In a major policy announcement for the three armed forces of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the government would create the post of a chief of defence staff (CDS) that will integrate the operations of the three forces–the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Long held as a key higher defence reform by security analysts, the idea was originally aimed at providing a single point of reference for the government on all matters of national security. The CDS was to be a five star rank general – a rank above the chiefs of the army, navy and air force. Speculation is that the current army chief Bipin Rawat, could be named to the post.
In his Independence Day speech, lasting more than 90 minutes, Modi said the armed forces were the pride of every Indian. To keep up with the changing times and emerging security threats, however, there was a need for the forces to ensure better coordination among the three wings of the armed forces, he said.
“Reform is also necessary. Defence reform has been in the works for a long time now and reports have been tabled several times. The rules of war are changing and India can’t think in a bubble. Our forces need to move together and can’t be falling behind. Coordination should be in tandem with the other. I have decided that Chief of Defence Staff will be created. And all three forces will have one chief and this will help unite the forces,” Modi said.
That the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government was moving in the direction of creating the post of CDS was clear when the prime minister himself referred to the need for better synergy and cooperation among the three armed forces on 26 July at an event to mark 20 years of the Kargil war with Pakistan in 1999. More recently, defence minister Rajnath Singh, too, had spoken of this.
The proposal to set up the office of chief of defence staff was first made several decades ago. When a high-level committee set up to examine the gaps in the country’s security system in the wake of the Kargil War in 1999 submitted its report, this was one of the many recommendations it had made. A group of ministers analysing required reforms in the national security system some time later had also favoured appointing a chief of defence staff. But a decision on the matter was left pending in the wake of opposition from within the three services.
In 2012, a task force headed by former cabinet secretary Naresh Chandra had recommended creating the post of a permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. This was envisaged as a post of a four star general – a position equivalent to the three service chiefs. It was seen as a compromise given the resistance to the creation of the post of CDS. At present however, there is no permanent CoSC – the senior-most chief amongst the three services dons the mantle of chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and it is post held in rotation by the three chiefs.