K Subrahmanyam on CDS vs CJCS

We need a CJCS, not CDS

In the light of the renewal of the debate on higher defence reform, there were some questions on the late K Subrahmanyam’s views on the matter. In my few interactions with him, Mr Subrahmanyam was resolutely in favour of a US-style Joint Chiefs of Staff and with theatre commands.

In an interview published in the May 2008 issue of Pragati he said:

Modernisation is a complex process. I have said in the Kargil committee report that we have not modernised decision-making process ever since Lord Ismay prescribed it in 1947. Our military command and control have not changed since the second world war. While we are talking about buying modern equipment, the force structure and philosophy go back to the Rommel’s desert campaign and Mountbatten’s South-east Asia Command. Nobody has done anything about it.

Now there is talk about the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) model. It pains me to hear this. The British adopted the CDS system, as they would never fight a war on their own. CDS is not an institution for us. Ours should be the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs and theatre commands below him

In response to an op-ed Sushant & I wrote, where we used the term ‘CDS’, he wrote back (in an email):

The term CDS is an inappropriate one in the Indian context. It is British terminology. CDS in Britain commands all three (Service) forces. This is what made the Indian politicians resist the concept of CDS.

What is called for is a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who will be the primary and senior-most military adviser to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister but without command over any troops. Therefore the reform of Chiefs of staff shedding their command should precede the emergence of CJCS. While this will not be possible to carry out in respect of the Airforce immediately this should be planned for in the longer run.

India should plan for a sixty squadron (air force) in the next 20 years but making theatre commanders fully responsible for operations and making the COAS and CNS wholly Chiefs of staff without command (over) forces can straight away be done. [Email dated 19.11.2008]