Approval by the Unified Commanders’ Conference for Scientific Military Training (Redux)

The unfortunate death of two first term cadets at IMA on 18 Aug 2017 has once again brought the focus on the dire need to change and modernize our primitive training methodology at our premier Officer training institutions.

Approval by the Unified Commanders’ Conference for Scientific Military Training (Redux)


In a recent Unified Commanders’ Conference (UCC) held at New Delhi on 10 and 11 July 2017 – attended by the RM, RRM, NSA, Service Chiefs, senior dignitaries from tri-services establishments and the MoD – discussed several relevant issues including, “enhancement of training curriculum in armed forces training institutes.” With the purpose of making the military physical training even more scientific, a decision to incorporate ‘sports medicine’ in the training methodology of cadets, recruits and combat soldiers was taken.

The Victory India anthology has amply and elaborately highlighted the imperative need for systematic, scientific and progressive physical training in the entire academic and military curriculum of all military trainees, especially the Officer cadets at the NDA, IMA, OTA, AFA and INA. Several papers and articles with complementary responses form part of our three Victory India compendiums.

Many of these articles have comprehensively covered the subject of physical training and sports medicine and highlighted the existing drawbacks in our 70-year-old training methodology and the ways and means of addressing and resolving them through a scientific and systematic methodology including the incorporation of the science of sports medicine.

An article titled ‘The Advent of Sports Medicine in Military Training’ authored by Col Vinay Dalvi (included in part three of Victory India Trilogy was published by Fauji India Magazine, Feb 2017 issue) comprehensively covers this subject .

Death Of IMA Cadets During Training

The UCC joint decision on 11 March 2017 for the introduction of ‘sports/fitness medicine’ in the physical training methodology of the military training curriculum of cadets, recruits and combatants is indeed a positive development.

However, the speedy implementation of this decision on ground does not seem to have been done by concerned authorities by sensitizing the affected military training institutions about the immense benefits of sports/fitness medicine and the imperative need for scientific physical training, especially for the Officer trainees at IMA, NDA and OTA where the physical and recreational training activities form 70% of the training activities of all cadets (in 24-hour cycle/routine).

The unfortunate death of two first term cadets at IMA on 18 Aug 2017 has once again brought the focus on the dire need to change and modernize our primitive training methodology at our premier Officer training institutions. It has also once again highlighted the urgent need to introduce stiff mandatory physical tests at our Services Selection Boards (SSB).

When the concerned first term cadets of IMA did not even clear a basic one mile (1.6 km) endurance test and other mandatory physical tests at SSBs (similar to those of army recruits), were within two months of their joining expected to pass a  comparatively ‘grueling 10 km run back’  in  battle order,  after a tough  four days military camp. The three great principles of physical training are harmonious development, systematic progression and continuity.

The entire physical training syllabus, programme, PT tables and tests rest on these three sound principles, amply and elaborately explained and elaborated in all Physical Training pamphlets issued by DGMT.

Apparently, these are not being followed in letter and spirit and underline the need for an overall scientific approach to physical training methodology as per the DGMT training pamphlets! Implementation of sports/fitness medicine too must follow as that can bring in further scientific orientation to the physical development of individual trainees and combatants with a holistic, coordinated and balanced manner.

It is pertinent to mention that there is a full chapter 17 titled ‘Cross Country, Navigational Exercises & Camp Run Backs at NDA’ in  Book-2 (2014) of the Victory India Series that covers a lot of ground on the subject of ‘Camp Run Backs’ and equally applicable to IMA and OTA. The chapter includes all the then serious shortcomings and their solutions.

Trigger for Debate

The decision of the apex tri-services authority to include sports medicine as an integral part of the training methodology is a very positive decision. However, actually implementing this decision will involve several intricately linked complex and tricky issues and therefore require a bold comprehensive vision plan.

With a view to enable and facilitate the serving fraternity to successfully implement the wise decision of the UCC, tri-service Veterans were requested to pen down their views on the subject  to enable the serving fraternity to address issues with the physical training methodology of personnel.

Responses from Tri-Service Veterans

Brig LC Patnaik (Retd), Ex-SSB President and Instr IMA

The recent decision of the ‘United Commander’s Conference’ for introducing a more scientific approach to physical training through ‘Sports Medicine’ is indeed a  wise decision. The implication and implementation of this decision needs a thorough understanding by all concerned with nurturing, selection, training and grooming of Officer cadets, recruits and combatants.

The Services Selection Boards already have a system of periodic assessments of selected cadets during their training at military academies to ratify/confirm their assessments. The periodic assessments of the past indicate near corroborative trends in areas of trainability, physical courage and stamina in the first six months of training of cadets at the academies. However, the corroborative index shows a downward trend in ‘physical fitness’ scale for cadets with ‘non-military school’ and ‘rural background’.

The downward slide becomes steeper for candidates assessed during SSB selection with ‘medium to low trainability’ irrespective of their background. Rather than addressing this issue more scientifically and progressively, based on sound principles of physical training and sports medicine the broad assessment of the training and supervisory staff at academies is that the cadets are ‘malingering or shamming’ to evade physical hardship and invariably take recourse to disciplinary proceedings against them which only aggravate the problem for the physically weak cadets.

The past/present punishment policy, especially at NDA, will reveal that it is heavily based only on dishing out physical doses without taking into account the capacity of the cadet. A study conducted at IMA during 1989, revealed that a large number of Gentlemen Cadets (GCs) who were awarded minor punishments were physically weak and unable to bear the rigorous PT and drill schedule. Consequently, more doses of physical punishments only further aggravated their condition!

During my visit to NDA in 2013, I had enquired from entire training and supervisory staff of the remedy to address the issue. The response was clearly to circumvent and evade the issue as confronting the academy and even deflected it by stressing the need for DIPR/SSB to review their selection techniques and methodology! The need to carry out a physical SWOT analysis of each cadet and conduct the training on a scientific mode was ‘alien’ to young Divisional Officers and ‘repugnant’ to Squadron and Battalion commanders.

Receiving positive responses from then Comdt or Dy Comdt did not resolve the issues which highlights the imperative need to change the rigid mindsets of trainers and supervisors at all levels who need to be educated about the basic principles of physical training and sports medicine. It is no ‘rocket science’ to understand that optimum enhancement of physiological and psycho motor abilities involves gradual progression to allow cumulative growth of muscles.

Any sudden stress on the quantum of training naturally results in psychological withdrawal syndrome besides physical burn-out. This issue must be grasped to effectively train physically weak new entry cadets to achieve mandatory bench marks at the earliest and also meet Squadrons/Company competitive needs in various sports and training events and earn high OLQ marks.

It is my deep conviction that new entry cadets must undergo basic physical tests to identify their strength and weaknesses. All weak cadets, irrespective of background need separate physical training curriculum and not merely resorting to the archaic practice of afternoon classes prevalent in most academies.

Nixon Fernando, Ex-Lecturer & Counsellor NDA

The Commanders have spoken of sports medicine and scientific training. The first and foremost part of scientific training is to ensure that a cadet has sufficient rest and recuperation before his next physical activity if the aim for him is to raise his physical standards. If this has to be ensured the impact will directly transfer to the methodology of training.

The Officers and men responsible for physical fitness have already raised their hands because they have no say over more than 80% of the physical activity that the cadets are subjected to.  As such they are there only for ‘testing’ and may be passing on some technical skills. Then again, the traditional methods of instilling military culture and discipline that is used within squadrons also involves a lot of ‘extra’ physical activity, liberally dished out by those having little awareness of sports medicine and driven solely by ‘tradition’ that tends to go from bad to worse over the years.

Finally we have the inter-squadron competition needs in which total novices in sport, having little knowledge of positive health, let alone sports medicine, are given control over their teams, thus, ensuring more physical activity to make their teams shine!

What, in all this, gives the cadet that small relief, that small break that helps him ‘scientifically’ recoup? You will be surprised to know that it is the ‘pal’ system and the ability to ‘sham’. Truly these things are a boon for the cadets but where do these things figure in issues relating to making leaders (self-start vs kick start leaders)?

It is a great thing that the top Commanders have picked up this point. I hope the doctors and physical education specialists will use this opportunity to drive in the required changes in the training methods. I think Admiral Bangara and some other veterans must have had all this and more in their minds when they recommended that we go for separate academic and military training for the cadets in different phases.

I think this directive from the commanders is enough to drive the major change from down upwards. I hope the doctors and PT officers will drive home their advantage. They must assert and have a final say on matters of how the physical aspect of training is balanced out.

And finally I think the matter of irresponsible training methods being now taken up legally (criminal prosecution, or at least proper compensation for victims). This will add the required pressure on trainers to be more responsible and accountable. I guess the pieces are falling into place nicely. May be our ‘Victory India Campaign’ has got a break through? Only time will tell!

Col CM Chavan (Retd), Ex-AAD

Unified Commanders’ Conference decision for incorporating ‘sports medicine’ is a long pending and welcome decision. This change in our physical training methodology will positively impact six vital issues which for too long have been neglected. These are ‘scientific training, nutrition, sleep, recovery, cross country runs and personal hygiene’.

However, implementing these scientific methods by the ground staff is going to be a difficult task as the senior Officer instructors with a fixed gumption of training cadets only the hard way to make them strong will be strongly opposed to the systematic and scientific physical training system. The senior cadets too will oppose this shift in training methodology as the present norm of instilling and maintaining discipline of junior cadets with extra physical dosages during night hours will cease.

Heavy toll is taken by fierce inter Coy/Sqn/Bn sports competitions, especially cross country runs. Implementation of orders will have to be very strict with defaulters being given exemplary punishments. A classic example to be followed is that of a recent Dy Comdt and CI of NDA who got optimum results by his high personal example and effective supervision through drill instructors for all Officers and senior cadets to emulate. Unfortunately, such examples are extremely rare!

The Army Medical Corps does not have enough doctors with required speciality to meet the requirement of academies and training centres. As per the earlier statistics, the minimum requirement of doctors with sports medicine speciality was 119 against 18 held. Out of 18 only 9 were spared by AMC for this purpose. Hence the DGMS(Army)/DGAFMS will have to plan and execute the requirement of sports medicine qualified doctors on war footing in coordination with Commandant AFMC and HQ ARTRAC/DGMT/DNT/ACS Trg.

Last, but not least the speciality of sports medicine should be upgraded and brought at par with other specialisations with due importance/weightage for promotions to such Officers. This will attract suitable and talented medical Officers.

Cdr Mukund Yeolekar, Editor-in-Chief  Seagull Magazine, Ex-Principal Naval College of Engineering (INS Shivaji)

There is a dire need to have a scientific and systematic approach to physical toughening of young trainees. The ‘toughening’ has to be in steps which will become rigorous gradually and not suddenly. There is also a need to accurately and scientifically assess the physical capabilities of candidates during SSB, to determine if they can withstand the rigorous training regimen. Assuming that the recruits will get toughened during training would be incorrect.

‘Ruggedisation’ of trainees is a must. A minuscule percentage of failures during training due to fatigue is preferable to failure during actual deployment. Aberrations will always be there, however we should endeavor to make them nil. Considering today’s sedentary life styles of younger generations, the capacity of recruits to withstand rigors of military training is not the same as that what was prevalent in 1970s and 80s. So there is a possibility that some of them succumb to fatigue.

Even in an ideal selection system there is a small possibility of error. This may manifest during actual strenuous training activities. We should not tend to avoid exposure of weak trainees especially when they are facing rigorous activities. I mean we should not lower the severity of tasks just to enable the weak to qualify citing previous casualties.

In fact, during an endurance run, if someone is likely to collapse, let him voluntarily back out and then render necessary medical assistance to him. Weakness should always be detected during training and necessary action initiated to place the trainee elsewhere. It is important that a trainee is not forced or coerced to surpass his actual physical capability. He should be only encouraged to excel and realise his true potential.

Col PK ‘Royal’ Mehrishi (Retd), Clinical Psychologist, Ex-Sikh Li

The recent death of two IMA cadets while undergoing training at IMA is most unfortunate in the history of IMA. The focus should shift back to selection, training and grooming with an objective and holistic review of these processes. A ‘Green Horn’ (direct entry first term GC) who has never even run a mile is made to run 10 km (with weapon and back pack) after a four days camp in humid conditions within two months of joining.

SSB still does not have any basic physical fitness tests (like for soldiers) which gives a low physical take off level for most new entrants. Urgent need to introduce sports/fitness medicine concepts in the physical training methodology of officer cadets as decided in the recent Unified Commanders Conference. Need to accord priority for YOs for Officers Physical Training Course (OPTC) at AIPT Pune which used to be mandatory once upon a time. Presently, it has low/no priority. Impart minimum/basic physical education, sports medicine and human psychology at NDA/IMA/OTA.

Air Cmde SN Bal (Retd), Author & Analyst

In any training there is a ‘Strike-Off Wastage’ rate. One of my course mates died of dehydration while undergoing the Jungle and Snow Survival Course. While unfortunate, these things are a part of training. I lost four course mates during flying training. Deaths during training can be minimized but not eliminated: a hard and unpalatable reality. Even medical profiling is not perfect. An individual with a normal ECG can die of cardiac arrest, while an individual with an abnormal ECG can be perfectly healthy.

I have served as a pilot for 35 years in the IAF with an abnormal ECG – after due evaluation by a team of specialists, and there are many like me. By extension, all deaths during training cannot be ascribed to culpable and/or criminal negligence all the way! However, culpable neglect where established must be dealt with under due process of the law. It is also important that such matters be handled by competent authority, and not given undue publicity.

The case to introduce sports medicine where applicable is indeed valid. Teaching human psychology to cadets is a rather questionable proposition. The aim is to train soldiers and not psychologists. Many aspects of human behaviour applicable to the development of cadets are covered in leadership and management capsules. I conducted them for NDA cadets for four years.

The Way Forward

Our seventy-year-old physical training methodology has been periodically reviewed, revised and refined by various study groups (ordered by DGMT) with their recommendations being implemented. The training methodology, syllabus and tests for Officer cadets, recruits and combatants are laid down in the military pamphlets prepared and issued by DGMT to all units, formations and training institutions. HQ ARTRAC too has conducted some studies on this vital subject and issued some instructions and guidelines.

The subject of physical and recreational training as part of our military training curriculum is of vital importance and must never be viewed in isolation but as part of the entire 24 hour individual cycle/routine of military training. Physical Training Tests (BPET/PPT/IPET) have graded achievable bench marks or standards for cadets, recruits and combatants to be periodically achieved by all ranks. There is an imperative need to understand that the aim of these tests is basically to make or keep a soldier fit to perform his assigned task.

The 24-hour routine of a cadet, recruit and combatant must cater for rest, recovery, recuperation, diet and nutrition with physical load being administered progressively and his individual fitness being built up methodically as per individual capacity or potential.

The knowledge of physical education and allied subjects including sports medicine is of paramount importance and must spread not only amongst Officers but all junior leaders, with a vision plan and road map.
The Victory India Trilogy includes 121 chapters of articles, essays and papers by over 60 military authors and respondents with their wealth of knowledge well documented for posterity.

They give a holistic view to our military training doctrines and concepts and methodology, covering various multifarious subjects related to officer selection, training and grooming. The fourth volume the Victory India series of books is ready for release and has 33 chapters of 22 authors and respondents and goes beyond selection and training to cover more vital issues.

Buy 'Beyond the Victory India Campaign' on Amazon

(This debate was first published in Victory India compendium of books in 2017 and has been reproduced as part of  MVI's archival efforts. Views expressed are the respondents own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)

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