Chief of Defence Staff

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In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sixth address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi on the ocassion of #IndependenceDay2019 and his first in his second term, the PM made a far-reaching announcement for India’s defence forces – the creation of India’s highest military post – that of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

The need for having a CDS was first recommended after the 1999 Kargil War. The demand for having a CDS has been raised on multiple occasions by experts and veterans. Besides the high-level committee on Kargil War, a group of ministers, formed in 2001 to explore necessary reforms required to improve India’s national security, had also favoured creating the post of CDS. In 2012, the Naresh Chandra Task Force recommended that post of a chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) should be created. The CoSC comprises chiefs of the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. The senior-most among them would act as the chairman.

The post of Chief of Defence Staff is aimed at ensuring better coordination between the three services (Army, Air Force and Navy).

The CDS will be a five-star military officer and will act as the single-point advisor to the Government of India (the PM and the Defence Minister). The officer will be in a position to advise on matters related to all the three services, thus making India’s armed forces fully integrated.

He is expected to render single-point advice while remaining a first among equals amongst the three service chiefs, the Chief of the Army Staff, the Chief of the Air Staff, and the Chief of the Naval Staff. The concept was strongly backed by Manohar Parrikar, who was Defence Minister for two years during PM Modi’s first term.

It is necessary to have a professional body of the highest standing to render single-point military advice to the government on matters of national security. The CDS is expected to reconcile possible differences in service-specific opinions to enable the government to arrive at considered military decisions. He will be an important link in the chain of the National Command Authority and render advice on the various facets involved in using nuclear weapons.

The CDS would play the key role in fostering inter-services jointness in terms of budgeting, equipment purchases, training, joint doctrines and planning of military operations – an imperative of modern warfare.

In USA, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is, by law, the highest-ranking and senior-most military officer in the U.S. Armed Forces and is the principal military advisor to the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council (India does not have an equivalent), and the Secretary of Defense (USA’s Defence Minister). While the CJCS outranks all other commissioned officers, s/he is prohibited by law from having operational command authority over the armed forces; however, the CJCS assists the President and the Secretary of Defense in exercising their command functions.

In Russia, the Chief of the General Staff is the chief of staff of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. He is appointed by the President of Russia, who is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, and reports to the Minister of Defence.

In China, command and control of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) resides with the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. The PLA consists of five branches: the Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, and the Strategic Support Force. The most important chain of command runs from the CMC to the four General HQ’s (Joint Staff Dept, Political Works Dept, Logistic Support Dept, Equipments Development Dept) and, in turn, to each of the service branches. In addition, the CMC also has direct control over the Rocket Forces, Strategic Support Forces, the National Defense University, and the Academy of Military Sciences. The CMC also controls the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP), who have the role of guarding key government buildings and enforcing law across China. Although in theory the CMC has the highest military command authority, in reality the ultimate decision making power concerning war, armed forces, and national defense resides with the Communist Party’s Politburo. The CMC is usually chaired by the General Secretary of the Communist Party (Currently Xi Jinping), who is supported by two to three Vice-Chairmen, the Minister of National Defense, Chief of Joint Staff, Director of Political Work, and Secretary of Discipline Inspection.

In the UK, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) is the professional head of the British Armed Forces and the most senior uniformed military adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence (UK’s Defence Minister) and the PM. The CDS is based at the Ministry of Defence and works alongside the Permanent Under Secretary (UK’s Defence Secretary).

France, Japan, Germany, Turkey, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia, and Israel are some of the militarily powerful countries with equivalent posts. Read how they are appointed, who they report to and their responsibilities in the links given with each country’s name.


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