The CDS will direct the three service chiefs and create new theatre commands for an optimal military response in case of hostilities. (Photo @DefenceMinIndia)
The CDS will direct the three service chiefs and create new theatre commands for an optimal military response in case of hostilities. (Photo @DefenceMinIndia)

Govt sets up Dept of Military Affairs to be headed by Chief of Defence Staff

While the government is yet to announce the name of the first CDS, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat is the front-runner for the post. He retires as army chief on December 31.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Rahul Singh
UPDATED ON AUG 11, 2020 05:24 AM IST

The government on Tuesday cleared the appointment of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who will be a four-star officer and head the department of military powers in the defence ministry, Union minister Prakash Javadekar announced at a cabinet briefing. The development, perhaps the most significant reform in top military management in India, comes four months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in his Independence Day speech the creation of the post for more effective coordination between the three armed forces.

WATCH | Chief of Defence Staff: Cabinet clears new post for military advice to govt

The appointment of the CDS — pending for almost two decades after the Kargil Review Committee recommended it — is a major reform in India’s higher defence management, Javadekar said. The CDS will have the same salary and perquisites as the three service chiefs (who are also four-star officers), he added.

The government is yet to announce who will be the country’s first CDS, but army chief General Bipin Rawat is widely believed to be the front-runner for the post. His term as army chief ends on December 31 and the government is likely to name the CDS before that, said two senior government officers, asking not to be named.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that the decision to create CDS was a major step towards bringing about jointmanship between the armed forces and with the decision, the government had fulfilled the commitment given by PM Narendra Modi on August 15.

“In a historic decision for ushering in reforms in the higher defence management in the country, the Government has decided to create a post of Chief of Defence Staff and to create a Department of Military Affairs, within the Ministry of Defence (MoD),” he said in another tweet.

A defence ministry statement said while the CDS would act as the principal military adviser to the defence minister on all tri-services matters, the three service chiefs would continue to advise the minister on matters exclusively concerning their respective services. “The 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 ministry said in a statement. Still, it is expected that the CDS will be a first among equals, also because he will be senior to all the other chiefs in terms of service.

The statement said that apart from heading the department of military affairs, the CDS will also be the permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC). Until now, the chairmanship of the COSC was held in rotation by the senior-most service chief for short periods and the arrangement was found to be unsatisfactory.

The ministry said the new department of military affairs will focus on promoting jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the three services through joint planning and integration of their requirements. The department will also facilitate the restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands. The ministry said the CDS would also function as the military adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority.

“It is expected that this reform in the higher defence management will enable the armed forces to implement coordinated defence doctrines and procedures and will go a long way in fostering jointmanship among the three services,” the statement said.

The implementation committee, appointed by Prime Minister Modi and headed by national security adviser Ajit Doval, has defined the charter for the CDS. This is in line with what was recommended by the K Subrahmanyam-led Kargil Review Committee (KRC). The committee’s report was tabled in Parliament in February 2000. The late Subrahmanyam was the father of India’s current foreign minister S Jaishankar.

The KRC recommended the appointment of a CDS as a means to provide single-point professional military advice to the political leadership and also get the forces to work together. After the Kargil war, a Group of Ministers (GoM) also strongly recommended the creation of CDS in 2001. But successive governments failed to build political consensus around the CDS before PM Modi on August 15 announced the creation of the post.

“The CDS will be a game changer in terms of resource optimisation, jointness and capability enhancement of the military. Some teething troubles may be there initially as it is a new role but things will stabilise as we move along. Other militaries have faced such challenges. The CDS will also bring about a better interface with the bureaucracy,” said Lieutenant General Satish Dua (retd), who was the senior-most military officer handling all tri-service affairs until November 2018. Dua retired on October 31, 2018, as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC)after holding the top post for two years.

“Hopefully, the CDS will now have more control over funds and an ability to prioritise procurements. The fine print needs to be studied in detail,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

The existing structure for cross-service cooperation — the Chairman, COSC — is weak and susceptible to pulls and pressures from the service that the chairman belongs to, said two military officials, asking not to be named.

The CDS will not be parochial and will be guided by the interests of the three services and not just his own, which was mostly the case with the chairman, COSC, said the first official cited above. The CDS will also have a fixed tenure unlike the rotating post of chairman, COSC, who is the senior-most service chief and holds the dual charge for a few months, said the second official.

“Take the case of General Bipin Rawat who took over as chairman, COSC from Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa when the latter retired on September 30. Rawat will be chairman, COSC for just three months as his term as army chief ends on December 31. There’s little one can do in such a short time-frame,” he said.

General (retd) VP Malik, who was the army chief during the Kargil War, tweeted: “Cabinet note on charter of CDS is visionary, comprehensive & on desired lines. Should take care of ‘business rules’ anomalies. Service Chiefs already senior to GOI Secys, equated with Cab Secy. Responsibility of CDS & Def Secy to workout smooth interaction between Civ & Mil Deptt.”

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