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Report prepared by Naireen Khan and Aastha Gupta, Research Interns, USI of India.

After around two decades of the Kargil Committee Report, the Government of India acted upon a long overdue and much needed major defence reform by creating a Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the Ministry of Defence under the aegis of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). It is envisaged that this new department will focus on promoting jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the three services through joint planning and integration of their requirements.  It would also facilitate the restructuring of military Commands for optimal utilization of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including the creation of Joint Theatre Commands. The Centre for Strategic Studies (CS3), USI organized a web discussion titled ‘Role of the DMA in the Military Transformation’ with a primary focus to critically examine the inconsistencies and overlaps within the DMA and its interface with other organs in the security architecture.

  • The keynote address was given by Maj Gen B.K Sharma, AVSM, SM and Bar (Retd), Director USI;
  • The discussion was chaired by Lt Gen Arun Kumar Sahni, PYSM, UYSM, SM, VSM (Retd);

The speakers were ,

  • Lt Gen (Dr) Prakash Menon, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd);
  • Vice Adm Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM & Bar (Retd); and
  • Air Mshl Anil Khosla, PVSM, AVSM, VM (Retd).

Discussion highlights are listed below.

Role and Structure of the CDS

The office of the CDS that has been setup, is unique to India; it does not exist in this form anywhere else in the world. As the head of the Indian Armed Forces and the senior most military advisor to the Government of India, the CDS has three primary roles:

  1. Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC-COSC) – The Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee was a rotational appointment prior to the creation of the DMA and the CDS; it has now become permanent. This would ensure better integration between the three services.
  2. Head of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) – In this capacity, the CDS interacts with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Raksha Mantri to foster a better civil-military integration with the MoD, which was lacking earlier.
  3. Chief of Defence Staff– This entails establishing a continuous dialogue with the political leadership and enables a better politico-military relation. This task was earlier undertaken by civilian bureaucrats of the MOD, who lacked military know-how even as the political leadership was overwhelmed by different recommendations by the three service chiefs.

In essence, the CDS is triple-hatted and will have to adjudge contentious issues initially at the inter-service level as PC-COSC, and thereafter as CDS at the departmental level. The job of the CDS is complicated by the different contexts of these overlapping functions. Furthermore, the CDS has to determine how efficiently military capacity building is made possible. Given the multifaceted nature of this position, it is important to note that the nature of the DMA with regards to the roles it plays cannot be straitjacketed. The DMA itself is only a structure that has been provided by the government; its effectiveness in improving the military capacity of the country will be determined by human agency.

Organizational Reforms

Organizational reforms are a difficult task especially due to the reluctance to change. The current reforms will develop a structure for the DMA that will impact the future of the organization. Upon the study of the new reforms, following can be deciphered:

  1. Achieving indigenisation of weapon procurement and sustenance and restructuring of the forces are difficult to implement. Segregating military affairs to DMA and defence affairs to DoD is a unique model that has not been seen before. Both the aspects are symbiotic in nature; hence separating the two can be tricky.
  2. The new areas of warfare like cyber and space will come under the direct purview of the CDS. But the Theatre Commands are unlikely to report to the CDS, since the CDS has not been given any operational role. According to the Charter given to CDS, he is to only facilitate in the creation of framework of Theatre Commands.
  3. Medical services, which are an essential part of warfare have surprisingly not been placed under the DMA and retained with the DoD.

Challenges Ahead:

  1. The functioning of the DMA, and also the Headquarter Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), is still maturing. While some responsibilities are being taken away from the Headquarter IDS, some of its posts are being tasked with a dual role. There is a need to rationalise this aspect.
  2. Bringing all the three services together is a challenge. A judicious and accommodating approach would give better dividends – a staff-based approach and not command based.
  3. A balanced relationship needs to be established between the offices of CDS, DMA, and IDS with the political institutions like Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), RM, MoD, Def Sec, CCS and NSA. These equations should not be personality based and need to be firmed in.
  4. Decisions need to be based on due consideration, since these would have long-term implications. Any change needs to be gradual, for if is too rapid there can be instability since the systems would not be able to absorb any abrupt change.
  5. The underlying strength of each arm of the services should be respected. Their integration should not lead to overlapping charters.
  6. Promotions, positioning of general officers, flag officers etc. should avoid being based on personal factors of the Chiefs, and not overtake the operational merit. Therefore, a single unbiased oversight under the CDS would be better for the system.
  7. While, the capital procurement has been retained by DoD, its prioritisation of has been given to DMA. This could lead to delays in acquisitions.


  1. It maybe better to merge the IDS and DMA, to achieve better synergy and avoid overlapping of the charter.
  2. Capital Procurement should be left with the DoD for the present. Its placement under the CDS / DMA can be reviewed once the organization matures.
  3. Creation of Integrated Theatre Commands should be undertaken with due diligence and careful consideration, duly factoring the availability of adequate combat and combat support assets in all the services.
  4. There needs to be a security of tenure in the DMA, a minimum five-years. The MoD should consider adopting the staffing scheme for the DMA similar to that followed by the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). Induction of select experts (even from veterans) on contract for five years and extendable up to ten years could also be considered.
  5. Furthermore, expertise should also be developed in the civilians by way of targeted intermingling between Services, the MoD, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The RM and CDS should make sure that only those civilians who have undertaken the DSSC and NDC courses tenant the key decision-making posts in the MoD.


Report prepared by Naireen Khan and Aastha Gupta, Research Interns, USI of India.

Report uploaded on 04-06-2020

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