CLAWS Director Lt Gen. VK Ahluwalia Talks about PT Reforms in the Army

Former Director General Military Training (DGMT) and Current Director of the Think Tank Centre for Land and Warfare Studies (CLAWS) Lieutenant General Vijay Kumar Ahluwalia speaks to MVI's Aritra Banerjee on the need for PT reforms in the Indian Army.

CLAWS Director Lt Gen. VK Ahluwalia Talks about PT Reforms in the Army

Lieutenant General Vijay Kumar Ahluwalia (Retd) is the Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS). He has had an illustrious military career with over four decades of distinguished service in the Indian Army, the author retired as the Army Commander, Central Command in 2012. Thereafter, he served as a member, Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), Jaipur – Jodhpur Benches, for four years.

Amongst the highest decorated generals, he commanded an Infantry Brigade on the LoC in Uri Sector (2001-02), Mountain Division in Kargil (2005-06) and Corps in Leh - Ladakh Sector (2008-09). He was the first Indian Brigadier to attend the National Defence Course (NDC), at Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2003. A keen army helicopter pilot, he is also a pioneer of Bofors gun, as he was the a part of the first batch of officers to be trained in Sweden and raised the first sub-unit of the Indian Army.

While commanding the formation in Kargil, his Division was awarded the BNHS National Green Governance Award 2005 by the Prime Minister of India on 10 Nov 2005, for conceiving and implementing the unique strategic concept, ‘Operation Green Kargil’. As the Director General Military Training (DGMT), he made a positive contribution by introducing new concepts of military training and raising the educational standards of the soldiers.

He completed his Doctorate on ‘Naxalism, Internal Security and Conflict Resolution’, and has authored a book— ‘Red Revolution 2020 and Beyond: Strategic Challenges to Resolve Naxalism’, along with  co-editing & co-authoring ‘Surprise, Strategy and Vijay: 20 Years of Kargil and Beyond’, and ‘COVID-19 & its Challenges: Is India Future Ready?’

Excerpts from the interview...

NDA Training
NDA cadet training for the battlefields of the 21st century

What has been the contribution of the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) and their mother institution the Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) towards promoting Physical Training (PT), Sports & Games, Excellence in Sports, and  in Combat Fitness?

Although the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) was formed on 1 July 1946, I saw and experienced their sense of  commitment and professional acumen in the National Defence Academy from  January 1968 onwards. The 'PT Sahabs / Ustads', as they were called, were instrumental in bringing up the physical fitness and sports standards of all cadets.

In fact, we had seen  two Physical Training Officers (PTOs) in Major Darshan Singh and Maj Devine Jones, who were feared, as well as loved, for their commitment and objective stance to enhance the physical fitness standards,  at the NDA and the IMA respectively. Thereafter, I have seen the performance of the APTC fraternity at different levels, including while I was the DGMT and Army Commander, Central Command, which had several training institutions and regimental centres under its fold.

Undoubtedly, both the APTC and the Army School of  Physical Training (ASPT), later renamed Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT), have enhanced the physical fitness, games, and sports standards of the armed forces as whole and the army in particular. The larger payoff of good proficiency in physical fitness is that it creates physiological and psychological well being, reduces the stress levels, and enhances combat effectiveness of a soldier.

Given our extremely difficult terrain, and inhospitable weather conditions in the operational environment, physical fitness has much greater significance, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic brought in a feeling of isolation, and uncertainty, which affects the mental and psychological health of soldiers.  Physical fitness and well being helps to combat such situations. Over the years, besides physical fitness standards, the Indian Army has performed extremely well in the competitive sports and games. We must try and further enhance the standards thus achieved.

What in your mind are some notable contributions of the APTC?

After commanding the Division in Kargil, I was posted as the DGMT & President Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) in early 2006. During my very first briefing , I realised that planning, preparations and conduct of the  World Military Games 2007 (WMG 2007) would be one of the major challenges of the Army in particular. Till then, I had seen the APTC primarily through the prism of a cadet / gentleman cadet (GC), and unit PT instructors ( trained by the AIPT), which, incidentally, was good.

I was informed that President SSCB, a rotational appointment,  was handed over to the Army  earlier than scheduled, primarily to conduct the WMG 2007. Not only was  it an additional responsibility, it was going to showcase the ability of the Armed Forces to jointly conduct the event. To cut it short, APTC, AIPT, and equivalent organisations of the Air Force and the Navy joined the effort with a great sense of commitment and enthusiasm.

The conduct of the WMG at Hyderabad/Secunderabad and Mumbai during October 2007 was an International level event, with participation by over 100 militaries of the world. It must be said to the credit of the APTC  officers and other ranks that they planned, trained themselves, acquired the requisite additional skills in certain new  events being conducted, and positioned themselves to conduct the event in a flawless manner.

As an appreciation and  recognition of their positive contribution in the WMG, APTC fraternity got their highest honours and awards in terms of VSM, COAS commendation cards and GOC-in-C's Commendation Cards. The IAF and the Navy conducted their events in an equally impressive manner. The APTC fraternity has continued to contribute in a meaningful manner, despite the increase in operational commitments of the army.

During their 74 years of service to the nation the APTC, despite being the smallest Corps in the Indian Army has won numerous distinguished services awards. Some of the awards won are the Arjuna Award-1, Asiad Jyoti Award-1, MC-1, SM-2 VSM-13, COAS Commendation-29, besides many more which are not mentioned. Winning these coveted awards in the Army is a testimony to their commitment and dedication towards their assigned tasks and duties.

During my two tenures as DGMT, I learnt and have personally known a few outstanding personnel of the APTC who achieved unique distinctions, and made significant contributions to the Corps are as follows:

  • Lt Col JJ Fonseca, VSM, was a legendary officer who is fondly remembered as a father figure to the APTC who was the Comdt AIPT (erstwhile ASPT) for six eventful years from 1963-69. His contribution to the corps was phenomenal. A pioneering PT and Sports Specialist who not only set the right bench marks for Army PT instructors but  made the ASPT the hub for national sports in India. Even after his 100th birth anniversary his high standards and vision for fitness and sports in the Army remain valid today. His selfless work and service would surely inspire the APTC to rise to greater heights.
  • Brig GS Sandhu, VSM, was a national decathlon champion and was instrumental in raising the Boys Sports Companies and the erstwhile Armed Forces Sports College (now Army Sports Institute) in Pune and various army sports nodes in the country. He was also the Chairman of the Committee for the review of PT System in the army including PT tables, Physical Efficiency Tests (PET) and Methodology which was successfully implemented in 1992.
  • Brig PKM Raja, SM, VSM, was an asset to the nation as he was the Chef de Mission for London Olympics 2012 and a Referee and Judge in Boxing in  numerous international meets including Olympics, Asian & Commonwealth Games. He was also the Chairman Jury in Boxing in  Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
  • Sub Maj Karunakaran, VSM, was recognized for his professional acumen and outstanding distinguished services both in India and Bhutan; he was awarded the VSM.
‘Burma Bridge’; one of the essential obstacles for all Field Obstacle Training of trainees

Given the complexities and demands of 21st century warfighting, what are the physical fitness requirements that will ensure Army combat readiness and APTC role in ensuring high standards of fitness?

We have a peculiar operational environment due to the unsettled borders with two of our neighbours - Pakistan and China. The boundary cum territorial disputed areas  lie along the mountainous terrain in the North. These areas range from low level hills to extreme high altitude cum glaciated regions, with heights between 3000 feet to 21000 feet.  Indian Army personnel are deployed in some of the most  remote and difficult terrains. Such operational environments require all ranks—officers and men— to be physically and mentally strong - to be able to deliver effectively.

With a given set of weapon systems and technological enabled environment, it is my personal belief  that a physically and mentally fit soldier exhibits much greater confidence to withstand all odds against the enemy and the operational environment. It should be our endeavour to promote  awareness and enhance physical fitness of all ranks  to maintain Army's standards and be recognised as the finest combat ready army of the world.

What is the way out of the serious non-availability of OPTC qualified officers and also drastic reduction in  suitable officers for transfer into the APTC or on deputation?

To answer this question, one has to objectively look at the contours of our operational scenario. India faces a large number of external and internal threats to its security, due to its geo-strategic location, size, demographic profile, and the prevalent politico-social- economic conditions.

Along with the external challenges, the proxy war cum state sponsored terrorism in  Jammu and Kashmir, low-intensity conflicts in the North East and Left Wing Extremism (LWE) have continued to persist. Resultantly, the army has continued to remain committed in Jammu & Kashmir and in the north eastern states. Therefore, operational requirements must always be given the highest priority.

On the other hand, lack of well-qualified PT instructors (JCOs/NCOs) is a major reason for the deteriorating physical fitness standards in the army. The physical fitness and its related advantages for better combat effectiveness can not be overlooked. A correct balance would have to be drawn to train, especially the other ranks, to ensure that units' and regimental centres' requirements of trained PT instructors is met adequately.

Without increasing the APTC cadre, one option that merits consideration is that we could increase the cadre strength by drawing minimum essential persons from the army so that at least two (preferably four) PT NCOs are trained per battalion  and equivalent units by organising additional courses for the JCOs and NCOs.

The officers, being inducted into the APTC, should necessarily have adequate experience in the operational environments of our country, who should actually be the role models of physical fitness themselves. We could even consider the CMP model to augment the strength of the officers cadre, if considered essential. Due to prolonged peace tenures and remaining in the same type of environment, sometimes organisational staff do not deliver to their full potential. This aspect must be monitored, by instituting suitable checks and balances.

Any concluding remarks?

I am immensely proud to have been associated with the APTC fraternity, as I found them to be exceptionally committed and rose to the occasion to deliver, and deliver well. As instructors at the academies and the regimental centres, the Red Stocking have inspired officers, cadets and other ranks to remain fit. The World Military Games 2007 is just one of the many landmark achievements of the Corps.

The APTC's contribution has been remarkable over the past 74 years and it must continue to strive towards living upto the corps motto; "A sound mind in a healthy body," and its salutation in hindi, "Swast Raho" meaning "Be Fit" said Lt Gen (Dr) Ahluwalia before signing off.

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