(Editor's Note: The article is based on a recent letter sent by the author to the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Tri-Service Chiefs among other members of India's Higher Defence Organisation's)
"The Territorial Army has been much neglected and misunderstood. This citizen’s militia provides solutions to counter terrorism by participation of citizens, reduction of defence budget, national integration and expansion of the army in an emergency"
The Territorial Army (TA) concept has been lying in Limbo for the last four-five decades. Here is a concept of citizen’s militia, which ensures the participation of citizens in the security of India. Which will give an opportunity to youth of India to learn about defence and the need for indigenisation, provide reserves for the armed forces, enforce discipline and awaken the bureaucracy, bring harmony amongst the various classes of society, provide jobs and finally, bring unity in India.
TA expansion is both a political and military decision. After a briefing by the three Chiefs, Director General TA, the Finance Minister, etc. If the Prime Minister is convinced here is an idea whose time has come and worth working for. It will surely reduce our budget on the 14 or so Para Military Forces (PMF) that we have created that gives little or no respite to the army both during war and peace. The TA concept is an instrument, which can resolve most of our national problems.
What Are The Facts?
A Second Line of Defence: TA is a locally recruited organisation which acts as a second line of defence, a standing army volunteer reserve. In peace time a 'Territorial' usually trains at weekends. But in the event of war or in an emergency, the part time soldier is very much the whole time soldier.
Concept of Part Time Soldiering Neglected: Unfortunately, since its formal inauguration on October 9, 1949, the TA has not received the attention which it should have. After the debacle in 1962, when a large number of TA units were converted into regular army units and with the proliferation of PMF the concept of part-time soldiering has been neglected. And in the process, we have resorted to mass scale expansion of PMF.
Role of TA Needs to be Reviewed: Also, for some inexplicable reason the strength of the TA has remained at a low 40,000 for more than three decades against an army of over a million. While the strength of the TA should be at least double to that of the regular army. One reason is that the TA concept has not been understood either by the Polity, National Security Council (NSC), National Security Advisor (NSA) and even by the Indian Army. Further, we have failed to educate our society about it. Although the Government had appointed many committees in the past to review the TA concept. But these ended in futility because, the issues and problems were not grappled with.
Need for Volunteer Citizen's Force: Now, most countries have been giving thought to reducing expenditure on large standing armies which are uneconomical during peace. Hence, the need of the capability for quick, expansion whenever necessary. The concept which emerged after the second world war was that, a country should have a well equipped, highly mobile regular army, backed up by a volunteer citizen’s force which can be mobilised at short notice.
Answer to Manpower Shortage at Lesser Cost: In India, time and again attention has been drawn to the exorbitant cost of manpower in the defence services. Today, 50 percent of the defence budget is accounted for by personnel related costs, pensions account for another 12 percent (anticipated to reach a frightening 25 percent in the coming years). Therefore, most countries have some sort of national service. This has also been proposed in India, even though the TA was designed to fulfill this role. A 'Territorial' costs the exchequer much less than a regular serviceman. With increased employment opportunities and higher educational standards, today’s youth is reluctant to take up a full-time career in the military. The TA is in a position to provide the answer to the anticipated manpower shortages in the next decades of early 21st century and beyond.
Many Roles: The TA can tackle various contingencies. Though primarily meant for those engaged in a civil vocation, it can also absorb the unemployed in special circumstances. The focal point is voluntary enrolment and some departmental units such as the Railways, have a compulsory clause for TA service. A new entrant in the Railways has to give an undertaking that he will be available to serve for seven to twelve years in the TA.
TA Units: The non-departmental units are the infantry battalions for which personnel between 18-42 years can volunteer. These cater for urban and rural requirements. The urban units are trained during weekends throughout the year; the rural are trained for two months a year.
Army Nucleus & Culture: Any system is of course as good as the people who operate it. All TA units have a nucleus staff from the regular army. So they have an army culture, which enables them to fit in smoothly in the army formations whenever the need arises. Except for the Railways and the Ecological units, all units are commanded by the regular officers.
Provides Relief For Regular Units: TA non-departmental units are available as immediate reserves to replace or support regular units. Retired army personnel can also join the TA if they are within the age limit (though this can be extended, if necessary). The scope in the non departmental units can be widened so that, in addition to the infantry, all types of combat units (armour, artillery, signals, etc.) can be raised to relieve the regular units.
Need for Clarity of TA Concept: The main reason for not expanding combat units of the TA is the fixation that our international borders must be guarded, at all times, that military formations must be available on a "push-button" basis to deal with the enemy. That, the TA will not be able to mobilise in time, that sufficient volunteers are not forthcoming. But, in these days of satellite reconnaissance and electronic gadgets, the World War II type of surprise attack is over. It is during this period and notice that the TA must mobilise. In the past, Kargil was an exception Because, the intelligence units and the army were caught sleeping with their pants down.
Army Needs to Experiment: As regards inadequate volunteers, bureaucrats, politicians and others should set an example by joining the TA. The army should experiment by involving TA units in its brigades and divisions in operational tasks at the front line. It is believed that the TA battalions sent with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka acquitted themselves with credit.
History & Evolution: The primary purpose of such forces all over the world is to support the regular forces. The methods of doing so, however, vary. Australia utilises its TA personnel as UN Observers for assisting civilian authorities Vacancies in the regular forces. The American National Guard comes under the respective state Governors, who can call on them for preserving law and order, protecting and promoting general welfare and public health. In an emergency the US President can order such units to move out on duty under Federal orders without consulting the Governors. American National Guard units participated in the Korean War, Iraq and were also operating in Afghanistan to supplement the regulars. In Britain, where the first TA unit is believed to have been raised in 1537, the, force’s strength expanded to nearly 200,000 during world war. Israel’s defense forces are of course another story, its reserves must mobilise within 24 to 48 hours.
Utilisation for Various Roles: We should consider the utilisation of our TA in four distinct areas. Units for supporting the regular army in front tasks; units for tasks which fall in the rear areas on the second line and on which they are presently engaged to relieve the regulars from static duties, units for specific purposes such as protection of airfields, security duties for installations, ecological units and so on. And departmental units such as for the PWD, supply of water and electricity and the telephone department to see that the public services are not jeopardized. The organization of each type of unit will vary. TA units for front line tasks would need to have the same organization and weapons as the regular army. Units for second line tasks could probably do with their present organization and specialised weapons.
The Way Ahead
The present infrastructure, rules and regulations of the TA are sound and far ahead of times. With the help of the existing Territorial Act; the necessary political will and slight modification of regulations, India can have a first class TA for an endless number of tasks. There is no reason why the country should be denied this. I recommend that the Prime Minister takes special interest in the TA concept, appoints a committee to include the NSA, representatives from the NSC and the three Chiefs who should study and then present their recommendations to the CCS in the next 2-3 months. I can assure you that India has much to benefit from the TA concept.
About The Author
Maj Gen. VK Madhok is a product of the 1st Course JSW/NDA and was commissioned into the 3 GR. He was the BGS HQ Southern Command and the COS at HQ 4 Corps. He retired as the ADG (TA). He lives in Pune. The author can be reached on Email: [email protected]