The ‘big bang’ announcement has finally been made from the ramparts of the Red Fort by none other than the Indian Prime Minister on the Republic’s 73rd Independence Day. The need for a CDS and greater synergy among the armed forces has been brought out by several high-level committees in the past. The findings of these committees, in the words of the Prime Minister, had “unnees bees ka farak” or were hardly any different from each other. In other words, all said the same thing – get real about improving synergy. Finally, the Indian Armed Forces will have a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Not surprisingly, tongues have started wagging. These wagging tongues have spilled over to social media and various reactions are pouring in. Not only are many of these reactions ill-informed, some are outrightly vicious and divisive.

A brief lesson for the uninitiated will be in order. The armed forces exist, not to fight war but to preserve peace. If you have strong armed forces, the deterrence they provide is likely to avoid conflict. Should deterrence fail, the armed forces must fight and win convincingly. The three armed forces, namely, the Army, Navy and Air Force have their core strengths and capabilities. They also have their limitations. Whatever these may be, together they are required to deliver results for the people of India across the spectrum of conflict – from humanitarian relief at one end to high-end armed conflict at the other. Individually, each service may not be able to achieve this but jointly, they most definitely can. The synergy to achieve this is what one means by ‘jointness’, a term that is not very clearly comprehended across much of civil society.

The colour of jointness is ‘Purple’. Not by any wild stretch of imagination but created out of a combination of red (Army), navy blue (Navy) and sky blue (Air Force) that come together to reveal an unique shade of purple. Therefore, the credo of an effectively joint force should be ‘Think Purple, Talk Purple, Act Purple’. Converted to layman terms, this would mean joint planning, a joint lexicon (and hence a joint understanding) and joint execution of operations. Would this be achieved by appointing a CDS? Not just yet. It may be just the first big step to usher in an organisational transformation that will enable its achievement within a reasonable time-frame. The CDS, from whichever service he may be, will be a ‘Purpleman’ and hopefully will have the vision and focus to drive this transformation in a transparent and non-partisan manner. We have no reason to think otherwise.

Synergy of effort in equipment procurement and core warfare areas that easily lend themselves to ‘jointness’ have already been set into motion with the Integrated Defence Staff coordinating all capital procurements and the setting up of three separate agencies dealing with Space, Cyber and Special Operations. There are also positive moves towards joint logistics and training. The CDS will now oversee all these aspects and that itself will provide more muscle in taking these initiatives forward. The Andaman and Nicobar Command is already joint and the CDS will have his task cut out to obtain assets from all three services to augment force levels there in order to enhance its effectiveness as our eastern-most Command, at the mouth of the Malacca Strait. Being the first among equals, he will also have adequate authority to move and shake all other matters from a ‘joint perspective’. The opportunities for jointness are enormous, ranging from operations, capability planning, acquisitions, technology development, testing and so much more, with the potential of significant savings in effort and cost. As the transformation unfolds, it remains to be seen how the roles of the CDS and the individual Service Chiefs change in execution of India’s military strategy.

Several opinions that paint the issue in an adversarial light between the armed forces and the bureaucracy may be read in this backdrop. I am sure that we have the maturity and foresight not to allow petty considerations derail the larger vision. That said, there is also the need for sanity to prevail while effecting this transformation. It will require among other things, downsizing in some areas, giving up turfs in others, thinking through the concept of Integrated Theatre Commands and how best these can be organised in the Indian context. There are several examples available world-wide but developing an India-centric model that will serve our national interests best will be a fine balance of several components to create an integrated whole. It will be akin to conducting a symphonic orchestra ensemble, which we hope will play in perfect harmony.

The conductor has raised his baton – let the music begin…


  1. I have been following your blog very regularly and must say enjoy them very much purely for its literal style, independence of thought and of course contemporary content.
    Howerver, though you so very thoughtfully painted this article in purple hue, I could see a lot of grey patches already.

    Firstly, it was hardly any Big Bang announcement. I say so because the aftermath of any Big Bang cannot remain so subdued. Churning should have been more visibly apparent for the hoi poloi to take note since the announcement was from ramparts of Red Fort. For the rest of Indian milieu, they still look up at the Armed Forces as people in shining armour whose job is to fight Pakis across the border, pull out children who fall in wells and air drop food packets during floods. They hardly ever bother to know how the Armed Forces function. To them, obviously, this announcement is already decaying as any other routine announcement like construction of Toilets, which too made waves when announced.
    Then comes the question of efficacy of such an arrangement. In my opinion, unless CDS is part of the executive, superior to Defence Secretary, he can hardly influence any decision beyond wielding little more powers than CoL in the Navy and his equivalents in other forces. I am not willing to discuss complications of interse supremacy among three services and now the fourth dimension. Because that is purely driven by personal ambitions and not any operational concerns.

  2. Sir challenges that lie ahead have been very well articulated. . Reform of HDOC was the topic I chose for my M PHIL. Studied various reports of committees study groups etc.
    We need to have a clear conceptual clarity in what we want. Just three things I wish to highlight
    First address rules of business to clearly define roles and responsibilities of CDS
    ANC AND THE MODEL ON WHICH IT IS BASED can’t be used a template for jointness .At best ANC is a joined setup

    CDS should be at POLITICO MILITARY LEVEL .Should be part of CCS and NSC and single point military advisor.Any idea of curtailing Service Chiefs powers should be based on a thorough analysis

    A much delayed step. Let us welcome it whole heatedly
    And be ready for pangs of change management ok

  3. We said Dasu. One small but very significant miss that the PM made sure he underlined that in his speech which is CDS he has directed is NOT first amongst equals, he is superior to the three Chiefs. He has, thereby, thrown the crazy Pmt Chairman COSC out of the window. He therefore expects CDS to pull rank and get the services Chiefs to fall in line on contentious issues and his word will prevail. I also read from his speech that he doesn’t want incremental change, he wants an across the board change albeit in a phased manner. The onus is on CISC and HQIDS and they have a chance of a lifetime. If they foul it up, I suspect, skies will fall. The phased plan till theatre Commands (“the way the world fight wars”), will be expected. We can’t now serve a lemon.

    1. Well, I think the discussion should veer away from rank and status – and concentrate on delivery. The CDS will need total cooperation from the three services and I hope he does not have to pull rank too often – that will make the process adversarial. Time to show how three colours blend effortlessly into Purple. A tall ask indeed!!!

  4. Sir the leaders who spearheaded our independence over seven decades back had a ‘purple’ vision for the Armed Forces as evidenced by establishment of the only (then) tri-service training academy NDA. However this vision was short-lived for various reasons including parochial interests of individual services, half baked advices of bureaucracy and perhaps developing of cold feet by Mr Nehru. If we do not change voluntarily with developing situations, change would be enforced at some point of time for sheer survival. As brought out Armed Forces is an arm of policy making to ensure well-being and development of the nation. The present security situation has emboldened the strong leadership to take unpleasent but necessary reshaping of Higher Defence Management apparatus even if means forcing the services and babus to make new rules for ensuring level playing field for all stakeholders . Sir an apt article which candidly brings out the bold first step taken towards purpleness

  5. Absolutely agree with your views. “Think Purple, Talk Purple , Act Purple” : a very apt title. Yes, this is a great opportunity for the Defence Forces to enhance the “Jointness” in both letter or spirit. What need to keep away are Turf wars and Ego. What needs to be imbibed by each is the strength of the other. What one should think is not what each Servive will gain out of this, but how much we together can do for the country. Well, I am hoping for the best!

  6. A very timely and topical post sir. With the political juggernaut pushing through disruptive but long pending reforms in all walks of life in India, status quo is passé. A much required shake up is inevitable. The question now is not ‘when’ CDS and integration of Armed Forces will happen but ‘how’ it will be executed and what final shape will it take? The structure to be installed, Doctrinal changes including formulation of new Joint Doctrines, roles/ tasks/ responsibilities/ resource sharing between the three service Chiefs and CDS. Lastly the Elephant in the room – Integrated Theatre Commands. It’s quite evident that there is much work ahead for all concerned, HQ IDS not in the least…Exciting times ahead. Mahendra

  7. Sir, Lucidly written in your characteristic style. Whilst the contours of future higher defence organization are being redefined and redrawn, it’s time for the ‘integration’ of the MoD and Service HQs to be relooked from the Military Professional’s perspective, in a manner analogous to the planned induction of professionals at the level of Joint Secretaries by the GoI in certain ministries. Two Star Officer’s as JS (Army, AF, O/N, Acquisition Managers of the three services, Shipbuilding, etc) in an ‘integrated’ set up would not only add value, borne out of nearly 30 years of service experience but also hasten the decision making process.

    I think the time is ripe.

  8. Well articulated, as always, Sir. The announcement could not have come at a better time. At the beginning of the second term with adequate time for the organisation to settle down. Pragmatism and rising above turfs is the need of the day.

  9. Absolutely said in simple terms. Today I recollect a first major Project study of CDM on Integrated Theatre Commands with CDS in 2005-06 . Shape of future Higher Defence Orgn is taking place slowly and correctly. Decision by the PM also comes at right time . I fully agree that divisive forces will play little drizzling type spoiling efforts but when strong mature purple colour of thinking is prevailing ,every other colour will be merged. United we Stand.

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