The subject of resources for the military is very close to Pragmatic‘s heart and has been covered earlier (here, here and here). It is heartening to observe that the government is waking up now and taking some cautious baby steps to redeem the situation.
So now, the Indian Air Force and Navy are increasingly coming around to the point of view that the future of India as a military power lies in force reduction. But it’s the Army which has had to fight protracted proxy wars which just won’t talk of lesser numbers.
The Government understands, and has sugar-coated the agenda for troop-cut: the requirement for numbers at the moment will be met through officers on a short-service commission, which will also save pension costs.
The regular cadre of the Army will reduce to about 21,000 from the present 35,000.[CI]
If this ‘sugar coating of the bitter pill’ step aren’t followed with more concrete steps soon, it will tantamount to delaying the inevitable – an organisation imploding on its internal contradictions. The restructuring of the military is a sine qua non for the Indian government, and there are valid economic and strategic reasons that drive this reform. A doctrinal change, tri-service jointmanship, changed geo-political situation and adoption of latest technologies should lead to a gradual trimming of the flab .
The reduction of regular cadre in the Army from 35,000 to 21,000 is driven by certain presumptions. Coincidentally, 13-14,000 is a couple of thousands higher than the number of officers deficient in the Indian Army today. Moreover, this announcement is in sync with the enhanced contractual service obligation of 10 (plus 4) years for the short-service officers implemented earlier. In theory, these two actions ought to fit snugly to resolve the vexed problem. The reality, however, is a bit different.
There are certain issues that have slipped from the radar screen. The whole scheme is underpinned on the enhanced attractiveness of the new 10+4 years short-service career in the Army. The proposal to increase the first innings of a 22-25 year old young man’s career, to 10/14 years from 5/10 years earlier, isn’t based on any substantive research or market survey. It is a shot in the dark, borne more out of hope than diligence, to meet the numbers. In effect, vis-a-vis the five years contractual period earlier, the enhanced contractual period reduces the attractiveness for a non-regular officer. Adequate number of applicants for all types of entries in a country has never been a issue, considering the vast population of this nation; the quality of the applicants, however, has seen a perceptible decline. Moreover, the quality of intake of the non-regular entries has always been a contentious issue and enhancing their numbers further is likely to raise the temperature further. Attracting and retaining better talent by offering substantial sops to the non-regular cadre has its own pitfalls; it will breed a sense of jealousy and envy in the regular officers of the same service bracket. In any case, the number of regular officers applying for premature retirement has been on the rise and a differential treatment to non-regulars will queer the HR pitch further. Furthermore, announcing the policy to increase non-regular entries has to be backed by an enhanced training capacity of the military training academies to produce the requisite numbers at an acceptable standard. Even if the deficiencies are made up over a prolonged period, it would strain the existing training facilities to their limit.
Credit should be given where it is due. The Directorate General of Resettlement has made some earnest efforts to assist the retiring officers to transit to a second career. Unfortunately, the six-month certificate programme at various management institutes for retirees hasn’t achieved the desired results. The grapevine has it that the placement curve has flattened out completely after the initial surge and there are no takers for the retiree officers attending these six-month programmes. A noble and well-intentioned step, within the peculiarities of the Indian socio-political and corporate environment, has floundered and is soon going to meet a premature death.
At the cost of repetition of my earlier writings, there are some simple ways in which the Army can redress these issues. Restructuring of the Army to significantly reduce the overall numbers in uniform (backed by doctrinal and technological changes), a cultural change to transform it from a Colonial residuum to an ‘Indian’ army, shorter tours of obligatory contract periods for all entries, no exit barriers for officers desirous of moving on and a substantial increase in the number of officers commissioned from the subordinate cadre. Each of these steps involves a detailed study and a long-term vision with clearly identifiable road map. This will call for accountable and visionary leadership across the service and up and down the chain of command.