Explainer: What India's First Chief of Defence Staff Is Supposed to Do

CDS General Bipin Rawat addresses media personnel. Photo: PTI/Arun Sharma

On Monday, General Bipin Rawat became India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

The Cabinet Committee on Security had approved the creation of the post of CDS at the rank of a four-star general with a salary and perquisites equivalent to that of a service chief. The CDS will also function as the secretary of the department of military affairs, which will be created within the Ministry of Defence.

For the post, the defence ministry has amended rules to allow the Chief of Defence Staff to serve up to a maximum age limit of 65 years. However, the tenure of the CDS is yet to be announced.

The Wire examines a few questions surrounding the new post.

What is the CDS position?

The CDS will function as the principal adviser to the government of India and will also coordinate the working of the three armed forces – the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.

The CDS will also be a member of the defence acquisition council chaired by the defence minister and defence planning committee chaired by the National Security Agent (NSA)

What was the need to create such a position?

Incoherency in defence policy formulation and its execution, due to the two being in different hands, was a major concern. With a CDS, India seeks to establish an organisational structure of “theatre command” that controls all the three armed forces, as prevalent in the US.

Also read: Here’s Why India’s New CDS Will Not Help the Nation Prepare Better For War

Is there any eligibility criteria for becoming the CDS?

The senior-most among the chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force will be appointed as the CDS.

The CDS will not be eligible to hold any government office after demitting the office of CDS and will not be allowed to take up any private employment, without prior approval, for a period of five years after demitting the office of CDS.

Indias first Chief of Defence Staff(CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat inspects the Guard of Honour at South Block lawns in New Delhi, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Photo: PTI/Arun Sharma

What will be the role of the CDS?

Apart from advising the government of India on defence issues, the CDS will enable “jointness” in planning, procurement, training and logistics among the three services. It will ensure the integration of land-air-sea operations and also administer modern warfare domains like cyber and space.

It will implement a five-year defence capital acquisition plan (DCAP), and two-year roll on annual acquisition plans (AAP).

Is CDS a new concept?

India has had a Chief of Staff Committee (CoSC), headed by a chairman, who would be the senior-most among the three service chiefs.

The creation of the post of the CDS was first suggested by the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) in 1999. The KRC report had underlined the need for coordination between the three services and pointed out that the armed forces headquarters in India is outside the governmental structure.

In 2001, a group of ministers had recommended the creation of the post of the CDS as a mandatory reform in India’s national security. In 2012, the Naresh Chandra task force reiterated the need for a chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The creation of CDS was one of the 99 recommendations made by the Lt. General D.B. Shekatkar committee in 2016. The committee also recommended a permanent chairman for the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Also read: ‘Unconstitutional Outburst’: Sharp Response to Army Chief’s Criticism of Anti-CAA Protests

Will the CDS be able to reform the Indian defence management?

If properly implemented, the CDS could help establish a strong force in India and enable judicious utilisation of the already shrinking defence budget.

However, in the absence of any clear blueprint for the office of the CDS, the post may just end up being that of another “figurative” head.