The CDS is a high military office that oversees and coordinates the working of the three Services. CDS shall provide “effective leadership at the top level” to the three wings of the armed forces, and to help improve coordination among them.
It offers seamless tri-service views and single-point advice to the Executive (in India’s case, to the Prime Minister) on long-term defence planning and management, including manpower, equipment and strategy, and above all, “jointsmanship” in operations.
India has had a feeble equivalent known as the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC); but this is a toothless office, given the manner in which 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.
CoSC arrangement is seen as “unsatisfactory”, and its Chairman as a “figurehead”.
The post did not further tri-service integration, resulting in inefficiency and an expensive duplication of assets.
The CoSC system is a leftover from the colonial era, with only minor changes being carried out over the years.
Apprehensions in the political class about a powerful military leader, along with inter-Services bickering, have long worked to disincentivise the upgrade of the post.
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The first proposal for a CDS came from the 2000 Kargil Review Committee (KRC).
Although the KRC did not directly recommend a CDS — that came from the GoM — it underlined the need for more coordination among the three Services, which was poor in the initial weeks of the Kargil conflict.
1. The KRC Report pointed out that India is the only major democracy where the Armed Forces Headquarters is outside the apex governmental structure.
2. It observed that Service Chiefs devote most of their time to their operational roles, “often resulting in negative results”.
3. Long-term defence planning suffers as day-to-day priorities dominate.
4. Also, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister do not have the benefit of the views and expertise of military commanders, in order to ensure that higher level defence management decisions are more consensual and broadbased.
5. The CDS is also seen as being vital to the creation of “theatre commands”, integrating tri-service assets and personnel like in the US military.
1. Theoretically, the appointment of a CDS is long overdue, but there appears to be no clear blueprint for the office to ensure its effectiveness.
2. India’s political establishment is seen as being largely ignorant of, or at best indifferent towards, security matters, and hence incapable of ensuring that a CDS works.
3. Militaries by nature tend to resist transformation.
4. The absence of foresight and understanding might end up making the CDS just another case of “jobs for the boys”.