Chief of the Defence Staff (United Kingdom)
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Chief of the Defence Staff United Kingdom
Chief of the Defence Staff
Flag of the Chief of the Defence Staff.svg
Flag of the
Chief of the Defence Staff
Army (British Army) General Sir Nicholas Carter (US Army photo 180514-A-IW468-223).jpg
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

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.

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 Staff Took office Left office Time in office Defence branch Ref
Sir William Dickson GCB, KBE, DSO, AFC
Dickson, WilliamMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir William Dickson
1 January 195912 July 1959192 days Royal Air Force[4]
The Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG, GCB, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO
Mountbatten, LouisAdmiral of the Fleet
The Earl Mountbatten of Burma
13 July 195915 July 19656 years, 2 days Royal Navy[5]
Sir Richard Hull GCB, DSO
Hull, RichardField Marshal
Sir Richard Hull
16 July 19654 August 19672 years, 19 days British Army[6]
Sir Charles Elworthy GCB, CBE, DSO, LVO, DFC, AFC
Elworthy, CharlesMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Charles Elworthy
4 August 19678 April 19713 years, 247 days Royal Air Force[7][8]
Sir Peter Hill-Norton GCB
Hill-Norton, PeterAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir Peter Hill-Norton
9 April 197121 October 19732 years, 195 days Royal Navy[9]
Sir Michael Carver GCB, CBE, DSO & Bar, MC
Carver, MichaelField Marshal
Sir Michael Carver
21 October 197324 October 19763 years, 3 days British Army[10][11]
Sir Andrew Humphrey GCB, OBE, DFC, AFC & Two Bars
Humphrey, AndrewMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Andrew Humphrey
24 October 197624 January 1977 +92 days Royal Air Force[12]
Sir Edward Ashmore GCB, DSC
Ashmore, EdwardAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir Edward Ashmore
9 February 197730 August 1977202 days Royal Navy[13]
Sir Neil Cameron GCB, CBE, DSO, DFC
Cameron, NeilMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Neil Cameron
31 August 197731 August 19792 years, 0 days Royal Air Force[14][15]
Sir Terence Lewin GCB, LVO, DSC
Lewin, TerenceAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir Terence Lewin
1 September 197930 September 19823 years, 29 days Royal Navy[16]
Sir Edwin Bramall GCB, OBE, MC
Bramall, EdwinField Marshal
Sir Edwin Bramall
1 October 198231 October 19853 years, 30 days British Army[17]
Sir John Fieldhouse GCB, GBE
Fieldhouse, JohnAdmiral of the Fleet
Sir John Fieldhouse
1 November 19859 December 19883 years, 38 days Royal Navy[18]
Sir David Craig GCB, OBE
Craig, DavidMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir David Craig
(born 1929)
9 December 19881 April 19912 years, 113 days Royal Air Force[19]
Sir Richard Vincent GBE, KCB, DSO
Vincent, RichardField Marshal
Sir Richard Vincent
2 April 199131 December 19921 year, 273 days British Army[20]
Sir Peter Harding GCB
Robin Harding, PeterMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Sir Peter Harding
(born 1933)
31 December 199213 March 19941 year, 72 days Royal Air Force[21]
Sir Peter Inge GCB
Inge, PeterField Marshal
Sir Peter Inge
(born 1935)
15 March 19941 April 19973 years, 17 days British Army[22]
Sir Charles Guthrie GCB, LVO, OBE
Guthrie, CharlesGeneral
Sir Charles Guthrie
(born 1938)
2 April 199715 February 20013 years, 319 days British Army[23]
Sir Michael Boyce GCB, OBE
Boyce, MichaelAdmiral
Sir Michael Boyce
(born 1943)
16 February 20012 May 20032 years, 75 days Royal Navy[24]
Sir Michael Walker GCB, CMG, CBE
Walker, MichaelGeneral
Sir Michael Walker
(born 1944)
2 May 200328 April 20062 years, 361 days British Army[25]
Sir Graham Stirrup GCB, AFC
Stirrup, JockAir Chief Marshal
Sir Graham Stirrup
(born 1949)
28 April 200629 October 20104 years, 184 days Royal Air Force[26]
Sir David Richards GCB, CBE, DSO
Richards, DavidGeneral
Sir David Richards
(born 1952)
29 October 201018 July 20132 years, 271 days British Army[27][28]
Sir Nicholas Houghton GCB, CBE, ADC
Houghton, NickGeneral
Sir Nicholas Houghton
(born 1954)
18 July 201314 July 20162 years, 362 days British Army[29][30]
Sir Stuart Peach GBE, KCB, ADC, DL
Houghton, NickAir Chief Marshal
Sir Stuart Peach
(born 1956)
14 July 201611 June 20181 year, 332 days Royal Air Force[31]
Sir Nicholas Carter GCB, CBE, DSO, ADC Gen
Houghton, NickGeneral
Sir Nicholas Carter
(born 1959)
11 June 2018Incumbent1 year, 359 days British Army[32]

Living former Chiefs of the Defence Staff

Rank Name Born
Marshal of the Royal Air Force The Lord Craig of Radley 17 September 1929 (1929-09-17) (age 90)
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Peter Harding 2 December 1933 (1933-12-02) (age 86)
Field Marshal The Lord Inge 5 August 1935 (1935-08-05) (age 84)
Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank 17 November 1938 (1938-11-17) (age 81)
Admiral of the Fleet The Lord Boyce 2 April 1943 (1943-04-02) (age 77)
Field Marshal The Lord Walker of Aldringham 7 July 1944 (1944-07-07) (age 75)
Marshal of the Royal Air Force The Lord Stirrup 4 December 1949 (1949-12-04) (age 70)
General The Lord Richards of Herstmonceux 4 March 1952 (1952-03-04) (age 68)
General The Lord Houghton of Richmond 18 October 1954 (1954-10-18) (age 65)
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach 22 February 1956 (1956-02-22) (age 64)


Nick 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, 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. ^ a b 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 2016.
  3. ^ "How Defence Works". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 2018.
  4. ^ Barrass, Malcolm (25 September 2007). "Marshal of the RAF Sir William Dickson". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 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 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 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 2013.
  31. ^ "Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Stuart Peach GBE KCB ADC DL". 14 July 2016. Retrieved 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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

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