Does India's Professional Military Education Need a Course Correction?

The quality of 'Professional Military Education' in the Indian Armed Forces has been a long pending area of discourse, with the subject only recently coming to the arena of public discussion. This debate aims to bring a diversity of Tri-Service views on PME.

Does India's Professional Military Education Need a Course Correction?

Professional Military Education: Tracing the History of the Discourse in the Indian Defence Media Space

The perceived inadequacy in the quality of Professional Military Education provided to officers and even the men of the Indian Armed Forces has been a long-standing point of contention, one that has been advocated passionately for over a decade by the Victory India Campaign through its anthology of books; albeit one that has been routinely brushed under the carpet as a matter of “organisational pride”.

One of the earliest views on the subject was laid bare by Major General Raj Mehta (Retd) in the cover story headlined ‘Grim Portents' in the November 2011 issue of ‘Geopolitics’ magazine. This article was followed by another complementary piece Grim Portents Redux the following year. In later years, spanning between 2011-2019 these essays were followed by several articles and even debates encapsulating PME either directly or indirectly in the five volumes of the Victory India compendiums; housing views by several renowned military authors.

Furthermore many articles and debates dealing with the subject were also published in the reputed Fauji India magazine between 2016-2019. A landmark analysis on the subject by Lieutenant General (Dr.) Rakesh Sharma (Retd), a research fellow at the New Delhi based Think Tank, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), in his article Professional Military Education & Producing Thought Leaders for The Armywas published in the Indian Defence Review in 2017.

The subject lay dormant in the Indian defence media space until the publication of the November 2020 issue of the FORCE magazine which saw a series of hard-hitting articles on PME. The November issue’s cover story Train. Learn. Balance by FORCE executive editor Ghazala Wahab and subsequent articles on PME in the issue, rekindled the discourse on this critical subject.

Through the December 2020 issue of the Victory India Magazine, Team MVI followed up with a series of articles splitting the different aspects of the subject and the issues surrounding it, with an entire section dedicated to PME; All of which have been reproduced on the website.

Most recently Former Naval Chief Admiral Arun Prakash, broke the camel's back with his article Defending the Last Bastion with the subject Indian armed forces must prepare personnel to shoulder responsibilities at all levels of new unified commands published in the Indian Express on 16 Dec 2020 and widely circulated bringing sharp focus to this vital subject once again.

In conformity with the above, renowned Defence and Strategic affairs expert Maroof Raza, wrote on the need to Give Military Officers a Useful Qualification in the Last Word in the December, 2020 Issue of Fauji India, adding further relevance and validation to the renewed discourse; emphasising on the need to course correct the entire outlook for tri-services military education at all levels; right from the training and grooming of young officers to the relevant courses at all stages of their professional military careers.

Maroof Raza’s views highlight the crux of this layered issue and has been reproduced below as the trigger for this MVI debate.

DSSC Wellington, one of the nerve center of Tri-Services PME in India; File Photo

Trigger: ‘Give Military Officers a Useful Qualification’

“There is virtually no organisation of the Indian government apart from the Armed Forces, at least in India, which demands from its officers a constant level of academic accomplishment and intellectual growth in their entire service career. And as any service officer will know, life in the Services is filled with training courses and a whole lot of events that make considerable intellectual demands on our officers.

“However, military men are still seen to be men of brawns and not brains, primarily because they are construed in the words of Samuel Huntington as “Managers of violence” (as he has elaborated upon in his masterpiece, ‘The Soldier and the State’). But as many of them seek a post retirement life in the corporate world, a suitable qualification would make it useful for them to get seamlessly absorbed into the new jobs they might seek.

“About three decades ago a maverick Israeli academic, Martin van Creveld wrote a more provocative study of why military education was not regarded seriously by the civil world, in his book titled: The Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance.

To some extent, the title in itself says it all. However, the central point of his thesis was that the extensive academic work done at military training Institutions (such as in India, the National Defense College, Higher Command and Senior Command courses) have often had no academic accreditation with a respected university.

In the case of such courses being delivered at Mhow, the student Officers do get a qualification from Indore University – but that hardly inspires confidence outside military circles. An MBA from an affiliated IIM would be very helpful.

“Without that, the hard work put in by service officers on their various courses of instruction carries no recognition in the civilian world. And without proper academic accreditation, all the work that our service officers put in during their long and challenging careers, counts for little outside military circles.

It might be argued that the NDA does give a bachelor’s degree of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, but its staff and students abhor the military. And the Staff College (DSSC) at Wellington gives a master’s degree from Madras University, but neither is the JNU a sought-after destination by under graduates nor is Madras University recognised outside India for excellence in strategic studies.

“Considering the amount of money that is spent on the training and exposure of Officers for some of the courses (like the NDC that includes a trip abroad), it would make ample sense for the NDC and DSSC to seek an arrangement with some globally recognised institution, like the reputed Department of War Studies, at King’s College, London, that gives the British armed forces degrees for some of their courses.

“Moreover, the bachelor’s degree that is given by the NDA, Khadakwasla, is given to the students who complete a bit of this and the bit of that, in about twenty subject areas and is designated the BA or BSc on the basis of the student’s academic curriculum.

But it would do the NDA cadet and entire Services community a lot of good if they were at the NDA given a bachelor’s degree in military studies, because it is Matters Military that we must prepare those cadets for, and not for a generalist undergraduate degree.

“That would then make the NDA’s academic curriculum more focused. There are many popular courses that are offered in military studies in India and abroad. In fact, Pune University itself has a well-respected Department of Defense Studies, so why isn’t that considered? Apparently because the NDA didn’t want Pune University’s faculty breathing down its neck, with frequent visits to their campus. Hence the choice of JNU!”

What Experts Say...

The Wisdom Owl at DSS Wellington; Photo Courtesy Shiv Aroor/Twitter

Rear Admiral Vineet Bakhshi (Retd), VSM, Former CO INS Shivaji

In a study of the origins of power, prosperity and poverty, a fundamental finding by Devon Acemoglu and James A Robinson was that it was the strength or failure of crucial institutions which resulted in the rise and fall of nations, the progress or regression of countries thereof. In our own country, the Armed Forces are a key institution and have been the bulwark thus far against the destabilising forces, principally from across the border and sometimes from within.

Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington, are "stable, valued, recurring patterns of behaviour". Further, the Armed Forces institution can be defined as an integrated structure of the Armed Forces comprising of regulations, customs, traditions, people and processes, set up with the sole purpose of abiding by its role as defined by the Constitution of India.

The question before us per se concerns the development of one of its primary and pivotal ingredients, the Officer, as he is prepared for higher responsibilities and the processes thereto. A frailty or shortcoming of the leadership, would undoubtedly lead to a diminishment of the Institution, with grave consequences for the country.

As much as a forging will be reflective of both the materials used and the processes that shape it, and that the future can hardly be predicted, or moulded, it is a rigorous study of history and analysis that helps and aids us to prepare for it.

A need for enhancing the quality of intake into the training academies, by casting the net further and looking to sensitise students from such institutions such as the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas to join the Armed Forces, was debated and discussed in this forum.

In his research on ancient Indian Education systems as brought out in the book, The Teacher and the Taught, Padma Shri MT Vyas has defined the ways the Indian civilization produced such remarkable works such as the Sacred Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, the grammar of Panini, Ayurveda, Arthashastra and so much more.

Amongst his many deductions was the fact that the “Ashrama” or training institutions, were careful about whom they selected, character of the student being a key consideration and that the teachers were exceptional. Can we learn from history and not be too concerned about the democratisation of the Services?

Having been inducted, it is the blend of mentoring, training, experiences and eventually individual performances, which grinds and distills the individuals, placing them into positions of responsibilities, of leadership. In this process, they transit through various training institutions of the Services, which have been affiliated to different Universities for award of “Degrees” of many hues.

This “affiliation” is evidently an evolution of various policies in education since Independence. However, our very basic education system is modelled on a legacy of the British, who set it up to create a class of clerks and low-level bureaucrats, where original thinking was at a premium.

The New Education Policy 2020, if implemented in letter and spirit, with funds to match, is expected to change this. Nonetheless, some quality Institutions such as the IITs, not only have autonomy, but rigour in their academics and research. Consequently, they attract some of the best minds and teachers in the country.

If our Institutions were to be affiliated to or run for their academic content by such Institutions, assuredly it would make a radical difference, most palpable would be in promoting creativity over rote. The “Degree” is often a near statutory requirement for many avenues of placement and also for something as mundane as an “ECNR” stamp on a passport amongst others.

It is a recognition not only by society, but also by officialdom, that the individual is learned. So yes, a “Degree” is necessary. It is within the purview of Academic Councils of autonomous institutes, to define the range and scale of subjects and their content, which can be established by the needs of the Armed Forces and lead to award of a suitable “Degree”.

To conclude, the Armed Forces as an Institution is critical for the wellbeing of the nation. To ensure that we have quality leadership in the Armed Forces, would require the inflow of the brightest minds and for their subsequent academic education to be run by premier institutes of our country.

Major General Anil Sengar (Retd), Author and Analyst, Former ADGMF

Norman Dixon in his seminal book The Psychology of Military Incompetence, after studying battles over 100 years concludes that in general military leadership is incompetent. The reason is that most generals are trained but not educated. They continue to do more of the same. In India, most generals are comfortable at the tactical level and do not comprehend the larger aspects of the complexity of warfare. The reason is the lack of PME.

In the growing complex security environment and the changing character of warfare, lack of PME will cost us heavily. Generalship is about dealing with unseen intangibles that are hard to teach. It is a function of deep analysis, evaluated experience and study. The Indian PME for leadership lacks in preparing the leadership for the future. You can keep going up the ladder by doing more of the same and boss management.

The promotion based on redundant Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) needs a thorough review, a culture of dissent and no holds barred discussion needs to develop. The Ladakh face off turned the Corps Commander into a soldier, a diplomat and a politician, all roles into one. The nation looked at him to deliver when the politician and the diplomat and the National Security Advisor (NSA) stood in the sidelines. A role for which the Corp Commander was never educated or trained.

We need to review our system and include a structured PME for star ranks and select a few which prepares them for the complexity of the future. A colonel can become a division commander in seven years. A Major General becomes an army commander in four years without a structured system to enable him to grow intellectually to handle the enhanced responsibility. The fact that one Army Commander acknowledged that he was still on a learning curve says it all. My latest book The Be-Know-Do of Generalship deals with this subject.

Group Captain TP Srivastava (Retd), Author and Analyst, Former Instructor, DSSC, CDM, CAW, AFA

Poor/irrelevant standard of PME is attributable to following;

1. The military is averse/reluctant to change: To cite an example; Our premier institution DSSC, Wellington runs exercises framed decades ago. As a Directing Staff (DS), I proposed that every course must be exposed to new exercises to prevent 'Prevalent Copying' as well as infuse new dimension in thinking.

A discussion on the matter chaired by the Commandant wasted more than an hour without reaching any conclusion. Finally, it was put to vote. I received two votes; one was mine and the other from CI (Air). The main objection to my proposal was from training teams because they had to do work to frame new exercises, which they refused to do.

2. Our syllabus for PME is outdated: We fail to notice a radical change in Civil Services written test. Optional subjects have been replaced by GK/Current Affairs. Let us not mix up PME with education imparted during professional courses viz a pilot undergoes MCF every time he/she moves to a new machine.

3. Divergent views are invariably met with scorn by superiors: In the process we lose huge numbers of brilliant youngsters. Even today military commanders are unable to differentiate between divergence of opinion, disobedience and refusal to accept a flawed directive.

4. Encourage and empower original thinking: We, at our premier institutions, are producing 'professional clones'.

Critical Changes Required

1. Revert to the old selection procedure for the National Defence Academy (NDA): With the recently introduced education policy it would be simple. Get a cadet after class eleven. Only those genuinely interested will join. Currently a candidate looks at joining military service only after having been 'FAILED/REJECTED' in every other field.

2. Have a clear vision as to what constitutes PME: Professional Military Courses viz 'YOs' in Army must not be considered to be part of PME.

3. Inculcate yearlong undergrad course by NDU: The National Defence University must commence training military officers on abridged 'ONE YEAR UNDERGRAD' followed by 'ONE YEAR POST GRAD' courses. Syllabus will have to be framed by academicians.

4. Foster the spirit of academia along with military training: A Former IAF Chief tried to introduce the concept of Scholar-Warrior. Even the IAF refused to accept it.

5. Manpower shortage cannot be used as an all weather excuse: Let us get out and get it over with talking about shortage of manpower It is a non-existent paranoia afflicting military in a big way. In fact, this excuse is used to cover up the failures. I state this with reasonable authentic info about manpower in all three services.

6. Employ the experience of veterans: Consider using enormous expertise of volunteer/capable veterans for imparting training to budding leaders.

Are we willing to swallow and accept reality?

Recently a former Service Chief penned his views on PME. In the Indian Military we continue to use an eminently flawed term 'JOINTNESS'. Incidentally, the former service Chief also used the same term. During my tenures as staff in premier military institutions, I made attempts on numerous occasions to replace this ill-conceived term with a more rational term highlighting inter service co-operation 'MUTUAL INTER-DEPENDENCE' but failed. No wonder then that China has reached where it has.

American Generals are miles ahead of ours in educational as well as professional exposure due to the global presence of US Forces. PME is addressed in China at the level of President Xi. In India, we have an ignoramus trying to tear the fabric of Indian Military based on whims and fancy. The Indian Military is headed into the 'woods' of uncertain future under the leadership of an ignoramus.

Parth Satam, Principal Correspondent, Fauji India Magazine

The Indian military - especially the Indian Army - often forgets war fighting is brain as much as it is brawn. And many such wars have been won by the former. But it's the excessive focus on the latter that has bred a culture of roughshod physicality that looks down upon academic discourse as "intellectual" bookish practices that are an impediment in a rigorous profession such as soldiering.

As self-defeating as it is, it turns the Claustewitzian notion of war being "politics by other means" on its head. If war is politics, then politics is also history, which itself is influenced by everything from economics, sociology, philosophy and science and technology - which in turn affects human conflict i.e. war.

Of course, this culture does not exist singularly, but has been affected by obsolete Colonial-era personnel management policies (selection, training, and promotion) that Col Vinay Dalvi has been crying hoarse about in his Victory India series of books and articles. A battlefield commander, well read in the above subjects and understanding his enemy better, is better placed to deciphering the latter's goals, giving him invaluable advantage in combat.

But it is only when we nurture Soldier Scholars, and not brainless yes men, who replicate their seniors' course material in staff College courses, foster ideation and encourage independent thought can we truly have a world class military. While struggling with our long running woes of modernising our archaic weapons, maybe some internal non-material reforms too are in order.

Add to the Discourse, Keep the Conversation Going!

MVI wants you to contribute!

The editorial team at ‘Mission Victory India’, invites responses for the purposes of furthering this debate, your views, based on your professional experiences in individual pre-commission and post-commission training and military education establishments. Your response may address the full spectrum of PME or tackle the nuances of individual institutions, courses, or educational establishments. Full-fledged articles on the subject may also be sent.

Furthermore, anecdotes from your time in service in supporting or disagreeing with the ‘motion’ will be deeply appreciated and will further fuel the much-needed discourse, and serve as an intended catalyst for change, for the betterment of the Indian Armed Forces.

Responses may be sent at: [email protected]

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