A heated debate is taking place on the likely introduction of 'Agnipath' concept of soldiering in the Indian Army. In simple terms, soldiers will be recruited for a shorter tenure of three-five years to serve in the armed forces and then released to pursue other careers. On release, they would be called 'Agniveers.' Some also call it 'Tour of Duty' concept.
The whole idea is to reduce the pension budget and utilise the limited funds for modernisation and upgradation of armed forces, not only with state of art weapons and equipment but also impart required technical skills to 'smart soldiers.'
It is believed that currently 70 percent of defence funds are expended on pay and allowances and pensions of soldiers. Some 20% is expended on maintenance of existing assets, thus, leaving only 10% for modernisation and upgradation.
Comparably, India’s annual defence budget in 2021-22, is around $49.6 billion (2.1% of GDP) against Chinese budget being $230 Billion (1.75% of GDP). Interestingly, USA spends about $686 billion on its defence needs annually. Critics therefore say that India should increase its defence budget to 6-7% of GDP. It amounts to almost tripling the defence budget. But such a financial luxury does not exist. Therefore the dilemma is of a rapid and essential need for modernisation of arms and equipment on one hand and the paucity of available funds for defence on the other.
Hence, this idea was mooted by late CDS of reducing the recurring pension bill. However, it is being viewed questionably by veterans. They think the government is deliberately denigrating soldiers - even after excellent performance in various wars, Chinese face off in Eastern Ladakh in June 2020 included. The row over One Rank One Pension (OROP) is still not resolved, even though Supreme Court has rejected Veterans plea. Therefore, veterans community is largely against this proposal.
Why is the government thinking like this, almost to the point of agonising most disciplined citizens of the country? The devil of the piece lay in the thinking in the corridors of power, military included. A thinking is gaining ground that wars were no more monkey dancing of soldiers across the borders. Designer wars, 'War By Other Means' or even 'Brain Force War' as Alvin Toffler talks about in his 1990 book 'War & Anti-War,' are now taking shape, which has reduced the role of soldiers greatly.
Emphasis everywhere is in a 'Lean and Mean Army' (LAMA). Flab is drastically being cut. Talk about 'Tour of Duty' soldiers or 'Agniveers' is a a step towards this direction. Israeli Army has such a concept of soldiering for a short duration. Some countries follow the principle of conscription — compulsory military service for three to five years. This is a similar idea of Agniveer soldiers.
Read MVI's Extended Coverage Of The 'Tour Of Duty' Proposal
This is being pursued not only to reduce pension liability of soldiers but also to prepare maximum citizenry for a future war. Soldiers after their military tour of duty, say three to five years would be free to pursue civil professions according to their qualifications. In times of crisis, they could be mustered again by the defence forces. This is in keeping with the emerging doctrine and concept of war, necessitated by the fast paced advancement in weapon systems.
Modern wars have become 'Non-Contact' or 'Invisible' due to technological advances and Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMA) — where deadly lethality of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), Beyond Visual Range (BVR) weapons and computerised and precise accuracy play a massive role. Unintelligent and dud soldiers have a minimal role in such conflicts.
Iraq war paved the way of consequences of a war between military unequals and the Ukraine war has shown its dramatic impact — where West/USA are just helpless onlookers, while Ukraine is being raped as was Iraq raped by USA in the second Gulf War. Iraq had collapsed in sixty hours and Ukraine is being devastated beyond recognition by every passing day.
Wars between 'Military Equals' are no more than 'Border Skirmishes.' The 1999 Kargil-conflict provided glimpses and the 2020 Galwan clashes provided the details. Invisible or BVR weaponry, would play more important role in future military conflicts. China can not touch Taiwan because if its defence pact with USA. The derivation is that era of smart wars of smart soldiers with smart weapons is upon us —where dud soldiers have no role.
These designer or customers wars will have no fronts and no rears. Tanks, fighter aircrafts and field guns would have no manoeuvrability. Missiles, drones, swarm systems, laser guns, EMP guns, ASAT killers would zoom across the land and skies as in Ukraine. Rear echelons of war zones would be as threatened as the front line soldiers.
The aim and objective of war would not be Lebensaraum or territorial gains but total annihilation of enemy. There would be no fighting in built up Areas (FIBUA) but encirclement of cities and urban centres, after they have been softened up by BVR weapons — and there is none left to fight.
LAMA is the need arisen out of advancement in weapon systems. Enhanced ranges, deadly lethality and terminal accuracy make fronts and rears of the battle zones merge. Look at the devastation of Ukraine.
Wars are no more for gaining hard assets but destroying adversaries in entirety. Therefore there is a need to have citizen soldiers. Reducing pension bill, therefore, is a mere ploy. In reality, it is to introduce conscription in a modified manner so as to:
- Have a disciplined citizenary
- Have readily available trained manpower in times of crisis
Also employing these men in PMF would provide continuity to national security. Private security companies will have ready made manpower. In fact, all recruitment to Police and CAPF/PMF should be reserved for Agniveers.
So the old soldier is dead, the new but intelligent fighter is born. Therefore cry not my friends, each age has its own theories of war — which is the only permanent feature of human history. LAMA is the order of the day — with trained citizenry to face crisis in a military conflict with China or Pakistan.
About The Author
Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected]
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')