Agniveer Debate: The Antim Pag To Agnipath

Agniveer Debate: The Antim Pag To Agnipath

Editor's Note: The 'Agniveer & Tour of Duty' Debate (Responses from Veterans) to MVI article of Colonel Rajinder Kushwaha (Retd) was published on 22 Apr 22. Responses to this debate added deeper insight into the issues and their varied interpretations. These triggered further clarifications from the author. These clarifications are being published with two supportive endorsements of the author's perspective to conclude the debate.

Col. Kushwaha (Retd) provided the following clarification to his critics:

I am not advocating the Agniveer cadre. I just gave out the thinking in the corridors of power to say Agniveer or Tour Of Duty is the prevalent thought. I did not say that it was the right way.

What I have definitely said in my piece is the changing format of military conflicts and the need for structural and organisational changes.

I have gone to explain the emerging era of smart wars by smart soldiers with smart weapons. In such a scenario, we must understand that fronts and rears of Combat Zones have disappeared.

Then I have gone on to talk about conflicts between “Military Equals” with WsMD, which is only noise making or border skirmishes like Kargil-99 or Eastern Ladakh 2020.

Then I spoke about wars between “Military Unequals “ —like Second Gulf war or the current War in Ukraine .

I then deduced that :—

  1. No one will come for your rescue. You have to be self reliant.
  2. Wars would be “non-contact” or “invisible” supported by internal conflicts, meaning WOM (War by Other Means).
  3. Future wars would be with threat in being of WMD or the BVR weapons with enhanced ranges, deadly lethality, and computerised precision. Missiles (ICBM, IRBM, hypersonic), drones, swarm systems, ASAT killers, laser guns, EMP guns like KALI B-5000, Area Denial/Area Defence weapons such as Iron Dome and S-400. Thus, tanks, field guns, fighter aircraft and infantry soldiers would lose their employment and manoeuvrability.
  4. Aim and purpose would be not to gain territory but to seek total annihilation of enemy.

You would appreciate that it was all futuristic and not a certificate for Tour of Duty. I had said that Pension Bill might be an excuse to orientate armed force towards LAMA (Lean And Mean Army). With tongue in cheek , in another article   I have gone on to say that selection of Manoj Pande as Army Chief was in keeping with this thought - you need a technical man to understand the smart wars and their nuances.

Finally, I notice no one has read the article properly to grasp its essentials. All responses emotional as I had said that the days of “dud” soldiers are over. These are emotional responses by Infantry/armoured men and other non-technical people. I am not talking about tomorrow or day after but peeping into a deep future.

The era of brute force wars is over and it is going to be brain force wars!

Publish your book with Frontier India 

Col. NN Bhatia (Retd), author & analyst, responded with this extensive comment:

The commitment of the ToD scheme soldiers will be zero as I guess. It takes years for a soldier to gain full knowledge in handling his weapon. In peace station it is more. When our neighbour has a dedicated army, how do our leaders expect to match up to these regular soldiers of the enemy country with three-five years contract soldiers? It may lead to chaotic situations.

Poor performance in operational areas. Unless the aim is to prepare politically motivated set up to counter any anti-establishment activities? Youth trained in handling arms, ammunition, explosives and use of field craft after military engagement with soaring unemployment and no jobs, would create educated terrorists, criminals, drug smugglers and all sorts of anti-national elements very harmful to society. I can't understand the cost benefit analysis of training a soldier for three years.

Let alone other factors essential to military service which is another matter by itself. Along my seniority, eight Emergency Commision Officers (ECO) in our unit got commissioned during 1963-65 and a few Short Service Commissioned (SSC) officers also joined  after the 1962 War. Only two got regular commission, became Lieutenant Colonel/Colonel and six were rejected. Only one ECO got into Indian Police Service (IPS) and became Special Director General Police in Himachal cadre, other got into Indo Tibetan Border Police/Border Security Force/Central Industrial Security Force and one rose to Inspector General level and one as Commandant. But rest joined as Inspectors in the Assam Rifles/SSF/ CISF. Likewise, all SS Officers got rejected and were wasted out. Similar thing will happen to these youths after 3 yrs service. And we have Pakistan & China with well trained professional armed forces as our adversaries. We are not Israel.
Frankly speaking, MOD/the Armed Forces seem to have gone nuts!

A  Serving Officer & former Infantry Battalion CO also contributed to the debate. He opined:

Col. Kushwaha does not qualify how a military tenure of three to five years will create smarter soldiers when (axiomatically) a full term soldier has failed to do so. However, I do agree with his points pertaining to reducing the pension liabilities and lateral transfer to CAPFs. But yet again, these personnel in CAPFs will not be available during mobilization. The CAPF will be employed for RAS. Notwithstanding, the concept should be given a try.

Another serving officer, an Infantry Battalion CO, offered his take:

A lot is being spoken and written about Tour of Duty concept. I would say that it's a process which needs very careful and diligent implementation by keeping the Combat Arms out of its ambit.

If this scheme is a political gimmick to employ educated youth gainfully then the Army is certainly not the right test bed for it .

The character of a battalion is forged over a prolonged period of time through rigorous training of all ranks in the battalion who share tremendous comraderie and espirit-de-corps. In a Combat arm these ToD soldiers will become a potential command  challenge to handle and employ.

Out of the 800 boys a CO has, if we assume 20 - 30% over next  five years period  are going to be rotational strength of only ToD soldiers coming in, what would it do?

A battalion is not static. A boy of ToD scheme of three years  tenure wouldn't guarantee required commitment towards the organisational interests. Also, has there been any tangible assessment of his psychology before getting selected for this ToD on similar lines as SSBs for officers' entry? Or would he be just signed up after gaining a fitness certificate through dubious means?

Once he has joined, how far would a CO or Sub Unit Commander employ  these ToD personnel on important assignments?  Maybe very few. So we ultimately end up reducing the effectiveness of the working manpower by having these ToD personnel in the battalion. A few bright sparks may be there but overall those bright sparks could lose interest when they see their counterparts having a better time, and they  being detailed for all sundry duties which is actually the nature of day to day functioning in a unit.

Publish your book with Pentagon Press 

Col. Amardeep Singh (Retd) expressed his views in favour of the concept, albeit with an undertone of wariness:

The days of the dud soldier are over.

The idea of Agniveer, if not thought through and through in our context, given our strengths and weaknesses, will not yield the desired results. The idea is sound but it's implementation must be rehearsed and tried out over a period of time to perfect it for final implementation. The logic given is central to saving on pay and pension and not the tactical or other professional benefits which are likely to accrue.

Majority of the comments stem from lack of information on this aspect. There is a trend currently to announce decisions for implementation without proper war gaming. There are a number of examples in the past to substantiate my statement. Poor communication is the bane of clarity.

Col Raghu Raj Singh expressed his views about the original article and the clarification, too. He noted:

In general, comments are based on the commentator,s evaluation of the subject. Therefore, he comes out of with his own thoughts and suggestions, which may be in favour or against. Your article ,Agniveer and Tour on duty, was highly analytical in the light of prospective war scenarios, which generated welcoming thoughts and suggestions by commentators. Now your futher clarification on the article has put controvercies to rest.

Responses Added As A Rejoinder

Neil John, Author & Analyst

I haven’t studied the tour of duty in great detail. But having read through this article I am quite amazed!

I guess this was one of the takeaways of the Chiefs visit to the IDF. Where the IDF has compulsory military service for all Jews living in Israel. Two years for a woman and three years for a man. Well in smaller more enterprising countries, where war is not a May be but a Will be, this is a necessity. They also have the hand of the US protecting them against all aggression. With the UNIFIL & UNDOF protecting its volatile borders, they have nothing to worry about and have such an intelligent strategy, to let the world pay for their security. The only two hostile borders being protected under a UN mandate. Absolutely brilliant, while they focus on research and development. Israel is a small nation of a few people. The newer generation doesn’t share the same thought process like the holcaust survivors, for whom the very genesis of a nation for the Jews was a dream come true. They built it brick by brick, infact even bringing in soil from fertile nations. This nation has a cultural and psychological difference with their neighbours. It is sitting on a time bomb. Look at the chaos around it. Iran constantly being a threat and now inadvertently nuclear enabled, Syria always in conflict, Lebanon where the Hizbollah will leave no stone unturned to destroy the concept of a free Jewish country, Jordan and Egypt playing diplomacy and Turkey like the vulture waiting to feed on the carcass.

It’s a different story there, they do not have the depth of a land mass. Their resources are finite and heavily rely on technology. Soldiers man physical border posts and are always in a state of readiness not at the forefront, but fighting under the umbrella of high technology based weapon systems. Iron dome is the example, they are concentrating on machines and artificial intelligence, on the machine and the man behind the machine. They have the support of nations willing to sacrifice man and material at great cost and bring them to war to protect Israel. They also have shrewd diplomacy, a volatile Arab world which is ever ready to be driven into turbulence as and when Israel pleases by just a little bit of geo strategical fingering. They need Human Resources to be in the visible domain. Though any great strategic war fighting enabler would want to be invisible, cause that’s where the quotient of fear amplifies, it isn’t possible. They need boots on ground, to be seen, heard and projected as combat ready.

Will this tour of duty suit india? Yes it will. It has to be tweaked in a manner that it advances our capabilities in the human application domain. Like once upon a time NCC was being made compulsory for all government jobs, in the same way, this can be implemented as a government policy, that every individual, man or woman, goes through a tour of duty with the military or an Indian government security service as an apprenticeship. Only then will they qualify for a permanent fixture in any government department. It’s a fantastic game changer to ensure, that the nation has trained manpower available whenever and wherever. That the government departments share a common purpose and above all take pride and enjoy ownership of the country's security with the common man. Even financially it’s a magic wand, no additional burden on the government, of course it will have to cater for this from industrial budgets.

It’s a win win if tweaked logically. The problem is will it? There have to be rules in place, ensuring we do not create militia ready to be exploited by the power hungry.

Brig Pradeep Sharma, columnist & analyst

It is alright to enunciate the thought process of TOD scheme  in the corridors of power but then again to subscribe to these thoughts without a thorough, detailed and critical analysis cannot be justified. To mix the 3 year tour of duty with futuristic scenarios is also grossly out of place and serves only to baffle the mind.

To comment on the ever increasing Pension Bill of the Armed Forces in isolation without considering the overall combined Pension Bill at the National Level is grossly unfair to the Armed Forces.

Imagine the costs on the exchequer for all the Pensions, OROP, NFFU given to every service and even Judiciary but Pension for Armed Forces is a burden on the Nation. One cannot but help referring to Gen Naravne's mention that financial costs on Armed Forces should be taken as investment for National Security!

Let us look at future wars in the context of India. Without doubt we are in a Nuclear, Chemical, Bioligical environment. Pakistan has neutralised our conventional edge by using the threat of escalation despite India having an edge over them but against China we are way behind. MAD cannot work in a mad environment as proved by President Putin! But then we have to be a Russia to do what he has done!

First get to be strong as a Nation, then think of new rules/ schemes  of engagement, not just for the hype and electioneering, something this Govt is good at and has chiselled away at the core of the Armed Forces to achieve political objectives.

Comparing the Indian security environment, the geography of our borders, need for holding ground at all costs, lessons from Kargil 99  where we felt the pinch of bayonet power because the PIONEERS, AT, EME, BFNAs, etc., had been reduced to cut costs.

Finally, it is a call that the Chief and the Govt of the day have to take. FINSAS 2020 or whatever, was shelved as being impractical, why would a technically qualified individual join the Army for the pittance that he will get along with attendent risks to life, limb and disturbed family life not to mention disrespect in society and civil administration, when he can earn better in civy street?
Total annihilation or destruction of the adversary is a pipe dream for years to come. Yes ,the need of the hour is Self Reliance, motivated Armed Forces, battle ready in all respects.

Lastly, we are but spectators to the unravelling drama before us. The best to analysis, are those in service, PP Dte, ARTRAC and Commands.
Last Word: Have we taken passive defensive measures to protect citizens from WsMD, Bio or Chemical weapons? If not, then what are we talking about in the futuristic battle scenarios?

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

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