Chief of Defence Staff – A fourth power centre?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement that a Chief of Defence Staff will be appointed is a major reform which has been a "work in progress" for nearly 20 years.

Having a CDS, the fourth four star officer apart from the three service chiefs, was seen as a necessity by various post-Kargil brain storming groups -- starting from the Subrahmanyam Committee under the Prime Ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Naresh Chandra task force constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then the Modi government's Shekatkar Committee.

Though the Defence Ministry is yet to share the details about the exact model of the CDS accepted by the government, the post was conceived to be that of a chief coordinator, a single point authority to synergize the three services with the overall defence establishment.

As per indications, the CDS will focus on issues like joint procurement, training, logistics and financial management of the armed forces while the three service chiefs will continue to have operational command. It also remains to be seen who will be the first CDS. 

The previous governments could not create a fourth "power centre" and even Prime Minister Modi could make the announcement only in his sixth year in office shows the complexities involved in taking the step that can alter the structuring of the armed forces.

However, the Modi government had set the defence reforms as high priority agenda under a National Security Strategy plan. The idea was to either have a CDS or have a permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the existing coordinating body of the three services. 

At present, the senior-most service chief is the rotational head of the CoSC. While there was resistance from within the forces on having an overarching CDS, there was consensus on having a permanent chief of CoSC.

Among the many benefits of having CDS includes better management of resources and avoiding duplication of assets. The government is keen to have an efficient, synergized force rather than units pulling in different directions. 

Having a CDS also goes with the larger plan of having integrated theatre commands. 

The announcement on CDS has come at a time when the army has rolled out its elaborate restructuring plan both at the headquarters level and in the formations with the purpose of streamlining resources and their effective utilization.

Earlier, the Modi government had restructured the entire national security structure through formation of Defence Planning Committee (DPC), having three deputy National Security Advisors, a China-centric think tank, having a military adviser and reconstitution of Strategic Policy Group (SPG) under the National Security Council Secretariat.

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Free Press Journal