A Performance Evaluation of Military Academies

Over the decade the ‘Victory India Campaign’ has amply highlighted the imperative need to evaluate and audit our 70-year-old selection and training system for military Officers.

A Performance Evaluation of 
Military Academies

Over the past decade the ‘Victory India Campaign’ has amply highlighted the imperative need to evaluate and audit our 70-year-old selection and training system for military Officers. The objective of this endeavor has been to improve the future quality of our military leadership.

Trigger by ex-DGMT Lt Gen Ashok Joshi (Retd)

The Trilogy encompasses the whole gamut of pre-commission selection and training and its subsequent evaluation. Now that this matter has attracted the attention, it may be a good idea for the Chiefs of Staff Committee to appoint a tri-service committee to take another look at what is it that the Services expect from the institutions that carry out pre-commission training, and the extent to which these expectations are fulfilled.

This is about the ‘product’ evaluation: the academies can process and carry out value addition but they can do very little beyond that. The Services ought to state their requirements in qualitative and quantitative terms so that the performance of the academies can be evaluated, and shortcomings can be overcome.

There is always a case for doing nothing until some shortcomings attract attention after some unfortunate event.  Instead, a periodic performance audit of academies should be carried out by evaluating the utility of the officers trained by them to the Services. If a broad enough sample is taken across the spectrum, from the outstanding to less than acceptable, at say six years service, and subjected to a rigorous SWOT analysis, the findings are likely to prove very useful.

The National Defence Academy (NDA) as a feeder institution is unique. Conceptualized at the highest level, the nation has invested a great deal in it. Its alumni are meant to set the standards of military leadership. Are they doing so? The product of the NDA needs to be held to this standard additionally.

With a view to limit the scope of the debate and focus on prime issues confronting the three services it is requested that following points be given priority and focus be kept mainly on NDA:

  • Academics (B Tech, BCS, BSc, BA)
  • Military training (Army, Navy and Air Force service requirements)
  • Positive and negative effects, both short and long term, of combining academic and military training
  • Positive and negative effects of combined or integrated training of cadets of three services

Ground Reality

While the academic syllabus content is 66% and that of military training is 33% for the official training imparted at NDA, is it not true that the same priority is not necessarily accorded in the routine of the cadet for a 24 hour cycle all days of the term?  If so is this not conflicting with the stress on academics and not necessarily complimenting either the academic or military training.

Since the NDA cadet has been specifically selected by the selection system as an Army, Navy or Air Force cadet, should not the respective service be more deeply and intricately involved in nurturing, training and grooming him, to get the product as per the qualitative needs of their service training academies?

Veterans Respond

Rear Admiral Vineet Bakhshi (Retd), ex-CO INS Shivaji

The first level Service training Academies such as the NDA and INA, receive cadets who are predominantly 10+2 qualified and these cadets graduate to their respective Service Academies for final training prior to their deployment. Does this metamorphism from a gawky school kid, quite adept at technology, to an assured young Officer with a degree require constant tinkering or correction? That moot question can best be answered by the concerned Service.

Nonetheless, a review at periodic intervals of about 7 years may be warranted, to implement a change once in 10 years, as the nature of requirements or needs may change. Having a degree is a requirement of our national academic ethos. This performance evaluation has as its foundation, a clear enunciation of ‘What does the Service needs?’ Thereafter, the rest would fall into place.

Is the training applicable to get the desired result? Is it effective and sustainable? Can we do it differently? What is the reaction of the trainee and that of the Service? Is there a difference in findings? What has been the quality of learning and impact on behavior? Aspects such as the Cadets’ communication skills, ability to plan and organize time, understanding technology and change, and, of interpersonal skills could also be addressed.

Military training and strengthening of the mind, body and soul are intrinsic to a holistic academy training programme. It is opined that a dilution of military and physical training in favour of academics would be detrimental to the Service. Military service puts great demands on one’s discipline and physical fitness. These can only come by way of minimum physical standards through physical and military training.

Maj Gen Anil Sengar (Retd), ex-Offg DG Mech Forces

While ex-NDAs look at themselves as a different breed, superior to the other entries, the performance of NDA cadets has varied from time to time. In my own Battalion, I have found both good and bad in all the entries, at times the non-NDA entries doing a lot better in attitude, leadership and officer-men relationship.

An ex-NDA, having three years in the academy, must be heads and shoulders above the rest. That will depend on the leadership and passion for the profession nurtured in the cadets. As such, we need to examine whether this aspect is being done adequately. It starts with the quality of instructors being posted there.

The technology in combat arms does not require a BTech. For that, there are the tech arms and the courses in the army to impart the tech knowledge to effectively use weapon systems. I was NDA non-techy, I stood first in the Regimental Signal Course which had Officers from the tech arms.

Air Marshal Suyesh, AOC Western Air Command, an NDA non-techy, has designed state-of-the-art rockets, in the workshop in his house. In the end, bottom line for Officers in the first two decades of service leadership of men and not technology.

Gp Capt Johnson Chacko (Retd), ex-Instr NDA & AFA

Academics should involve as many faculties as possible since the armed forces are a microcosm of the nation and all disciplines should be available to the cadet. It is a fallacy that technical training is essential for navy and air force cadets. The person accurately who predicted the position of the Japanese fleet in the Pacific, was a lawyer by profession.

That was the turning point in the war in the Pacific. The person in charge of procurement of the US Navy was a merchandiser working for Macy’s department store. The brain behind the Marshall plan was a historian.

One needs all kinds of people in the armed forces. We may need people who had journalism as a subject to handle relations with the media. Military history has to be a mandatory subject as it is their chosen field. If he knows Military history, and consequently the history of his own service, he will not be condemned to repeat its mistakes. Academics needs to be de-emphasized and time allocated to studies of a military nature at NDA.

It could continue after NDA and need not be co-terminus with commissioning. May be we could have Open University modes for graduation after certain years in service or for promotion from Junior Officer to a Senior Officer i.e. Capt to Maj level. Academics are essential for enhanced situational awareness in any field.

Air Force cadets are overloaded with army training. After having served successfully in the IAF and looking back (Ex-Flt Cdr at AFA, DS at DSSC and CDM, Dy Comdt at AFA and Bn Cdr at NDA), there are quite a few frivolous activities that are a waste of time. Camp Torna is one example. History and employment of Air Power could be studied in the time so released. Two years training at NDA is adequate for an air force cadet.

The amount of physical transformation that is undergone by the cadet is so phenomenal – particularly in the 1st and maybe a part of the 2nd term – that he is exhausted looks forward to the class room to sleep. The cadet is too study anything academically serious. I got through those two terms because my school instilled a strong foundation.

Feedback from respective service academies and the three services about ‘NDA product versus the other entries’ might be biased depending on the mode of entry of the person writing the feedback. All officers, irrespective of the mode of entry, perform well. There are certain advantages in favour of the NDA entry as he starts his training at may be 16 yrs of age. sHe can be moulded better. Longer period of training and association with the military has its advantages which cannot be quantified.

The training proportion of academics and military at NDA, emanate from the initial plan of 2 years for joint military training and last year for individual service training. It can’t be on a day to day basis in a 24 hr cycle. As mentioned earlier, the psychological need to have a Commissioned Officer to be a graduate needs to be done away with. He can become a graduate later. I don’t have a graduation degree, but I am a double post graduate, which was acquired through the Service.

Training at the NDA is general officer training and should be under the aegis of IDS. The individual services should interact with the IDS if they find that some changes are essential at NDA level as it needs to be integrated training. Services meddling with NDA training should be avoided.

Air Cmde Suryakant Bal (Retd), ex-Instr NDA & CDM

Whether the academics should involve the above degrees would be determined by the required result – i.e. what a cadet should be able to do with an acceptable degree of competence on initial commissioning.  Post- commissioning, there are already periodic inputs to prepare the Officer for duties at succeeding higher levels – and which are periodically upgraded to meet changing requirements.

It is difficult to accurately quantify the percentages of military and or academic training. While the aim is to produce a military Officer, it is pointless to ignore the reality that some degree of academic grooming is indispensable. As the Officer ascends the ladder, higher thinking processes are required and an academic background is necessary.

It is difficult to imagine any negative effects of a mix of military and academic training, as long as the mix is in keeping with the end – requirements.  This is a continuous and periodic requirement. At the NDA level, training cadets of the three services would certainly be an asset. However, it is not indispensable as direct entry officers have proved themselves on par with the NDA product. Inter-services cooperation depends entirely on the maturity of the individuals concerned – joint training at an ab initio helps but is not indispensable.

The point pertaining to ‘an objective/unbiased feedback report’ hardly needs any justification. However, it is important to remember that all humans are prone to a degree of bias – the degree can certainly be minimized to manageable levels, but cannot be eliminated. Training at the NDA is general in nature, with an element of training specific to a service being imparted in the 6th term.

It may not be very effective to increase this element: since the aspect of jointmanship could suffer. At best, it would provide a general orientation to the specific service – and which has to be followed up at the respective Academies.

Brig LC Patnaik (Retd), ex-SSB President & Instr IMA

The reason why transformative measures at our training academies do not get its due attention is gallantry shown by few officers in LOC environment are taken  as datum points of the quality of junior leadership and their inability to accept the fact that their own alma-mater which has brought them to the General ranks, could have any deficit in efficiency.

Post-mortem of leadership failures leading to both battle and non-battle casualties which are approx. 1000-1200 persons every year, if done with earnestness, will give us the answers that we are looking for as to what ails in our training and selection systems.

No longer can we simply set aside casualties occurring due to ill-preparedness in operational areas or dereliction of duty in ships/submarines or pilots crashing the aircrafts due to negligence in training. All our frontline casualties have a direct bearing on our junior leadership. Hence, the tri-service committee must carry out an in-house appraisal of our leadership failures at ground level by a separate agency/committee qualified to do the job and then take a call as to what is that we need to change in our training academies.

Concluding Remarks by Lt Gen Ashok Joshi (Retd)

There is a general tendency to rely too greatly on personal observations and experience. This is bound to be so, because what can possibly be more reliable than what one has seen for oneself. This ‘subjectivity’ is not to be done away with, but moderated. Views of a sufficiently large number of officers, at various stages of service, could be obtained by seeking their answers to well thought out questionnaires.

There are some officers who question the very raison d’être of NDA. That would be a good starting point for the exercise. The basic model of NDA should be questioned. Have former NDA cadets shown better understanding of the needs and capabilities of the other two Services?

What kind of questionnaires or interviews will answer this question? Who should be questioned? Where else, in which other countries, has this model been adopted? Do the Services get better officers from the NDA? If not, then why not? If the tax payer spends for four years of training, when a lesser duration would do, can the duration be justified? Does the NDA get the ‘first pick’ of available young people by virtue of entry at younger age? Does it confer any advantage?

It is worth remembering that the NDA was conceived at the end of WWII by those who had experience of a long and trying war. They must have had very good reasons to decide that training the cadets of the three Services together was a progressive idea.

But there is no reason not to carry out a comparative evaluation of the products of various academies and then take corrective measures on that basis. The tax payer must get the best returns on what he invests, and the armed forces must get the best leadership. Periodic reviews would meet this requirement.

(Views expressed are the respondents own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)

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