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Bipin Rawat’s plan to train jawans for officer role is Army admitting staff shortage, quality

Nationalism has not proved to be enough to meet shortage of staff in Indian Army with academies running without full capacity.

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Army Chief Bipin Rawat inaugurated the Young Leaders Training Wing at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai last week. The belated attention to personnel training is a laudatory effort that addresses several issues the Army is facing – the shortage of officers and stagnation. It is also an admission that despite the extra focus on nationalism, the Army is not getting, retaining and upgrading the quality of officers. The Army needs to rebrand and market itself again.

Tackling twin issues

The Young Leaders Training Wing (YLTW) at the Officers Training Academy (OTA) aims to better the prospects of jawans through a structured ‘personality enrichment programme’ so that they are better equipped to clear the tough Services Selection Board (SSB) and join the military academies to become officers.

There are three schemes in vogue – regular entry through Army Cadet College/Indian Military Academy, Special Commissioned Officers, and Permanent Commission (Special List). For each of these schemes, there is a written examination. Selected candidates have to clear the SSB tests and interviews, which the soldiers find tough to crack, resulting in intake shortfall.

Earlier, such training was being carried out in an ad hoc manner within the formations and in a semi-structured manner at the Army Education Corps Training College, Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh. The results were not up to the mark. The soldiers also resorted to going to private institutions run by retired officers and paid hefty fees to improve their prospects.

General Bipin Rawat emphasised the dual benefit of YLTW: “We will get more officers and there will be a further promotion opportunity for JCOs (Junior Commissioned Officers) and NCOs (Non Commissioned Officers).” The Army Chief also made an interesting observation when asked about the shortage of 7,680 officers in the Army: “Promotion within the Army is very tough. This shortage is actually helpful because otherwise the promotion will become even tougher. The Army is managing very well.”

The establishment of YLTA and the Chief’s observation with respect to the shortage of officers raises two important, interlinked issues – the empowerment of soldiers and junior leaders, and the management of the officers corps. 

Also read: This is how more Army jawans can become officers under new Bipin Rawat plan

Empower junior leaders, build academies

For the last three decades, the shortage of officers has been a major issue within the Army, adversely affecting the operational efficiency in operational and counter-insurgency areas. The situation was such that it was made mandatory for young officers commissioned into the services to do a three-year stint with infantry/Rashtriya Rifles units in operational/insurgency areas. The Parliamentary Committee on Defence has raised this issue on several occasions.

The shortage of officers is a result of rapid expansion of the Army, inadequate capacity of military academies, poor quality of candidates, an increase in authorisation of officers in units to compensate for non-empowerment of junior leaders, and poorly managed short service commission. A related problem is poor career prospect for the officer corps due to the rank hierarchy in the Army – more the number of officers, greater the frustration due to supersession. A lopsided rank-related pay structure as well as a strict premature retirement policy have only compounded the problem.

Through concerted efforts on increasing the capacity of the military academies, the shortage has been reduced from an alarming 20 per cent to a manageable 15 per cent, which, as the Chief said, actually “helps the rest”. All other things being equal, and based on the capacity of military academies, it shall take 15 years at the rate of 1 per cent per year to completely wipe out the deficiency.

The Army needs to have a visionary approach towards management of the officer cadre, and the linked issue of empowerment of soldiers and junior leaders.

During World War 2, an infantry battalion fought the war in Burma, with 11 officers and 24 JCOs authorised in a unit. Today, we have 21 officers and 55 JCOs authorised in a unit. Similar situation persists in other arms and services. Grassroots fighting still takes place at the section and platoon level and both these are commanded by NCOs/JCOs. If officers have to step in to ‘lead them from the front’ in the battle, then it reflects poorly on the calibre of the junior leaders. We need to optimise the authorisation of officers in the units and not view them as a tool to compensate for poor junior leadership.

To empower our junior leaders, we need to raise the standard of educational qualification from matriculation to 10+2 and graduation at the time of recruitment. Graduates are required for technical operations and high technology weapons and support systems. Dedicated junior leaders’ academies must be set up. No one must become a section or a platoon commander and equivalent without requisite formal training in a junior leaders’ academy.

Also read: For Army Training Command, location is least of its problems

Deal with stagnation

About 15 years ago, it was decided that to deal with the stagnation issue, the intake of regular and short service commissioned officers must be in the ratio of 45:55. We have failed to make the short service commission attractive. The Indian government does not absorb them laterally in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) or give them any weightage for selection in civil services.

Compounding the problem, the Army itself is liberal in giving permanent commission as a ‘welfare measure’, defeating the aim of reducing stagnation. The Chennai-based OTA, which trains cadets for short service commission, has a capacity of 750 cadets but is functioning at 500 due to poor intake. This reduced capacity of 500 is itself undersubscribed by 16 per cent.

Even the Indian Military Academy is functioning at 11 per cent below its capacity. There is a need to make it mandatory for students passing out of the state-subsidised Sainik schools and military schools to apply for the National Defence Academy (NDA).

The Army should look at reducing the contractual liability to reduce stagnation. All western armies have taken this route – reduced contractual period with attractive incentives for a second career. There is a strong case for reducing the contractual period to 15 years in our case. Premature retirement also must be liberalised.

It is not the gun but the ‘man behind the gun’ that matters. The more we invest in human resource the better would be the dividends. The shortage of officers was a bogey call. While a reformed short service commission, reduced contractual obligation and liberalised premature retirement will help, the key to better manage the officer cadre is through empowerment of soldiers and junior leaders.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. Empowering jr ldrs has been discussed for over 30 decades now. The only authority they have been given is to sign lve cert and recently, to sign rly warrants. Acknowledging this, the step taken by the present COAS is prudent.

    Attractive incentives in the form of absorbing short service commission offrs into other services is a far cry. Expecting getting para dropped into any other services is just not acceptable to anyone. Moreover it needs Govt approval. With issues like OROP and NFU still being contested at various levels, let us not even dream of incentive for any absorption.

    Reducing contractual period to 15 yrs is only a good STAND ALONE measure to reduce stagnation and can be discussed only for academic purpose. We need to understand that such a measure will only increase the already existing deficiency further. The vision needs to be such that it encompasses all aspects to arrive at a road map and not address issues piecemeal.
    In short, to make services more attractive to get quality mtrl, all the incentives should be while serving within the org. Therefore attractive pay packages at parity with others and simultaneously broadening the steep pyramid by increasing the vacancies at higher rks(Brig to Lt Gen) is one of the main answer. Considering inclusion of an addl higher rk (say Col Gen) as was thought of even earlier, is also a practical option.

  2. Well written. Shortage of Officer seems to be artificially created after reading the history. It has no impact on ground as real fighting elements (JCOs/ OR) are surplus on ground as well as rapid increase in number of paramilitary forces also limited the role of Army. Now Army has role to protect the IBs and disputed boundaries. Today, battalions are run by JCOs/ OR without authority and this will continue till they are not given authority. So Shortage of Officer cadre is never ending system due to poor management of human resources in Indian Army. These JCOs which are available in large number but without authority need to be converted into Officers to command platoon/ companies. Abolish JCOs rank if not want to give authority. They are the most under utilized rank in army. Once NCO become Officer directly, Officers number will become surplus. Army will get much better trained Officers from NCOs. At present, Young Officers below 10 years of service have no idea to run platoon/ company except misuse of manpower. So let the real fighting element lead the fighting jawan. Abolish JCOs rank and promote NCOs to Officers rank directly. Provide opportunities for higher education to Jawan so they retire either as an Officer or with masters degree/ viable skills in hand. There are multiple things army can do to improve standard of army which indirectly improve living standard after retirement. Higher ranking Officers need to think as per 21st century requirements.

  3. Panag This debate on officer shortage and promotion from ranks, is about a vintage obsolete army.
    It is vital reorganisation takes place with a future overall vision and strategy – that is the starting point.
    Our WW2 Army is only capable of fighting insurgency, and has not changed for 90 years, where boots on the ground were essential in holding territory.
    While it’s good to have great numbers of poorly equipped troops, to keep people like the Kashmiri and Naga down, we already have the CAPF for that.
    The enemy forces will fight a modern war, the Chinese infantry is being organised around its weapons – and troop carrying armoured vehicles.
    The basic Chinese battalion will have full protected mobility. Robotic autonomous troop carrying vehicles, and unmanned drone operating platoons, they are organising technologically advanced REME support across all battalions and recruiting graduate calibre specialist soldiers from technical institutions . The Chinese include helicopters as their protected troop mobility, to be increasingly integrated into a number of infantry battalions and these will be used as core vehicles for their mountain troops.
    The Chinese basic – non mountain light infantry Bn – will have weapons like the Chinese 12.7 mm HMG and 40 mm high velocity grenade machine gun which are primarily vehicle/helicopter-mounted systems. They are not man-portable, so will usually only accompany a platoon when mounted on MIV, MRVP, MWMIK or other vehicles.
    The Chinese have applied their thinking to modular multi role battalions, equipped for specific combat objectives, with diverse weapons and vehicles – the basic module of organisation for a battalion as a starting point is.
    32 Officers 620 other Ranks
    The starting point for platoons is 36 + 1
    To conclude

      • The General is being addressed on a first name basis is because he is a democrat at heart, the familiarity because he is a man of the people,
        as his tweets on Twitter show.
        He may not have the vanity of a Napoleon, but is a man of Letters like Julius Caesar. He is widely admired for being outspoken about the tying up of that shawl weaver to the Jeep, and was critical of General Rawat, for rewarding the person responsible.
        He is the son of a illustrious father who set a great example – as we can see from the many fine qualities in his son, if India had more citizens like Panag our country would not be in such a mess.

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