A Transformative Approach for the Selection Procedure in the Armed Forces

The Services (especially the Army) have been functioning with a shortage of approx. 20–30% in the officer ranks alone since the 1970s. All the efforts to find a solution have failed primarily due to lack of a cohesive understanding between the users and the scientific/research wing of the MoD.

A Transformative Approach for the Selection Procedure 
in the Armed Forces

Post-independence, the Indian army was one of the foremost government organisations in introducing an advanced scientific method of selection of officers based on the need of the organisation. The Defence Psychological Wing, now renamed as the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR), did a commendable job of analysing the British, German and American models and by introducing a very sound system.

The system was reviewed in 1963, post the 1962 Indo-China war and a revised model with a lesser number of attributes/OLQs (officer like quality) was introduced. The system was again reviewed in 1975, wherein the number of OLQs was further brought down to fifteen, from twenty-nine. Apparently, the Indian Armed Forces’ selection system has always attempted to assess the potential officers based on personality which was defined and quantified through various attributes/OLQs as was perceived by the scientists of DIPR (DRDO). The user elements (Services) mostly remained away from the design and formulation of the OLQs as it was felt that they did not have the adequately qualified persons for such a task.

The Services (especially the Army) have been functioning with a shortage of approx. 20–30% in the officer ranks alone since the 1970s. All the efforts to find a solution have failed primarily due to lack of a cohesive understanding between the users and the scientific/research wing of the MoD. It is paradoxical that our nation cannot innovate a system to recruit 2500 officer cadets in a year from an under-25 youth population of approx. 60 crores.

Organisational Concerns

The battlefield scenario, the equipment profile and the psychosocial dynamics of the society has dramatically changed in the last 50 years. Technology has so rapidly changed, that the common man moves around with a super-computer in his pocket. There is an enhanced political transparency and legal endeavour for resolving issues. The state is no longer a single dominant entity with a resolute power for implementation. The rise of regional parties and a continuous threat of secessionism with approx. 50% of the total districts under a Naxalite threat has ushered in new socio-political uncertainties, impacting the Armed Forces’ capability and functioning in a democratic country.

On the operational front, the nation is confronting a hybrid/sub-conventional form of warfare characterised with a situational uncertainty. The enemy on the battlefield continues to be elusive (no clear enemy). The subcontinent remains in the ‘nuclear hang’ with the NWNP (No War No Peace Situation) being threatened with heavy firing at the borders and infiltration. The future operations need speed and precision in application.

The technical environment has moved towards more sophisticated command, control and surveillance systems, information overload, unmanned vehicles, pre-programmed weapon systems, network-centric warfare and a very high state of technology in the ground/air/naval weapon systems. All these systems need to be operated optimally in war and war-like situations which are entirely different from the peaceful areas of our cities and towns. It entails a technical knowledge of a very high order with a cognitive capability for application.

On the psycho-social front, there has been an increased alienation of the soldier from the society. The youth of the country prefer to choose professions with an enhanced availability of soft options like the services industry (hotels, telecom, IT, etc.) where there is a higher flexibility of vocations. There has been a diverse population with a high aspirational growth, wanting to make it to the top at the earliest. The people are no longer patient to wait for the time-bound tier method of promotion as it exists in the military or the govt.

The lure of a job for safety and perks in the services are relegated to the desires of mediocrity with pervasive colonial ideas which no longer sparks the young generation. As such, the psycho-social orientation of the youth today vastly contrasts with the organisation and values of the Armed Forces. Moreover, the family legacy of soldiering so prevalent in the martial classes of our country, is breaking apart and moving towards business and different professions. However, the biggest psycho-social impact is the degradation of the status of the Armed Forces in the national and regional protocols and the lack of recognition for national sacrifice. This has deterred the youth from joining this noble profession.

The Selection System in the Armed Forces

The Armed Forces have a total number of fifteen selection boards spread across five selection centres. It has a total of 132 assessors, out of which 35 are interviewing officers, 53 GTOs (Ground-Testing Officers) and 44 psychologists. The candidates are required to undergo a five-day test including screening in which they are required to be tested in all the three techniques (psychology, ground tests & interview). Assessments are carried out in the form of ‘ratings & markings’ and finally decided at the ‘board conference’ which is also informally termed as the fourth technique. Marks are also given to potential candidates on trainability based upon their age, social background, insight, type of entry and exposure. In a nutshell, the selection process is carried out at the technique level. The technical control of the selection process is carried out by the DIPR (DRDO) with no interference from the Service HQs, which are primarily responsible for administrative control.


There is a great amount of standardisation among the assessors of different boards located at different places, primarily due to the training conducted at a single institution.Professional pride and competency exists for the assessors as their selection and training is a stringent and a methodical process. Many officers, especially GTOs, fail to qualify the training capsules and have to be returned.

Personality-based selection has withstood the test of time as compared to the civil services which are a combination of the intellectual and personality tests. The psychological test is a unique system in the process, where many candidates with negative traits have been effectively screened out. Such a technique is not available in any other selection system in the country.

Assessors belong to the same profession. Hence they are able to have a practical approach towards the selection process. The conference procedure is unique in the sense that any assessor can have the flexibility of rejecting or selecting a candidate based on mutual discussion during the conference.


The screening test consisting of the intelligence test and PP & DT (Personality Projection and Description Test) needs to be completed in one day. Hence, ‘entries’ which do not have a written test for filtering candidates have an extremely large reporting (e.g. technical entries). As such, a large number of assessors are required to be pooled in from different boards. This has its own ‘cost’ in terms of objectivity and transparency.

Physical tests are not conducted separately but are integrated with the obstacle test in the GTO leg. There is a scope to widen the scope of physical tests due to the inherent scope and nature of the military profession.

The overloading of the assessors, especially the psychologists and the GTOs, have an impact on the assessment. There is a 22% deficiency of psychologists which has been partially made up by Technical Officers (TOs) after a short psychological exposure given to the selected officers from all arms and services. This needs immediate attention. The existing ‘technique level’ of assessment is straight jacketed and doesn’t take into account a candidate’s cognitive ability and emotional quotient.


The operational, technical and socio-psychological concerns entail that the future military leaders need to undertake speedy and precise decisions with a high degree of comprehensive capability, level of ideas and problem-solving. This will entail a shift of focus from the planning and organising ability towards a higher cognitive thinking and mental process. This, by no means, is to suggest that we move towards an intellectually dominated process, but more towards the selection of candidates who possess a higher level of ideas with a mental comprehension. This quality will enable the leaders to take quick decisions and explore multiple options for the application of a higher technology.

The fluidity of the battlefield would entail a situational uncertainty, demanding the future leaders to have more dynamic agility, courage of conviction and development of positive emotions to handle the varying emotional states of the subordinates. This is greatly manifested in an NBC attack, air raids and superior enemy capability in a particular sector or sudden/unexpected attack by militants/terrorists. Our officers and personnel would continue to be called upon for assisting the civil authority for national disasters. The devastating floods in Kashmir in 2014 had demanded the army to come to the rescue of a large number of civilian population in dire emotional imbalance and stress.

The military leaders need to help their countrymen and women, despite their own families being in distress. There are many stories in Kashmir where the valiant troops of Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry went out to rescue the civilians, while their own families were stranded in the floods. Hence, our future leaders need a strength of character in order to control impulsiveness, anxiety and for remaining assertive in a state of high turbulence. This requires a strong emotional intelligence amongst our young officers, wherein their ability to ‘affect’ a situation is greatly enhanced. Hence, the personality trait of future leaders must have a high quotient of emotional intelligence and psychomotor ability to counter the battlefield fluidity and emotional stress.

For very long, our personality attributes in the OLQs have depended on social factors. For example, a total of 8 out of 15 OLQs at present is dedicated for social adjustment and social effectiveness. This was primarily adopted to ensure the military leaders to be socially sound for motivating the troops and for being effective team workers. While such qualities are essential, what is more important for the future leaders is a sense of values, where a leader’s self-discipline, dutifulness and positive assertiveness become essential. Today, our troops are being tasked to fight insurgency, terrorism and militancy/Naxalism within the borders. This has over a period of time become the norm than an exception.

Such low intensity conflicts have a large social dimension in terms of the alienation, public reputation and image of a soldier. Future leaders need to develop a high degree of courage of conviction, resilience, control of impulsiveness and high excitement in order to meet extraordinary situations. Such operations also require high psychomotor abilities with a dynamic mental agility, bounded anger hostility and a high sense of self-discipline. Needless to say, the negative impact of minor leadership aberrations has damaging consequences for the image of the organisation.

Hence, we need to redefine our OLQs/personality traits to look for candidates with a high cognitive and psychomotor ability and possessing those value systems which would help him/her become a good military leader. We need to find a novel method of determining the emotional intelligence level of the prospective candidates, especially in the fields of positive emotion, anxiety and social vulnerabilities in order to assist the charting out of a behavioral pattern. This would possibly address the various disciplinary cases in the army and assist in linking the dots in the motivation cycle.

The Way Forward

There is a need to shape the environment for an entry and exit to and from the armed forces. This can be done by initiating statutory measures to modify the terms and conditions for the armed forces which over a period of time have become outdated. Today’s youth is no longer motivated with free rations, canteen, medical facilities, etc. There is an urgent need to restore the lost status and dignity of the armed forces through constitutional/statutory amendments to ensure their rightful protection for all times. There is also a need to enhance the intellectual capital of the officers while in service and also to introduce statutory provisions for an armed forces exit policy and a lateral absorption of the non-empanelled/short service officers.

The pre-commissioned training academies (NDA/IMA/OTA) should be upgraded to world class institutes of intellectual repute with a flexible retention policy. These institutes should have joint affiliation with foreign military training institutes (West Point/Sandhurst, etc.) and have professional exchange programmes and joint exercises, adventure expeditions and sports competitions with selected foreign military academies.

The NDA, which is already a reputed institution in the country, should endeavour to figure in the top ten professional training institutes. The academic faculty needs to be given special recognition and should have exclusive terms and conditions for career progression. The UGC may be requested to provide special privileges to the civilian faculty as their charter is entirely different from that of the other university teaching staff.

The feeder schools for the NDA established over a period of time have undergone dual control turbulence in the last three to four decades. A strategic overhaul of the military and sainik schools is needed to bring them at par with the elite schools of the country. We may consider the entire funding of the sainik schools by the MoD (defence budget) with a centralised management system like the AWES (Army Education Welfare Society).

The NCC Directorate needs to be aggressive in its enrolment in the top elite schools of the country. The sports and adventure programmes offered by the NCC Directorate are unique. Hence such programmes can be great tools of motivation and exposure platforms for the school students. Moreover, service officers posted to the NCC can be integrated with the school academic faculty for training them in personality development and disaster management. In a nutshell, the existing MoD reach in the academic sector needs to be fully optimised for creating positive motivators for the secondary school students. It is unfortunate that the NCC entry has failed in its concept and application. This entry should be integrated with the CDs/TEs.

Presently, we have approx. 17 types of entries. All these entries should be amalgamated to only three entries, i.e. Under Graduate Entry (UGE) (NDA/TES/ACC), Post Graduate Entry (PGE)/Graduate Technical Entry (PGTE) and Service Entry. The UGE and PGE could be UPSC-based, while the balance can be under the Services HQs. This will enable uniform control, flexibility to change within an entry with common terms and conditions.

A Professional Military Scholarship (PMS) needs to be introduced under the aegis of the MoD for the students of top medical, engineering and law colleges of the country with suitable options for higher study and research. These methods have been introduced by the Chinese army (PLA) and have been found to be very successful. The full scholarship would guarantee an officer a maximum service of five years only. This would help a large number of meritorious students from poor families and would also meet the short-term requirement of the armed forces. The experience of the PLA shows that more than 50% have opted to serve for longer tenures! This method could be seriously considered by our govt.

The existing OLQ/attributes could be reviewed to bring in factors affecting the cognitive ability and psycho-motor responsive stimuli in a candidate. An aspect relating to the emotional intelligence which affects a person’s behavioral pattern in great adversity or battlefield challenges needs to be incorporated. We need to consider also the strong values that need to be inculcated in a military leader. Such values should form part of the attributes. Qualities like self-discipline and a sense of duty should find a prominent place in the OLQs. The present set of 15 OLQs should be revised to ten OLQs with revised factors of emotion, intelligence, cognition and value system. It is recommended that the following factors and the OLQs be adopted:

Cognitive Ability (factor 1):  Comprehension

Mental Processing Ability (MPA)

Emotional Intelligence (factor 2):  Positive Emotion Control Assertiveness


Dynamism (factor 3 :  Dynamic Agility

Courage (Moral & Physical)

Speed of Decision

Value System (factor 4) :  Self-Discipline

Sense of Duty

Synergy between the selection centres and the pre-commission training academics needs to be enhanced with an aim to validate the assessments, streamline conformity and assessment variations, ensure common interpretation of attributes/OLQs and provide psychological inputs for cadets who have been found wanting in their emotional intelligence. A two-way process of exchange of each other’s technique is essential for an overall assessment and training of cadets.

The screening tests need to be conducted at the ZROS/NOIC/ASC to relieve the selection centres from the burden of conducting these tests. The existing intelligence and PP & DT tests should be replaced by online cognitive and psycho-motor tests. This will assist in better accessibility for the candidates, reduction of the time line, enhance the reporting rate and increase the capacity of the existing boards.


The existing taxonomy-based attributes in the personality assessment index of the candidates need to be replaced with cognitive-psychomotor scientific attributes to meet the complex operational and technical challenges. As such, the effort should be to view the selection process at a ‘systemic level’ rather than the ‘technique level’ by synergising the theoretical complexities and their effective implementation within the selection system.

There is an urgent need to restore the status of the officers through suitable statutory amendments in the order of precedence. Our terms and conditions need to be revised in the backdrop of lukewarm approach of the government to defence issues as has been recently witnessed while announcing the OROP. Moreover, an integrated approach at the govt. level with participation of the Ministries of Finance, HRD, Home and the State Governments are necessary to formulate a long-term sustainable transformation model to build up the leadership potential of the armed forces.

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