Chief Of Defence Staff(CDS)
Baljit Dhaka

Chief Of Defence Staff(CDS)

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Chief Of Defence Staff (CDS):

Why in the news?

Recently, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) created the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to provide “effective leadership at the top level” to the three wings of the armed forces.

The outgoing Army chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat has been appointed as the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). 


As per the notification by the government, the upper age limit for the CDS has been fixed at 65 years. However, the tenure of CDS has not been fixed.


The first proposal for a CDS came from the Kargil Review Committee (KRC), set up in 2000.

Later, the Group of Ministers Task Force that studied the KRC Report and recommendations, proposed to the Cabinet Committee on Security that a CDS would be created.

In 2011, the Naresh Chandra Committee on defense and security also suggested a watered-down version of the CDS proposal.

Shekatkar Committee which submitted its report in 2016 also opined for CDS, having recommendations about tri-service integration.

Practice so far:

India has had a feeble equivalent known as the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC); but this is a toothless office, given how it is structured. 

The senior-most among the three Service Chiefs is appointed to head the COSC, an office that lapses with the incumbent’s retirement.

However, the COSC arrangement is seen as “dissatisfactory”, and its Chairman as a “figurehead”.

The post did not further tri-service integration, resulting in inefficiency and expensive duplication of assets.

The COSC system is a leftover from the colonial era, with only minor changes being carried out over the years. 

About CDS:: 

He will be the single-point military adviser to the government as suggested by the Kargil Review Committee in 1999.

CDS oversees and coordinates the working of the three Services  

He will be a Four-star General.

1. Not eligible to hold any Government office after demitting the office of CDS.

2. No private employment without prior approval for a period of five years after demitting the office of CDS.

Roles and functions: 

The Chief of Defence Staff will also head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), created within the Ministry of Defence, and function as its Secretary.

He would be primus inter pares or first among equals. He is also vested with the authority to provide directives to the three chiefs.

CDS will act as the principal military adviser to the defense minister on all tri-services matters.

The three Chiefs will continue to advise the Defence Minister on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services.

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

He will serve as the permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) which comprises the three service chiefs.  

As the Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee, CDS will perform the following functions:

CDS will administer tri-services organizations including those related to Cyber and Space.

Be a member of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by the Defence Minister and the Defence Planning Committee headed by National Security Advisor

Function as the Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority.

 Implement the five-year Defence Capital Acquisition Plan (DCAP) and the two-year roll-on Annual Acquisition Plans as a follow up of the Integrated Capability Development Plan.  

Assign inter-Services prioritization to capital acquisition proposals based on the anticipated budget.

Bring about reforms in the functioning of three Services aimed at augmenting combat capabilities of the Armed Forces by reducing wasteful expenditure. 

Need for CDS

Inadequate existing structure: India has had a feeble equivalent to CDS, known as the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), where the senior-most among the three Service Chiefs are appointed as head.

However, the COSC arrangement has been often cited as “unsatisfactory”, and its Chairman as a “figurehead”, therefore could not further tri-service integration, resulting in inefficiency and expensive duplication of assets.

Need for a central nerve center: India currently has 17 Service commands at different locations and duplicating assets, therefore the CDS is seen to be vital to the creation of “theatre commands” as well as integrating tri-service assets and personnel.

To weed out the policy paralysis: Major deficiency of the planning process led to a lack of inter- and intra service prioritization, duplication of efforts, and sub-optimal utilization of resources. The CDS could be entrusted with the task of defense planning, subject to overall guidance and directions from the Defence Planning Committee.

Lack of coordination between the Government and Armed forces: The KRC Report pointed out that in India, the armed forces headquarters is outside the apex governmental structure, therefore, the top executives do not have the benefit of the views and expertise of military commanders, which hurts India’s position in the critical war-like situations.

To further defense diplomacy: Presently, the crucial aspect of defense diplomacy is being conducted in an ad-hoc manner without an overarching policy direction from the Ministry of Defence. It would be ideal if the CDS is made responsible for all aspects of defense diplomacy, subject to clear policy guidelines from the government.

Need for capital procurement: The armed forces play a vital role in arms procurement. The CDS would be ideally suited to have larger delegated financial powers, over and above those exercised at the lower level, to expedite the procurement process.

Needed for quality assurance: The Department of Defence Production (DDP) is often accused of conflict of interest because of its dual responsibility of being the administrative department for both production and quality assurance, however, with the CDS coming up, it would be ideally suited to take up this responsibility of quality certification.

Resource crunch: Duplication of assets in infrastructure and human resources, whether in training or operational commands, is a huge drag on the defense budget, leaving scant little for capital acquisition. CDS is therefore needed to help cut back infructuous spending in defense. 


The charter of the CDS, if implemented properly, will prepare the 15-lakh strong armed forces for the wars of the future. The CDS is mandated to ensure the Army, Navy, and IAF, which often pull in different directions, truly integrate to slash wasteful expenditure amidst the ongoing severe fund crunch for military modernization because of the ballooning pay and pension bills. 


In the fast-changing security and defense environment, the country expects a payoff in the form of leaner and meaner forces, who will obtain synergy through planning, training, and executing joint operations. Thus the appointment of CDS is undoubtedly a bold and decisive step in reforming India’s higher defense management.