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 of State for Defence, the ministry's senior civil servant. The Chief of Defence is the highest ranking officer to currently serve in the armed forces.

Chief of the Defence Staff
Flag of the Chief of the Defence Staff.svg
Flag of the
Chief of the Defence Staff
191120-N-BD231-113 (49106133536) (Tony Radakin cropped).jpg
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin

since 30 November 2021
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 Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, who succeeded General Sir Nick Carter in November 2021. 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 monarch.[1][2]

Supporting and associated postsEdit

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 postEdit

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.

Professional heads of the English/British Armed Forces
Royal Navy British Army Royal Air Force Combined
1645 N/A Commander-in-Chief of the Forces (1645/60–1904, intermittently) N/A N/A
1689 Senior Naval Lord (1689–1771)
1771 First Naval Lord (1771–1904)
1904 First Sea Lord (1904–1917) Chief of the General Staff (1904–1909)
1909 Chief of the Imperial General Staff (1909–1964)
1917 First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff (1917–present)
1918 Chief of the Air Staff (1918–present)
1959 Chief of the Defence Staff (1959–present)
1964 Chief of the General Staff (1964–present)

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

No. Picture Chief of the Defence Staff Took office Left office Time in office Defence branch Life Peerage Ref.
1Dickson, WilliamMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir William Dickson GCB, KBE, DSO, AFC
1 January 195912 July 1959192 days  Royal Air ForceNone[4]
2Mountbatten, LouisAdmiral of the Fleet
The Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO, ADC
13 July 195915 July 19656 years, 2 days  Royal NavyHereditary Peerage,
Earl Mountbatten of Burma
3Hull, RichardField Marshal
Sir Richard Hull GCB, DSO
16 July 19654 August 19672 years, 19 days  British ArmyNone[6]
4Elworthy, 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 ForceBaron Elworthy[7][8]
5Hill-Norton, PeterAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir Peter Hill-Norton GCB
9 April 197121 October 19732 years, 195 days  Royal NavyBaron Hill-Norton[9]
6Carver, MichaelField Marshal
Sir Michael Carver GCB, CBE, DSO & Bar, MC
21 October 197324 October 19763 years, 3 days  British ArmyBaron Carver[10][11]
7Humphrey, AndrewMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Andrew Humphrey GCB, OBE, DFC, AFC & Two Bars
24 October 197624 January 1977 †92 days  Royal Air ForceNone[12]
-Ashmore, EdwardAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir Edward Ashmore GCB, DSC
9 February 197730 August 1977202 days  Royal NavyNone[13]
8Cameron, NeilMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Neil Cameron GCB, CBE, DSO, DFC
31 August 197731 August 19792 years, 0 days  Royal Air ForceBaron Cameron of Balhousie[14][15]
9Lewin, TerenceAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir Terence Lewin GCB, LVO, DSC
1 September 197930 September 19823 years, 29 days  Royal NavyBaron Lewin[16]
10Bramall, EdwinField Marshal
Sir Edwin Bramall GCB, OBE, MC
[c] [d]
1 October 198231 October 19853 years, 30 days  British ArmyBaron Bramall[17]
11Fieldhouse, JohnAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir John Fieldhouse GCB, GBE
1 November 19859 December 19883 years, 38 days  Royal NavyBaron Fieldhouse[18]
12Craig, DavidMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir David Craig GCB, OBE
(born 1929)
9 December 19881 April 19912 years, 113 days  Royal Air ForceBaron Craig of Radley[19]
13Vincent, RichardField Marshal
Sir Richard Vincent GBE, KCB, DSO
2 April 199131 December 19921 year, 273 days  British ArmyBaron Vincent of Coleshill[20]
14Robin Harding, PeterMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Peter Harding GCB
[a] [d]
31 December 199213 March 19941 year, 72 days  Royal Air ForceNone[21]
15Inge, PeterField Marshal
Sir Peter Inge GCB
15 March 19941 April 19973 years, 17 days  British ArmyBaron Inge[22]
16Guthrie, CharlesGeneral
Sir Charles Guthrie GCB, LVO, OBE
(born 1938)
2 April 199715 February 20013 years, 319 days  British ArmyBaron Guthrie of Craigiebank[23]
17Boyce, MichaelAdmiral
Sir Michael Boyce GCB, OBE
16 February 20012 May 20032 years, 75 days  Royal NavyBaron Boyce[24]
18Walker, MichaelGeneral
Sir Michael Walker GCB, CMG, CBE
(born 1944)
2 May 200328 April 20062 years, 361 days  British ArmyBaron Walker of Aldringham[25]
19Stirrup, JockAir Chief Marshal
Sir Graham Stirrup GCB, AFC
(born 1949)
28 April 200629 October 20104 years, 184 days  Royal Air ForceBaron Stirrup[26]
20Richards, DavidGeneral
Sir David Richards GCB, CBE, DSO
(born 1952)
29 October 201018 July 20132 years, 271 days  British ArmyBaron Richards of Herstmonceux[27][28]
21Houghton, NickGeneral
Sir Nicholas Houghton GCB, CBE, ADC
(born 1954)
18 July 201314 July 20162 years, 362 days  British ArmyBaron Houghton of Richmond[29][30]
22Houghton, NickAir Chief Marshal
Sir Stuart Peach GBE, KCB, ADC, DL
(born 1956)
14 July 201611 June 20181 year, 332 days  Royal Air ForceBaron Peach[31]
23Houghton, NickGeneral
Sir Nicholas Carter GCB, CBE, DSO, ADC Gen
(born 1959)
11 June 201830 November 20213 years, 172 days  British ArmyNone[32]
24Radakin, TonyAdmiral
Sir Tony Radakin KCB, ADC
(born 1965)
30 November 2021Incumbent357 days  Royal NavyIncumbent[33]

Living former Chiefs of the Defence StaffEdit

Rank Name Born
Marshal of the Royal Air Force The Lord Craig of Radley GCB, OBE 17 September 1929 (1929-09-17) (age 93)
Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank GCB, GCVO, OBE, DL 17 November 1938 (1938-11-17) (age 84)
Field Marshal The Lord Walker of Aldringham GCB, CMG, CBE, DL 7 July 1944 (1944-07-07) (age 78)
Marshal of the Royal Air Force The Lord Stirrup KG, GCB, AFC 4 December 1949 (1949-12-04) (age 72)
General The Lord Richards of Herstmonceux GCB, CBE, DSO, DL 4 March 1952 (1952-03-04) (age 70)
General The Lord Houghton of Richmond GCB, CBE, DL 18 October 1954 (1954-10-18) (age 68)
Air Chief Marshal The Lord Peach GBE, KCB, DL 22 February 1956 (1956-02-22) (age 66)
General Sir Nicholas Carter GCB, CBE, DSO 11 February 1959 (1959-02-11) (age 63)


Tony RadakinNicholas Carter (British Army officer)Stuart PeachNick HoughtonDavid Richards, Baron Richards of HerstmonceuxJock Stirrup, Baron StirrupMichael Walker, Baron Walker of AldringhamMichael Boyce, Baron BoyceCharles Guthrie, Baron Guthrie of CraigiebankPeter Inge, Baron IngePeter Robin HardingRichard Vincent, Baron Vincent of ColeshillDavid Craig, Baron Craig of RadleyJohn Fieldhouse, Baron FieldhouseEdwin Bramall, Baron BramallTerence Lewin, Baron LewinNeil Cameron, Baron Cameron of BalhousieEdward AshmoreAndrew HumphreyMichael CarverPeter Hill-NortonCharles Elworthy, Baron ElworthyRichard Amyatt HullLouis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of BurmaWilliam Dickson (RAF officer)


Customarily, former Chiefs of Defence Staff receive a life peerage on retirement,[e] 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 The King 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][34][35]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Previously served as the Chief of the Air Staff.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Previously served as the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Previously served as the Chief of the General Staff.
  4. ^ a b c d e Previously served as the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff.
  5. ^ Sir William Dickson, Sir Richard Hull and Sir Peter Harding never received a peerage.


  1. ^ a b Departmental Resource Accounts 2006-7 Ministry of Defence
  2. ^ "Admiral Sir Tony Radakin KCB ADC appointed new Chief of the Defence Staff". GOV.UK. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
  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[permanent dead link] RAF Chief becomes the new Chief of Defence Staff
  27. ^ a b "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. ^ "Admiral Sir Tony Radakin KCB ADC appointed new Chief of the Defence Staff". 7 October 2021. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
  34. ^ House of Lords Business, February 1, 2011
  35. ^ "Gen Sir David Richards new head of British armed forces". BBC News. 14 July 2010.[permanent dead link]


  • Heathcote, Tony (2002). The British Admirals of the Fleet 1734–1995. Havertown: Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-835-6.