Addressing The Indian Army’s Officer Shortage & its Implications on Combat Readiness

The Army needs young officers in its combat units and where units are, or else it will be run and led by JCOS and NCOs. Because Officers are not available to train, monitor, administer or to motivate the Jawans. What are the Facts?


Addressing The Indian Army’s Officer Shortage & its Implications on Combat Readiness

Strange, queer and unacceptable are the words to describe the Indian Army’s acute Officer shortage; The nation’s final instrument of decision for all types of policies! Visit a combat unit (Infantry or Armored Corps), it will have six to seven officers of which three to four would be away on courses, attachments, temporary duty or leave. While the unit will be flooded with Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) and Non Commissioned Officers (NCO).

The Army needs young officers in its combat units and where units are, or else it will be run and led by JCOS and NCOs. Because Officers are not available to train, monitor, administer or to motivate the Jawans. What are the Facts? The implications and what needs to be done are issues which demand urgent action. Because our next door neighbours are fully aware of this situation!

What are the Facts?

"Strange, queer and unacceptable are the words to describe the Indian Army’s acute Officer shortage"
Young Officer on deputation with Rashtriya Rifles leading a Counter Insurgency Operation in the Valley; File Photo

(a) The Officer corps remains short of nearly 30-35% of its authorised strength, which authorization itself is insufficient.

(b) The available strength consists of re-employed, Specialist (JCO promoted) and Short Service Commissioned Officers along with those in Low Medical Category (LMC), on deputation or on courses, those being court martialed or planning to leave prematurely or retiring and awaiting confirmation.

A random check by the Defence Minister from the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) on the state of fit Officers available to lead the Army will be a useful exercise. He/She will find that a Commanding Officer of a unit (composed of nearly 900-1,000 soldiers) is seriously handicapped in performing its mandated duties.

(c) Deficiency of Reservist Officers is another disadvantage. If the Defence Minister or the COAS were to mobilise Reservists, the Military Secretary (MS) won't get more than 10 Officers. In the  1971 War, I believe, we could only get five Reservist Officers. What happens in case there is a Sino- Indo conflict next year?

(d) The Territorial Army (TA) is supposed to fill up Officer Deficiencies in the Regular Army in a war-like situation. But, this Force which is authorized nearly 127-130 or so Officers is itself short of officers. Because, we went in to expand our Para Military Forces (PMF) and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF); creating a uninformed hotchpotch of odd uniformed forces, about the size of a parallel army,  who in any case can only remain behind  the Army and not in the front.

(e) There are nearly 50-52 JCOs and approximately 200 or so NCOs in a combat unit. Being from the ranks they exercise better rapport with Jawans. JCOs, with 20-24 year’s service cannot be expected to fight in high altitude areas. They look to their retirement, settling down and honorary ranks! Take Kargil for instance, 90% of the 550 or so killed in that conflict were Young Officers and not JCOs!

(f) There is a significant proliferation of senior ranks. Appointments of Brigadiers and above remain full. But Brigs and Generals don’t fight and neither do those 200 or so in the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS). They make plans: While it is the combat units with their Military Leadership who will win battles.

Also Read: The Indian Army’s Officer Promotion Policy Needs Urgent Overhaul!

What are the Implications?

"The bottom line is that the real boss in a unit are the 50-52 odd JCOs unless we can restore the leadership balance!"
Indian soldiers wargaming as part of a military exercise to prepare for potential hostilities; File Photo

If the facts listed are correct, then officers in units are overburdened. Command of a unit has become a difficult assignment. Multifarious duties prevent the Officers to train their units; with this responsibility having been left to the JCOs and NCOs.

Conversely, there is over supervision before the orders and directions reach a Jawan through a JCO and NCO. The bottom line is that the real boss in a unit are the 50-52 odd JCOs unless we can restore the leadership balance!

What Needs to be Done?

"Every young fit man in India needs to do a two year compulsory service in the Army or the Territorial Army and then move out as a Reservist."
TA cadets training in combat drills; File Photo

Today, a major shift is necessary to restore and create an Officer led Army. In which Young Officers will command platoons, companies and battalions or equivalent units. To do so-

(a) Every young fit man in India needs to do a two year compulsory service in the Army or the TA and then move out as a Reservist.

(b) The intake in the TA particularly of Officers and not the JCOs needs to be increased: say, to 10,000 – to start with. It will also involve expansion of the TA from the current 40,000 or so to a crore in the next two to three years.

(c) A corps of Reserve Officers must be created. We have a vague and wishy-washy policy on this today.

(d) We have diluted the rank structure particularly in the senior ranks. Why can’t an Army Commander have a Major General as his/her Chief of Staff? Why can't the units be commanded by Lieutenant Colonels? This mess has been created due to comparisons made between the civil bureaucracy and the soldier for the purposes of pay and status. This is the worst possible happening which needs to be corrected. Finally, the JCO rank must go and NCOs empowered to fill the gap.

To conclude: Anyone who thinks in the Prime Ministers Officer, Defence Ministry, Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) the National Security Advisor (NSA) or the National Security Council (NSC) or even the Army that there will be no Sino-Indian or an Indo-Pak conflict would do well to correct his strategic imagination.

(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: majgenvkmadhok@gmail.com. Views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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