On 15 July, Shripad Naik, MoS for defence, settled the six-month-old controversy over shifting of the Army Training Command (ARTRAC) from Shimla to Meerut with a cryptic “No, Sir” in response to a question in this regard in the Rajya Sabha. Ironically, the debate focused on the inconsequential issue of its location and missed the woods for the trees.
There are far more important reforms needed in the functioning of the ARTRAC, which have largely been left unaddressed and rarely make it to a public debate. Beyond location, there are urgent issues like staffing, charter, military education and training.
Modelled on the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, the ARTRAC has a vast charter to carry out threat evaluation and doctrine formulation as well as act as a nodal agency for all military education and training in the Army.
Conceptually, this charter is all-encompassing and the ATRAC is responsible for the development of the human resource from ‘womb to tomb’. However, in execution, multiple agencies not under its command are responsible for implementing many aspects of its charter, which compromises its functional efficiency.
I examine the problems and reforms required in the functioning of the ARTRAC.
Gaps in staffing
Unless the best officers are posted to the Army Training Command, it is unrealistic to expect it to pursue excellence. Conceptualisation of doctrine and training require ‘intellectual’ officers. Experience based on length of service does not hold good here. The ARTRAC staffing requires a rigorous selection process to choose the best.
An Army Commander is posted to the ARTRAC not based on his aptitude but as and when a vacancy occurs. All commanders like to command field formations as that is where the real action is. More often than not, the GOC-in-C is a reluctant incumbent who tries his best to manipulate his posting to an active command. The normal tenure of an Army Commander is 1.5-2 years, but with the inexplicable connivance of the chief and the government, a game of musical chairs is played with this critical appointment. Since its establishment in 1993, only three Army Commanders have completed their full tenure. Lack of continuity severely hampers the functioning of the ARTRAC.
The situation with respect to the appointment of the chief of staff, the de facto deputy Army commander, is no better. The first available Lt Gen with little or no regard for aptitude is appointed. At best, he remains a ‘hanger-on’.
The quality of the rest of the staff, which includes 90 officers, has improved over the years, but there is still ample scope. If you do not give the best resource, do not expect the best results.
There is no provision of posting/attaching research scholars to the ARTRAC or its institutions. With the impending merger of the Military Training Directorate with the ARTRAC, the study leave system in the Army must be revamped with focus on organisational interests and not on ‘rest and refit’ as has generally been the case so far. Officers on study leave must be utilised as research scholars.
The ARTRAC can improve its staff quality and also address shortage by hiring qualified veterans who are more than keen for a second innings. With 50 per cent of last pay as pension, the veterans will be more than happy to take up research and teaching assignments for 50 per cent of the last rank pay and house allowance.
‘Womb to tomb’
There is a need to place the Recruitment Directorate, currently under the Adjutant General’s Branch, Army Headquarters, under the ARTRAC. The ARTRAC must be responsible for laying down and reviewing the qualitative requirements for recruitment.
Inexplicably, the basic training of recruits is not under the charter of the ARTRAC. Respective arm and service directorates control the technical and tactical training of recruits, which is supervised by the Sub-area Commanders. This anomaly must be urgently addressed.
Junior leaders’ training
The non-empowerment of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and junior commissioned officers (JCOs) is a matter of serious concern. Only 10 per cent of the NCOs/ JCOs of the fighting arms undergo formal training to command their sub-units due to lack of capacity. There is an urgent need to establish junior leader training academies for all arms and services.
Even during the six years of World War II, no one could be promoted as an NCO in the German Army unless he had completed his training at the NCO academy. This is the reason why the German Army maintained its cohesion even when the ratio of officer to soldier fell from 1:30 at the beginning of the war to 1:300 in the end.
Training and validation of field formations
Due to lack of capacity, our units are saddled with the responsibility of basic training of soldiers and junior leaders. However, due to administrative and operational commitments, the units neither have time nor resources to do so. The ARTRAC should provide the finished product and units and formations should focus on application or mission-oriented training.
Our Army has no formal system to ensure ethical validation of individual and collective training standards. This is subjective in nature and largely left to the whims and fancies of higher commanders. All armies have specialist organisations to carry out validation. The ARTRAC must be given the charter to lay down the standards and validate the training in the Army.
War games are the best tool for validation of operational missions of field formations. Currently, commanders design their own war games and the validation remains subjective. It would be prudent for the ARTRAC to set and conduct the war games for objective validation of the operational missions at the corps and command level.
Professional military education of officers
Military education deals with ‘why’ and military training deals with ‘how’ of matters military. Without the former, the latter is rudderless. There is an urgent need to revamp the professional military education of the officer corps.
Besides launching radical reforms in the military academies and other officer training institutions, the ARTRAC must reform the promotion and competitive examinations for the officers. The standard is so appalling that a large number of officers fail in promotion examinations. The results of the competitive exams are worse. Only a benign system is dragging the officers across the finishing line by giving them grace marks.
To promote professionalism, there is a need to introduce competitive exams for selection to prestigious courses like Higher Command Course, Higher Defence Management Course and National Defence Course.
What is the way forward
The Army Training Command should be the most important command of the Army. It is an umbrella organisation, which must be seen as a facilitator and a catalyst for pursuing excellence. Its staff should be the best and it must be allowed the freedom necessary for such institutions.
The Army chief has done well to direct the merger of the Military Training Directorate with the ARTRAC, which is underway. He must now focus on reviewing the charter of the ARTRAC and its executive functions.
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.