Modi announces post of tri-service military chief, but questions remain - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 15 August 2019

Modi announces post of tri-service military chief, but questions remain

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Aug 19

In 1999, the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) recommended creating a Chief of Defence (CDS) – a supreme military commander of the army, navy and air force; who would also serve as the government’s single point of military advice. For the two decades since, successive governments shrank from appointing a CDS, citing the need for a political consensus. 

In 2001, a Group of Ministers (GoM) endorsed the KRC recommendations, but the only joint command structure that emerged was a relatively toothless Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), headed by a three-star rank officer, junior to the three service chiefs. Consequently, the army, navy and air force continue to function without essential coordination.

On Thursday, in his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi apparently abandoned the need for political consensus and announced the government was going ahead with appointing a CDS.

“To further sharpen coordination between the services, I want to announce a major decision from the Red Fort. India will have a Chief of Defence Staff – a CDS. This is going to make the forces even more effective,” said Modi.

However, it remains unclear what kind of CDS the PM will implement. One possibility is what the GoM recommended: a five-star general who would be boss of the four-star chiefs of the army, navy and air force and would direct all their functions including operations, training and long-range planning. 

The other kind of CDS is what the Naresh Chandra Task Force recommended in 2012 – a less powerful, four-star officer termed the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (PCCSC), who would not directly command the three services, but would be the “first amongst equals”. The PCCSC would coordinate between the three services, enabling efficiency through sharing resources such as training facilities and obtaining economy of scale by carrying out joint procurement of weapons and equipment.

Given Modi’s emphasis on “sharpen[ing] coordination” rather than “joint command”, analysts are guessing that a four-star PCCSC is likely, with the title of CDS, if not the functions and five-star rank.

The appointment of a PCCSC would bring limited benefits, since the army, navy and air force would continue operating individually in key functions such as combat operations and planning. 

Nor would a PCCSC enable the next layer of defence reform, which is the creation of joint theatre commands, in which a theatre chief (who could be from any of the three services) would have under his command all the army, navy and air force troops necessary for carrying out his operational tasks. 

Currently, only one such tri-service command exists – the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), which functions under the IDS. Meanwhile, each of the three services has three-to-seven single service commands with overlapping jurisdictions.

Resistance to creating a five-star CDS post has stemmed from three directions. Politicians have had an unstated aversion to the concentration of all military power in a single person’s hands. Bureaucrats have opposed a CDS since the four-star service chiefs already have the same status as the cabinet secretary and a five-star CDS would presumably outrank the senior-most bureaucrat. Finally, there has been apprehension amongst smaller services, notably the air force, that an army CDS might undermine their positions.

The senior defence community, whose views are conveyed by veterans, approves of the CDS announcement. Lieutenant General Satish Dua (Retired), a former IDS chief, says “The appointment of CDS will be a game-changer, a force multiplier, who will bring synergy and coordination to the three services.”

“A good decision, but making it work is obviously a greater challenge,” says Lieutenant General Ata Hasnain, former corps commander in Srinagar. 

It is unclear who will be the first CDS, or when the appointment will be formally notified and implemented. If the CDS is selected from the serving chiefs, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, the air force chief, is currently the senior-most. Dhanoa retires on September 30 and, from October 1, army chief General Bipin Rawat will be senior-most.

However, the CDS could well be a more junior officer, deep-selected from the pool of serving generals. The Modi government has twice overturned the existing command hierarchy in choosing its service chiefs. In appointing Rawat as army chief in 2017, the government superseded two generals senior to him. The current navy chief, Admiral Karambir Singh, too was chosen in preference to another, more senior, admiral.

Anit Mukherjee of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an authority on higher defence management in India, sees little benefit in appointing a CDS if he is to be merely an upgraded IDS chief, without the army, navy and air force handing over responsibility for substantive functions.

“What are the precise departments, if any, which are to hived off from the three services? Who will control combat operations, and perspective planning? Lack of clarity on this would create tensions between the CDS and the three service chiefs down the line,” says Mukherjee.


  1. "MODI" announces post of....

    Why can you say "PM" Modi announces... Is it that hard.

  2. post 1947 independence the position of CinC, commander in chief, continued till the designation was changed to chief of [army] staff, COAS. the new position meant precisely that. the incumbent is the chief of the army staff, just as the chief of staff, western command is the chief of the army commander's planning and operational support staff. the chief of army staff is not the operational commander of the army commander, northern command. the operation command hierarchy is that cabinet committee on security, CCOS, giving directions to the army commanders, directly and not through the COAS. the COAS is not a member of the CCOS. the COAS does not initiate, write the performance appraisal, ACR of the army commander(s). no ACR is recorded for army commanders. the COAS initiates the ACR of the PSOs such as the EinC, QMG, MGO and others like DGMO, MS etc.
    similarly the chief of defence staff will be the CDS, Chief of Defence Staff.
    is there anything to indicate that the CDS will be the CinC of the armed forces with operational command diluting the role of CCOS. if so, then the doctrine of civilian control of the military, eloquently articulated by clausewitz, clemenceau, and a cornerstone of a democratic state has been set aside by the modi government. 'war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men', 'the proper subordination of a competent, professional military to the ends of policy as determined by civilian authority'; 'our principle is that the party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the party'.
    or should we continue to bang on about the warrant of precedence, the COAS ranking alongside the cabinet secretary, the defence secretary's lower ranking on the warrant. incidentally, in washington DC, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff ranks below her excellency the ambassador of india on the warrant of precedence. the warrant is merely a ranking for seating at ceremonial tamashas.

  3. Questions will always remain..... very good decision. Very very late. Should have been done immediately after 1971 war.
    We need a structure like in US.


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