Lt Gen.Zameer Uddin Shah,PVSM,SM,VSM,Dep.Chief of Army Staff(RETD)

Lt Gen.Zameer Uddin Shah,PVSM,SM,VSM,Dep.Chief of Army Staff(RETD)

"The institution of a CDS is best justified by the importance of strategizing for a robust and cost-efficient national defence policy. Implicit in this is the role the CDS would play in fostering inter-services jointness in terms of budgeting, equipment purchases, training, joint doctrines and planning of military operations-an imperative of modern warfare," ----Gen NC Vij, former COAS.

‘Modi has used unorthodox solutions, rather than follow the conventional path of persuasion and compromise’----Manoj Joshi in Times of India 17 August 19

The decision to appoint the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was announced by the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort during his Independence Day Speech. It was a historic policy statement, totally worthy of being declared on such an important occasion and from such a high pedestal. The Armed Forces, especially the Army, had for the last 30 years been pressing for this appointment, the Navy lent insipid support but the Air force was ambivalent. Several Committees for the restructuring of the Armed Forces had recommended this appointment, for ensuring synergy, between the wings of the armed forces but it was never implemented primarily for three reasons, firstly, unanimity amongst the three services was lacking, secondly, the IAS lobby felt that the appointment of CDS would lead to dilution of the importance of the Defence Secretary who headed the layer of bureaucracy between the military and the politician. De-facto bureaucratic control, was relished, which rightly should have been political civilian control. Thirdly and last was the unstated apprehensions of the political elite, despite being well aware of the apolitical nature of the Armed Forces, of creating an overarching ‘Supremo’ who might become too powerful and be tempted to follow military praetorianism witnessed in neighbouring countries. These apprehensions must have been considered by the PM, who knows what is best for national security and has done what had been hanging fire for decades. He was ready to ‘Hold the Bull by its Horns’ and implement reforms vital for India’s national security.

A fallout of stymieing the decision was that, for over 70 years, the formulation of defence and security doctrine had been entrusted to the defence bureaucracy, lacking in basic military expertise. These generalists felt they could handle widely diverse responsibilities with equal facility. National security is, however, a discipline that requires continuity as well as deep expertise to deal with issues of immense complexity. The generalists were ill equipped to formulate or articulate a coherent policy or a clear set of operating principles for Indian strategy. This resulted in a steady increase in civil-military asymmetry, leading to poor briefing resulting in faulty judgment by political leadership. India’s turbulent history is replete with adverse military reverses. We never had a coherent and a clear set of operational principles to guide Indian strategy. There was an absence of strategic thinking, a limited understanding of military force and technological unawareness.

Control of the military devolves, squarely, on the political leadership and demands knowledge of strategic affairs and military issues. Since political leadership was deficient of these the end result has been military situations where, several times, we emerged second best; but in matters military there is no prize for the ‘runner up’. The major blame for India remaining militarily unassertive, rests on its political class. Most are devoid of any perspective on strategic thought. They have no time, expertise or interest on issues related to grand strategy, national security and the employment of military force. The lack of ‘strategic culture’ has hampered formulation of decisive response to domestic and international crises.

In the past synergy had been achieved, to a degree, by the Armed Forces but it was purely personality driven. A large number of Chiefs were graduates of the National Defence Academy, which trains future officers of the three services, together, for three years. Subsequently they trained together in long academic sabbaticals like the Defence Services Staff College, Higher Command and National Defence College Courses. These certainly helped to strengthen professional bonds. There had, however, been occasions when loyalty to one’s service had worked at cross purposes.

To project a fig leaf of jointness the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) was conceived as a key organ in our higher defence organization. It is presided over by a Chairman whose post is not only part-time, but also rotational. The ambiguous nature of the Chairman’s post and lack of clarity in his roles has two consequences. It does not enforce jointness and does little to strengthen the credibility of our nuclear command and control structure. The Strategic Forces Command devolves under the authority of Chairman COSC and he is the military interface between the PM and India’s nuclear forces. This is an ineffective arrangement and a better alternative was required. There was at times a counter-productive inter-service rivalry. Peacetime activities (such as procurement and formulation of doctrine, etc.) were tailored for each service in isolation. Additionally, wartime activities of each service were largely planned, executed, and evaluated independently. These practices resulted in division of effort and an inability to profit from economies of scale , and inhibited the development of modern warfare doctrine.

There were models from other major powers to follow a paradigm, in which the military head, whether CDS or Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, is not only a part of the government, but has direct and regular access to the head of government or state. This was not the case in India and earlier in the USA where it took a herculean effort by two politicians, Senator Goldwater and Congressman Nichols, to bring about radical security reforms through an Act of the US Congress.

The Goldwater – Nichols Dept Of Defence Reorganization Act Of 4 October , 1986

This model in the USA is available as a guide for implementation, with modifications, to suit Indian conditions. The Americans had learnt lessons from their setbacks in Vietnam, the catastrophic failure of the Iranian hostage rescue mission in 1980, and weaknesses experienced during the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. These were studied and emerged clearly was the requirement of synergy between the separate wings of the Armed forces. The US service chiefs dragged their feet eager to protect their own turf. The reorganization had to be rammed home by the Defence Reorganization Act of 1986 whose aim was to:-

‘Reorganize the Department of Defence and strengthen civilian authority in the Department of Defence, to improve the military advice provided to the President, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defence, to place clear responsibility on the commanders of the unified and specified combatant commands for the accomplishment of missions assigned to those commands and ensure that the authority of those commanders is fully commensurate with that responsibility, to increase attention to the formulation of strategy and to contingency planning, to provide for more efficient use of defence resources, to improve joint officer management policies, otherwise to enhance the effectiveness of military operations and improve the management and administration of the Department of Defence, and for other purposes’.

The Act streamlined the military chain of command , which now runs from the President through the Secretary of Defence directly to Commanders in Chiefs, all four-star generals or admirals, bypassing the service chiefs. The service chiefs are assigned an advisory role to the President and the Secretary of Defence as well as given the responsibility for training and equipping personnel of their respective services. Individual services changed from relatively autonomous war-fighting entities into organizational and training units, responsible for acquisition, modernization, force-development, and readiness as a component of the integrated force. Goldwater–Nichols Act changed the way the services interact. The service chiefs themselves "organize, train and equip" forces for employment by the CinCs. They no longer exercise any operational control over their forces. Rather than reporting to a service chief operationally, the service component forces support the commander responsible for a specific function or a geographic region of the globe.

The CinCs field a force capable of employing Air Land Battle doctrine (or its successors) using all assets available to the integrated unified action plan, including the military, interagency organizations of the US Government such as USAID and the Department of State, and intelligence agencies. The restructuring afforded a combination of effort, integrated planning, shared procurement, and a reduction or elimination of inter-service rivalry. It also provided unity of command. The U.S. Central Command, for example, would be assigned air, ground, naval, marine, and special operations assets to achieve its objectives, not the previously less efficient method of individual services planning, supporting, and fighting the same war. The efficacy of this system has been successfully demonstrated in all US operations since.

Architecture of the CDS Organization

The Government is likely to appoint an implementation Committee to work out the modalities and role of the CDS appointment, which should be the beginning, not the end of defence restructuring. The Government must take a leaf from the US experience. It is hoped that the envisioned CDS, would not be a ‘lame duck’ head of all the three defence services. It is envisioned he would probably be a four-star general but be ‘Primus Inter Pares’ (First Among Equals) to the Service Chiefs. It would be more in the fitness of things if he is elevated to five-star rank for him to be assertive in a rigidly hierarchical organization like the military. He would be the single point adviser to the Raksha Mantri and head the HQ Integrated Defence staff which will be initially responsible for consolidated acquisitions for all the Services, the Strategic Forces Command, space and cyber operations, out of country operations and ultimately the Joint Theatre Commands, when they are in place. Ultimately the Service Chiefs would be responsible only for battle readiness of their forces, i.e. equipping, organizing and training.


Apart from fighting five wars, in the past 72 years, our military has remained involved in an incessant series of low-intensity conflicts, involving cross-border terrorism as well as skirmishes and face-offs along our unsettled borders. On the domestic front, too, the military is frequently tasked to tackle outbreaks of extremism, social disorder and occurrences of natural calamities. India’s armed forces are a weapon of last resort when all else fails. It is often forgotten that in addition to their role of safeguarding the nation, India’s armed forces also provide a bright strand in the national fabric, which represents the ideals of integrity, discipline, secularism and professional excellence. They embody a proud pan Indian martial tradition, which promotes a sense of national unity and cohesion. The Indian armed forces have remained scrupulously ‘apolitical’ and staunch pillars of democracy. The CDS will be the appropriate head of three services, totally integrated to face the challenges of technologically driven futuristic wars.


The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.