Chief of the Defence Staff (United Kingdom)

The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) is the professional head of the British Armed Forces and the most senior uniformed military adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The Chief of the Defence Staff is based at the Ministry of Defence and works alongside the Permanent Under Secretary, the ministry's senior civil servant. The Chief of the Defence Staff is the British equivalent position of what in NATO and the European Union is known as the Chief of Defence.

Chief of the Defence Staff
Flag of the
Chief of the Defence Staff
General Sir Nicholas Carter

since 11 June 2018
Ministry of Defence
Member ofDefence Council
Chiefs of Staff Committee
Reports toSecretary of State for Defence
NominatorSecretary of State for Defence
AppointerThe Monarch[1]
on advice of the Prime Minister
Formation1 January 1959
First holderMarshal of the RAF Sir William Dickson
DeputyVice-Chief of the Defence Staff

Constitutionally, the sovereign is the de jure Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. However, in practice, the Government of the United Kingdom de facto exercises the royal prerogative and provides direction of the Armed Forces through the Ministry of Defence's Defence Council, of which the Chief of the Defence Staff is a member.

The current Chief of the Defence Staff is General Sir Nick Carter, who succeeded Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach in June 2018. Chiefs of the Defence Staff are appointed on the recommendation of the Secretary of State for Defence to the Prime Minister, before being approved by the Queen.[1][2]

Supporting and associated posts

The CDS is supported by a deputy, the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, who since 1997 (when the CDS post was downgraded) has been of equivalent rank but is ordinarily from a different service to the CDS. There are also several Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (DCDS) posts who support the VCDS. As of 2015 these are:[3]

  • Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Military Strategy & Operations) (DCDS (MSO))
  • Chief of Defence People (CDP)
  • Deputy Chief of Defence Staff for Military Capability (DCDS (Mil Cap))

The CDS maintains a close working relationship with the Ministry of Defence's Permanent Under Secretary, who is the Ministry's senior civil servant, and they both report directly to the Secretary of State for Defence. The CDS focuses on military operations and strategy while the Permanent Under Secretary's remit concerns administrative and financial policy.

History of the post

The post was created in 1959 to reflect the new concept of joint operations that had come to the fore in the Second World War. The first incumbent was Marshal of the RAF Sir William Dickson. Prior to the creation of the post, he had served as the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, from 1956 onwards. Before 1956, although no permanent post of chairman existed, the three service chiefs took it in turn to act as chairman at meetings. From the post's inception until the mid-to-late 1970s, CDS appointments were granted on a strict rotational basis between the three services. The first break in rotational order was precipitated by the death of Marshal of the RAF Sir Andrew Humphrey.

From the creation of the post until 1997, the Chief of the Defence Staff was appointed to the highest rank in the respective branch of the British armed forces to which he belonged, being an admiral of the Fleet, a field marshal or marshal of the Royal Air Force, (NATO rank code OF-10). However, with the post-Cold War reduction in the manpower strength of the British Armed Forces and the additional reasoning that no new 5-star appointments are to be made in peacetime, since 1997 the Chief of the Defence Staff has kept the rank of admiral, general or air chief marshal, (NATO OF-9), which he invariably already holds. However, during the 2010s Guthrie, Boyce, Walker and Stirrup were honorarily promoted to their respective services' senior ranks, sometime after they had each stepped down as CDS. Although there is no policy against a Royal Marines officer being appointed, few officers in the Corps attain a high enough rank to be considered for the post. However, in 2016, Gordon Messenger was promoted to the four star rank of general and appointed as Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff.

List of Chiefs of the Defence Staff (1959–present)

No. Picture Chief of the Defence StaffTook officeLeft officeTime in officeDefence branchRef
Dickson, WilliamMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir William Dickson GCB, KBE, DSO, AFC
1 January 195912 July 1959192 days Royal Air Force[4]
Mountbatten, LouisAdmiral of the Fleet
The Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG, GCB, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO
13 July 195915 July 19656 years, 2 days Royal Navy[5]
Hull, RichardField Marshal
Sir Richard Hull GCB, DSO
16 July 19654 August 19672 years, 19 days British Army[6]
Elworthy, CharlesMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Charles Elworthy GCB, CBE, DSO, LVO, DFC, AFC
4 August 19678 April 19713 years, 247 days Royal Air Force[7][8]
Hill-Norton, PeterAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir Peter Hill-Norton GCB
9 April 197121 October 19732 years, 195 days Royal Navy[9]
Carver, MichaelField Marshal
Sir Michael Carver GCB, CBE, DSO & Bar, MC
21 October 197324 October 19763 years, 3 days British Army[10][11]
Humphrey, AndrewMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Andrew Humphrey GCB, OBE, DFC, AFC & Two Bars
24 October 197624 January 1977 92 days Royal Air Force[12]
Ashmore, EdwardAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir Edward Ashmore GCB, DSC
9 February 197730 August 1977202 days Royal Navy[13]
Cameron, NeilMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Neil Cameron GCB, CBE, DSO, DFC
31 August 197731 August 19792 years, 0 days Royal Air Force[14][15]
Lewin, TerenceAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir Terence Lewin GCB, LVO, DSC
1 September 197930 September 19823 years, 29 days Royal Navy[16]
Bramall, EdwinField Marshal
Sir Edwin Bramall GCB, OBE, MC
1 October 198231 October 19853 years, 30 days British Army[17]
Fieldhouse, JohnAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir John Fieldhouse GCB, GBE
1 November 19859 December 19883 years, 38 days Royal Navy[18]
Craig, DavidMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir David Craig GCB, OBE
(born 1929)
9 December 19881 April 19912 years, 113 days Royal Air Force[19]
Vincent, RichardField Marshal
Sir Richard Vincent GBE, KCB, DSO
2 April 199131 December 19921 year, 273 days British Army[20]
Robin Harding, PeterMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Peter Harding GCB
(born 1933)
31 December 199213 March 19941 year, 72 days Royal Air Force[21]
Inge, PeterField Marshal
Sir Peter Inge GCB
(born 1935)
15 March 19941 April 19973 years, 17 days British Army[22]
Guthrie, CharlesGeneral
Sir Charles Guthrie GCB, LVO, OBE
(born 1938)
2 April 199715 February 20013 years, 319 days British Army[23]
Boyce, MichaelAdmiral
Sir Michael Boyce GCB, OBE
(born 1943)
16 February 20012 May 20032 years, 75 days Royal Navy[24]
Walker, MichaelGeneral
Sir Michael Walker GCB, CMG, CBE
(born 1944)
2 May 200328 April 20062 years, 361 days British Army[25]
Stirrup, JockAir Chief Marshal
Sir Graham Stirrup GCB, AFC
(born 1949)
28 April 200629 October 20104 years, 184 days Royal Air Force[26]
Richards, DavidGeneral
Sir David Richards GCB, CBE, DSO
(born 1952)
29 October 201018 July 20132 years, 271 days British Army[27][28]
Houghton, NickGeneral
Sir Nicholas Houghton GCB, CBE, ADC
(born 1954)
18 July 201314 July 20162 years, 362 days British Army[29][30]
Houghton, NickAir Chief Marshal
Sir Stuart Peach GBE, KCB, ADC, DL
(born 1956)
14 July 201611 June 20181 year, 332 days Royal Air Force[31]
Houghton, NickGeneral
Sir Nicholas Carter GCB, CBE, DSO, ADC Gen
(born 1959)
11 June 2018Incumbent1 year, 184 days British Army[32]

Living former Chiefs of the Defence Staff

Marshal of the Royal Air ForceThe Lord Craig of Radley GCB, OBE17 September 1929 (1929-09-17) (age 90)
Marshal of the Royal Air ForceSir Peter Harding GCB2 December 1933 (1933-12-02) (age 86)
Field MarshalThe Lord Inge KG, GCB, PC, DL5 August 1935 (1935-08-05) (age 84)
Field MarshalThe Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank GCB, GCVO, OBE, DL17 November 1938 (1938-11-17) (age 81)
Admiral of the FleetThe Lord Boyce KG, GCB, OBE, DL2 April 1943 (1943-04-02) (age 76)
Field MarshalThe Lord Walker of Aldringham GCB, CMG, CBE, DL7 July 1944 (1944-07-07) (age 75)
Marshal of the Royal Air ForceThe Lord Stirrup KG, GCB, AFC4 December 1949 (1949-12-04) (age 70)
GeneralThe Lord Richards of Herstmonceux GCB, CBE, DSO, DL4 March 1952 (1952-03-04) (age 67)
GeneralThe Lord Houghton of Richmond GCB, CBE, ADC Gen18 October 1954 (1954-10-18) (age 65)
Air Chief MarshalSir Stuart Peach GBE, KCB, ADC, DL22 February 1956 (1956-02-22) (age 63)



Customarily, former Chiefs of Defence Staff receive a life peerage on retirement, sitting in the House of Lords as non-political crossbench peers. Their appointment is recommended not via the House of Lords Appointments Commission as is normal procedure, but is instead nominated directly to Her Majesty The Queen by the Prime Minister, who elects to nominate "a limited number of distinguished public servants" on retirement for a peerage. Sir Jock Stirrup was introduced to the House of Lords on 1 February 2010 as Baron Stirrup of Marylebone in the City of Westminster.[27][33][34]


  1. Departmental Resource Accounts 2006-7 Ministry of Defence
  2. Farmer, Ben (21 January 2016). "Senior RAF officer who commanded Britain's intervention in Libya will be next Chief of the Defence Staff". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
  3. "How Defence Works". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  4. Barrass, Malcolm (25 September 2007). "Marshal of the RAF Sir William Dickson". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 28 April 2009.
  5. Heathcote (2002), p. 189
  6. "No. 43712". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 July 1965. p. 6717.
  7. Barrass, Malcolm (16 June 2007). "Marshal of the RAF The Lord Elworthy of Timaru". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  8. "No. 44376". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 July 1967. p. 8445.
  9. "No. 45168". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 August 1970. p. 8853.
  10. "No. 46109". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 October 1973. p. 12551.
  11. "No. 47050". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 October 1976. p. 14418.
  12. "No. 47050". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 October 1976. p. 14421.
  13. Heathcote (2002), p. 16
  14. Barrass, Malcolm (16 June 2007). "Marshal of the RAF Lord Cameron of Balhousie". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 30 May 2010.
  15. "No. 47311". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 August 1977. p. 11141.
  16. Heathcote (2002), p. 159
  17. "No. 49142". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 October 1982. p. 13571.
  18. Heathcote (2002), p. 78
  19. "No. 51550". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 December 1988. p. 13684.
  20. "No. 52489". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 March 1991. p. 5083.
  21. "No. 53184". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 January 1993. p. 1376.
  22. "No. 53645". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 April 1994. p. 5799.
  23. "No. 54726". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 April 1997. p. 4170.
  24. MoD announces new Chief of Defence Staff Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine
  25. "No. 56992". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 July 2003. p. 8463.
  26. SBAC RAF Chief becomes the new Chief of Defence Staff
  27. "Outgoing CDS to receive peerage". Downing Street. 27 October 2010.
  28. "No. 59593". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 November 2010. p. 21039.
  29. "No. 60575". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 July 2013. p. 14487.
  30. "Sir David Richards to become a lord – after overseeing the sacking of 20,000 troops". 13 July 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  31. "Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Stuart Peach GBE KCB ADC DL". 14 July 2016. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  32. "No. 62321". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2018. p. 10419.
  33. House of Lords Business, February 1, 2011
  34. "Gen Sir David Richards new head of British armed forces". BBC News. 14 July 2010.


  • Heathcote, Tony (2002). The British Admirals of the Fleet 1734–1995. Havertown: Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-835-6.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.