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.
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.
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.