While no major modernisation has been effected since the 1980s, the army continues to be structured to fight wars of earlier eras. As the world’s third largest army observes Army Day, which marks the 62nd anniversary of General (later Field Marshal) K.M. Cariappa taking over as the first Indian army chief, the force faces multiple challenges. The army is in dire need of a major transformation into a lean, technology intensive and networked potent force to fight 21st century wars,
says former army vice chief, Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi
ARMY NEEDS A CHANGED PERSPECTIVE
Another Army Day was flagged on Saturday. The Army Day has always been a day of reflection on the achievements and shortcomings of the past year and the plans for the ensuing year. However, this year it is not just the start of one more year for the army but the commencement of a new decade. The army therefore must look at two decades, the previous and the one ahead.
The army always has achievements to cite every year. These are well known and are always a source of inspiration and satisfaction. But it is also important to mull over the areas of weaknesses so that these are removed and the army remains both a potent and relevant force.
The major areas of concern are both internal and external. The first category includes a comprehensive transformation plan; a makeover in manpower policies; greater interaction and empathy with veterans who need to be valued as adding to the strength of the army; and finally the need to get away from the status quo and defensive mentality, which hinders progress.
The external areas are modernisation, joint endeavours, reductions in internal security commitments, an assertive stand in core areas where no dilution should be acceptable, and halting and then reversing the trend of diluting the status of the army.
Transformation needs to be speeded up, as without it the army would continue to wallow in old and inefficient structures that are out of sync with the present and future battlefield environment and the rapidly changing methodologies of waging war. The army has not seen any major structural changes since the mid-80s and essentially it is still structured to fight wars of earlier eras. We need to change or upgrade our doctrines and concepts, restructure the field force, efficiently manage internal conflicts, upgrade human resources, streamline logistics, and modernise the training methodology. Our aim must be to transform the army into a lean, technology intensive, networked and joint entity.
Manpower policies are not merely promotion policies, but include recruitment and in-service management, especially grooming for higher ranks. For officers, recruitment and training policies are fairly comprehensive. However, we continue to be a generalist army, with no specialisation. There is no sectoral or geographical specialisation, no continuity in specific appointments like those in information technology that require long tenures, and little language proficiency.
Command appointments for officers are a must, resulting in shorter and shorter command tenures to accommodate everyone. The compulsion on commanders to "show" themselves in these truncated tenures, results in their riding roughshod on their commands! As regards promotion of officers, the seniority of passing out of training academies remains throughout one's service. This has resulted in many bright officers losing out. The need is for a reassessment of each officer's caliber at least at 10 years intervals and re-fixing seniority in accordance with the officers' changed abilities and performance.
In the case of jawans, there is a mismatch between imbibing technology and educational qualifications. In non-technical arms, which also handle the latest weapons and equipment, intake qualification continues to be class-X. In a transformation study carried out over 10 years ago, I had suggested upgrading the criteria to class-XII by 2002 and to graduation by 2005, but we continue to remain in a time warp! Secondly, though JCO'S are an essential link in the organisational structure, they all are promoted from the ranks. They are of higher ages, are comparatively less fit and have the same educational qualifications as the troops. Despite discussing the issue a number of times for recruiting at least a percentage directly as graduates, we have always baulked at doing so.
Today's active soldier is tomorrow's veteran. However, there seems to be a firewall between the two categories, with different norms of treatment, emoluments, medical arrangements and other related issues. This has resulted in the veterans getting disillusioned and the bureaucrats widening the gulf even more. It is the veterans who are role models for our youth as they interact with them more than the serving personnel; they ensure that the best and motivated manpower joins the army. This has not only eroded but a very large number of veterans now speak ill of the army. The army needs to re-focus on this important issue and do away with the artificial division that is increasingly disillusioning the veterans. The veterans must again start feeling that the army chief is their chief too! Although a Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare is in existence for the last six years, it has done virtually nothing for the veterans. How can it, when it is exclusively manned by the bureaucracy?
Coming to the last two areas of internal concern, status quo is no doubt a safe option, but no organisation can prosper if it loses its ability to change as the environment demands. As regards the defensive syndrome, no country has won by being on the defensive, which even in military teachings is a temporary phase.
The external areas of concern are much better known and need not be amplified. Modernisation has been a crying need for the last at least two decades. It is a great pity that neither does the army receive a sufficiently large budget, nor does the procurement wing of the Ministry of Defence and other ministries concerned, especially that of finance, see any urgency in modernising the army. Lack of modernisation has substantially reduced the fighting capability of the army and if this continues, the army is unlikely to be the deterrent force it ought to be.
War is a joint endeavour. The complexity of modern war is likely to increase in the future on account of increased and sophisticated technology; the nature of modern war; new threats and challenges; and the reality of nuclear weapons in our neighbourhood. Consequently, a joint force, which acts in an integrated manner, is not just desirable but imperative. Most professional militaries have adopted jointmanship but the Indian military is unfortunately an exception. While everyone endorses the need for jointmanship, it eventually turns out to be merely lip service. This must change. Appointing a CDS and an integrated ministry of defence would be the first steps. We would then be able to generate the necessary synergy, so essential for winning conflicts, battles and wars.
The involvement of the Army against insurgents has been extensive. Despite the ever-increasing central police forces that should be conducting such operations, there is no reduction in the commitments of the army. We have unfortunately reached a stage where the army, instead of being the last option, is often the first recourse! The heavy commitments of the army have undoubtedly been at the expense of its war-readiness, as well as the desired quality of life. Even In situations where the employment of troops becomes essential, they should be withdrawn at the earliest opportunity.
The apolitical stance of the army is correct, but should not translate into meekly accepting whatever orders the bureaucracy relays. Unfortunately, our political leaders are shy of dealing with the army directly, preferring to do so through the bureaucracy. This has resulted in a skewed arrangement whereby gradually the services chiefs appear to have lost their power of dissent even when they find any dispensation that reduces the status, power, emoluments or morale of their command. This needs to stop. It is nobody's case that the chiefs should be confrontationists, but when it comes to their authority being usurped by the bureaucracy, they must hold their ground and get the best for their men.
The military has been and will continue to be the most potent instrument that is used for the most difficult tasks, when every other instrument has failed or given up. This cannot be done by a meek military. We need to educate our political leaders the correct meaning of civil control and supremacy in a democracy.
· Vijay Oberoi
Former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS)
Former Director Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)