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CDS – A shining future for Indian defence or business as usual ? Part 2

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

In Part 1 of this two part series on the CDS, we looked at the problems with Indian Defence and identified that 80% of the problem is civil service control of defence, and 20% is jointness. We examined the CDS mandate on jointness and concluded that the objective was clear, time bound, had adequate support and that there was a high probability of success.

In Part 2 we will look at the CDS’s mandate as Ex Officio Secretary, Department of Military Affairs and analyse if it can make a dent in addressing the big chunk 80% defence problems.

Revolutionary idea but there is a ‘but’

The creation of a Department of Military Affairs (DMA) is the most revolutionary aspect of the CDS. It has been carved out of the Department of Defence (DOD) and will be the fifth department in the MOD. The idea behind it is to have a military vertical that exclusively looks after all military matters including promotions, transfers, cadre management to the armed force. Some functions of the DOD have been transferred to the DMA including control over all the service headquarters, Integrated HQ MOD ,Revenue Procurement and works (construction works for armed forces).

However the DOD headed by the Defence Secretary is still responsible for ‘Defence of India’, and to that has been added ‘Defence Policy’. Much will depend upon the definition of ‘Defence Policy’ and how it is interpreted by the RM, CDS and Def Secy. If a matter is classified as policy it will have to go through the Def Secy. The author has spoken to a senior bureaucrat in Ministry of Defence and was told that the IAS lobby wanted to ensure that Def Secy is still the ‘King of Defence’.

As of the time of writing the MOD website still shows the old structure even though the gazette notification for creation of DMA was issued many weeks ago. In addition, the author has learnt that many staff of DOD who have been transferred to DMA have refused to work under a military officer heading the DMA.

These facts demonstrate that there is significant resistance to relinquishing power by the bureaucracy and that it will not be easy for either the government or the CDS to overcome this.

Will the CDS have a team he can trust at the DMA

In the current/old structure the DOD is divided into 3 wings each headed by an Additional Secretary (AS):

1. AS 1 handles all affairs related to armed forces assisted by a Joint Secretary (JS) each for Army Navy, Air Force.

2. AS 2 handles training, coordination, medical services, establishment and works (construction of buildings for Armed Forces). He is supported by 4 JS for each of these verticals.

3. DG Acquisition is the third AS and handles procurement for the armed forces and is assisted by a JS each for Army Navy and Air Force.

All the functions of AS 1 and more than half of the functions of AS 2 have moved to the DMA. So, the DMA should be authorised at least 2 AS level officers and at least 5 JS level officers. Conversely the DOD should lose these vacancies. For the knowledge of reader, AS is equivalent to a Lt Gen, and a JS to a Major General.

However only 2 JS have been authorised to the DMA as of now and no AS. The optimists would say that this is because the other 3 JS and 2 AS needed will be military officers deputed from service HQs. I am sorry to be a party pooper but I can confirm that Def Secy is saying this is not possible because apparently under DOPT rules Armed Forces officers cannot be posted to Govt of India posts. So, not only will the CDS will not have enough senior officers, he will also not have a team that is aligned to spirit and vision of the CDS. And as we all know, every top leader needs a team he can trust without which he cannot deliver.

Have the CDS and Service Chiefs been downgraded compared to the Def Secy

This is a very important issue that has not been adequately covered in the media. The current equivalence is as follows :

Cabinet Secretary is at number 11 in Warrant of Precedence (WOP) and COAS/CNS/CAS are a notch below on 12. VCAS/VCNS/VCAS and Army Cdrs are equivalent to Secretary Govt of India at 23. Lt Gens at 24 are below Secretaries but above Additional Secretaries who are at 25. Within the MOD the Def Secretary is senior to Secretaries of the other 3 Departments. So if the CDS is now just Secretary of DMA he is in effect doing a job which is a several notches downgrade.

The logical conclusion is that since he is first amongst equals to COAS/CNS/CAS they are also downgraded. This is quite an important issue and will have ramifications in day to day functioning.

We can fix these problems if we have the will

We have highlighted important issues that will hinder the functioning of the CDS but these can be fixed.

The first step is to address the issues of equivalence and downgradation. Major Generals should be equivalent to Additional Secretaries, Lt Gens should be equivalent to Secretaries Govt of India (23), Vice Chiefs and Army Cdrs should be equivalent to Cabinet Secretary (11), and Service Chiefs and CDS should be equivalent to junior ministers (10). This will also ensure that when theatre commands are formed these issues have already been ironed out.

The next step is to appoint a Lt Gen equivalent, ideally a Naval or Air Officer, as Deputy CDS and Secretary DMA. Govt should also appoint 2 Major Gens as Additional Secretaries and ensure that 70 % of Director of staff at DMA are military. This will allow the DMA to function effectively and to provide adequate support to the CDS. It will also address the problems of bureaucratic control of defence we looked at in the previous article. It will also bypass the bureaucratic resistance we have highlighted in this article and lead to true integration of armed forces into the defence ministry.

Delegate to Service HQs and Leverage HQIDS

The CDS can bypass bureaucratic resistance by delegating maximum powers to Service HQs, especially in fields of revenue procurement and works (construction works of armed forces). The DMA should act as conduit of power to the armed forces rather than an overseeing and decision-making department. All major decision making should be done either at Service HQs or at COSC.

The COSC is the right forum for overseeing military and armed forces policy.All military policy matters including long term perspective plans, budget needs etc should be discussed and agreed at the COSC. Head Quarters Integrated Defence Staff should be entrusted with coming up not only with jointness, perspective plans, budgetary and tri services proposals; but also with all cadre management, promotion, pay and allowances proposals. These can then be discussed and made into policy at the COSC.

One important issue highlighted in Part 1 was the disconnect between Long Term Perspective Plans, 5 Year Plans and allocations in annual budget. As we have seen in the past years and even in the recent budget, annual budgetary allocations bear no relation to cabinet approved long term perspective plans and 5 year plans. The fundamental problem is that of low budgetary allocations to defence but that can be the topic of a separate article. However a properly function CDS can certainly create more realistic perspective plans based on clear communication of threats to political leadership and their/national appetite for security.


We have looked at the problems plaguing national defence and concluded that 20% was jointness and 80% was bureaucratic control of defence. We have seen that creation of CDS, and especially the DMA, is a revolutionary step in addressing these problems, but there are some important lacunae. We have given recommendations to address these problems.

Whether the CDS leads to a shining future for national defence or just remains business as usual depends upon whether these recommendations are followed.

You can follow the author on twitter: https://twitter.com/Ak5985965

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