Second Chief of Defence Staff for India – Current Challenges and the Way ahead

  • One of the primary tasks of CDS is to restructure the armed forces into Integrated Theatre Commands
  • Theaterization helps in better synergy, optimal utilization of resources, reduce cost and effective battle response.
  • Though the capital procurement is not with CDS, he plays a vital role in making forces adopt the culture of giving priority the domestic weapons and increasing self-reliance.
  • Though CDS prime mandate now looks to be the Integration of Tri-Services, he has a lot of roles to be donned as Advisor, Secretary, Transformer, Facilitator, and Supervisor of the tri-services.

The untimely demise of General Bipin Rawat, the first CDS in a helicopter accident left the nation and particularly defence services in a crunch. It can be recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff on 15th August 2019 at Red Fort during his Independence Day address to the nation. Post-Kargil conflict of 1999, the need for CDS echoed across the defence set-up in subsequent years and in 2019 it became a reality. This was one of the biggest reforms in the history of the defence of the country. Along with CDS, constituting the Department of Military Affairs under Defence Ministry gave teeth to the office of CDS as he is the Ex-Officio Secretary of DMA. Though the responsibility of the defence of the nation lies with Defence Secretary, CDS primarily acts as a Principal Advisor to the Defence Minster on tri-service matters.

A day before his retirement as Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat was announced as the first Chief of Defence Staff of India, a post he assumed on 31 December 2019. He was primarily tasked to restructure military commands to bring jointness for optimal utilization of resources and have better combat response. General Rawat was functioning to fulfil what he was mandated to. In a shocking chopper accident, the first CDS with his wife and 11 others were killed in the Nilgiri forests of TN when he was heading towards Defence Services Staff College at Wellington to address student officers. The demise of the first CDS had put many measures on hold. It took nearly 9 months to appoint new and Second CDS. CDS appointment rules were amended to avail a larger pool of officers for deep selection. Not only 4-star officers of Rank General/equivalent in defence services but serving and retired 3-star officers were also made eligible for the appointment of CDS.

In September 2022, Lieutenant General Anil Chauhan (Retd.) who was serving as Military Advisor in National Security Council Secretariat was announced as Chief of Defence Staff. He served in the army for nearly four decades in various capacities. He was General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command before retiring from active service in Army. On 30th September 2022, he assumed the appointment of CDS. His appointment is no less challenging now, he has a set of tasks left by General Rawat to be taken ahead with a few more as enumerated below

Integrated Theatre Commands

One of the primary tasks of CDS is to restructure the armed forces into Integrated Theatre Commands (ITC). At present, there are 17 commands in the military comprising 7 Army Commands, 7 Air Force Commands and 3 Naval Commands. This present set-up needs to be subsumed into 5 Integrated Theatre Commands. Theaterization helps in better synergy, optimal utilization of resources, reduce cost and effective battle response. There are reservations too expressed, Command Structure within ITCs among tri-services and the relative status and authority among the commanders. Theatres may need non-defence agencies also to be onboard while functioning. Air Force is always hesitant about the concept of Integrated Theatres concerned about control of its minimally available assets and how their role will be perceived in this new structure. Within the government, experts are working out to address the issues arising out of the formation of ITCs. Though these are a few mentions, it is not tough for one to understand how challenging the task it will be to transform the defence services into ITCs.

Defence Modernisation, Self-Reliance, Future Ready

India is one of the highest military spenders in the world and has spent 2.6 % of its GDP on the military between 2016-2020. According to SIPRI, India was the biggest importer of arms during 2017-2021. India is aiming to increase the use of domestic arms and equipment. The government has set aside more than 65% of its military capital budget for the purchase of domestically produced weapons to boost Defence Indigenization. Though the capital procurement is not with CDS, he plays a vital role in making forces adopt the culture of giving priority the domestic weapons and increasing self-reliance. CDS being a single point of advisor to the Defence Minister, keeping the future of the force ready for warfare is a crucial mandate. The nature of warfare has enormously changed over the past years. Future wars will not be limited to conventional types but they can be in different domains such as AI, electronics, and space, and can be anything unpredictable.  Keeping in view the multi-domain warfare, preparing forces is key.

Agnipath, Armed Forces Restructuring

In June 2022, Defence Ministry announced a change in the recruitment policy of soldiers, turning around the engagement of soldiers on a permanent basis to short-term and then absorbing them permanently into the Armed forces. This change in policy upshot riots and criticism, but the government was firm in implementing this change keeping in mind having an army of younger profile. It was the Additional Secretary of DMA who frequently appeared in front of the media to clarify myths and rumours, explaining the rationale of the Agnipath Scheme. Though the government doesn’t see this as a cost-cutting measure, this will help in reducing the pension budget. As the enrolment of Agniveers has already started, CDS will have to oversee the smooth implementation of this policy including training permanent enrollment, and resettlement of Agniveers who have completed their term of service.

CDS being a single point of advisor to the Defence Minister, keeping the future of the force ready for warfare is a crucial mandate.

Restructuring of the whole Armed Forces on one side as ITCs and on another side, within services, to make the army more agile, lean and combat effective there are efforts to restructure organizational setup such as the concept of IBGs in the Indian Army. Reshaping of Army HQ, Cadre review of officers, and review of terms of engagement will also be on the table of CDS as its influence will extend over the other two services also. With the steep hierarchical structure in armed forces, officer cadre restructuring & reviewing terms of engagement are delicate and would require careful assessment & inputs of CDS.  

Manifold role of CDS.

The responsibilities of CDS are manifold and look overworked with the appointment of both CDS and Ex-Officio Secretary of Dept. of Military Affairs. Though CDS prime mandate now looks to be the Integration of Tri-Services, he has a lot of roles to be donned as Advisor, Secretary, Transformer, Facilitator, and Supervisor in multiple domains of the matter related to the tri-services. Government can examine and transfer the appointment of Secretary, DMA to CISC who is already a secretary equivalent rank officer.  CISC was anticipated to be redesignated as Vice CDS which seems not yet been decided by the government.

(Vinay Krishna is an educator and a curious policy analyst. He can be reached at vinaykrishnahv@outlook.com)

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