cutting one man here and one there but by thoughtful restructuring.

The CDS is a vital appointment in the military structure to prosecute war. Parochialism or keeping people pleased cannot be a consideration while formulating policies affecting National interests. The entire issue needs to be handled professionally based on professional considerations alone.


[1]Press Information Bureau, Government of India, ‘Cabinet approves creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff in the rank of four-star General’,Release ID: 1597425, posted on December 24, 2019, available at accessed on January 21, 2020. 

[2] ‘Allocation of work and Staff between Department of Defence and newly created Department of Military Affairs’, Department of Defence, Ministry of Defence, January 09, 2020, accessed on January 21, 2020.

[3]‘OP SAFED SAGAR – UNDERSTANDING AIR OPERATIONS IN KARGIL’, Indian Air Force, available at accessed on January 28, 2020

[4]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, available at accessed on January 27, 2020.

[5] From Surprise to Reckoning, The Kargil Committee report, December 15, 1999, para 14.19 and 14.20 available at accessed on January 28, 2020.

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10 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

    • Only if you knew how ridiculous your comment is, you wouldn’t have said that.
      What you know about the responsibility and the skills needed to be a Defence Secretary and how come CDS have been made into a position with no authority and full accountability, there is no text justifying your spew of infuriation.
      I can understand you suffer from some post retirement frustration and hubris, but that cannot be a solution for the underlying problem in the MoD.

  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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