Does India's Professional Military Education Need a Course Correction? (Part-2)

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. Part-2 of this debate continues to bring a diversity of views on PME.

Does India's Professional Military Education Need a Course Correction? (Part-2)

Professional Military Education is the fundamental requisite of war-winning strategies, however, is an area where there is a perceived inadequacy in the Indian context. The overall quality and level of military education imparted to officers of the Indian Armed Forces has been criticised as ‘antiquated’ and ‘lacking in academic rigour’ by some dominant voices in the Indian Defence and Strategic circles over the years.

While others who have been in charge of grooming officer cadets and junior officers have described officer training, right from the Pre-Commission Training academies as being overly physical with strategic thinking and independent thought being a casualty to the military education system, a phenomenon that has been said to follow an officer throughout his/her professional military career.

Mission Victory India traced the history of the discourse on military education in the Indian Defence Media space and brought out views by defence experts from the Tri-services and the media, tackling various aspects and nuances of the subject in part-1 of this debate. This part continues the ongoing discourse with more views from military luminaries in this diversity of opinion debate.

Major General Vijay Pande (Retd), Analyst & Academic

Does the military training in the Indian Army need an overhaul? No, it does not; does it need a review like any other function; yes, it does.

From the pre-independence era till date the educational standards and levels of awareness of officers as well as men has only risen upward as has been the case with any new generation. Earlier it was quite usual for an uneducated village boy to be recruited as a soldier. Today it is no longer the case. The candidate must be at least a matriculate or 12th pass to make it into the ranks. Similarly, one could become an officer a few decades ago even if he was a matriculate; today he must be a graduate.

Officers are also conferred with a Post Graduate Degree on completion of the Staff College Course and M Phil after the Higher Command Course which was not the case earlier. Even those who do not have these degrees are well aware due to the age of the internet and the media explosion. The age of knowledge since the 80’s has put virtually all information in the hands of anyone who owns a smartphone. Knowledge is no longer the preserve of a select few as was the case in the Vedic era. So, it would be a fallacy to presume that the officers of today are not well informed.

Training needs also have been constantly revised based on emerging scenarios and methodologies as well as infrastructure revised. The upsurge of insurgency in Punjab in the 80’s and later from the 90’s in J&K saw the coming up of Corps battle schools in respective zones. Indian Army Training Memorandum made out of the training pamphlets written by Capt. JFC Fuller became the basis of the present-day GS Publications. Additional subjects not adequately covered in the GS Publications found their way into the military mind through Army Training Memoranda.

So, What is Lacking?

I will start with the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC). It is no doubt a prestigious institution which many young officers aspire to join. The course is not by nomination (except in emergency or warlike situations), an officer has to voluntarily study and qualify the tough entrance exam to make the grade. Qualification would also mean doing better in the exam than his compatriots as the seats are limited. To add to it, the officer can avail a maximum of three chances and has to conform to the laid down age limit.

Once he joins the hallowed precincts what is he taught? Here comes the ugly part. Almost 90 percent of the entire training is focused on the tactical level of war. It means that the officer is essentially studying the same stuff which he went through during the Junior Command Course and sadly, will repeat it in the Senior Command Course. The pool of instructors includes smart Colonels and Brigadiers (and their equivalents from other services) but hardly anyone from outside.

There is no such thing as an instructor exchange program with other countries and neither do we have any professors from reputed universities teaching an alternate point of view. So sadly, it is more of the same thing that the officer is going to get during his one year stay at the College. An opportunity where officers' perspectives can truly be enhanced is not being fully utilised.

In my view, this is the pool of officers which includes potential generals and sorely needs to be made aware of the operational and strategic levels of war and the widened horizons these entail. They also must be trained in independent thinking, wargaming and decision making.

They must do independent research work on at least two or three contemporary subjects and present their findings at the end of the course. In most of the Staff Colleges around the world the tactical level of war constitutes just about 40% of the training content. The rest focuses on the operational and strategic levels of war. This is also true for Staff Colleges in African countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and others.

Let me take a few steps back. In most of the courses of instruction such as the weapons and equipment related courses, an instructor’s grade (I) is much sought after. The student can get an “I” grade if he is good at fault finding and does well in the Instructional Practice (IP) tests wherein he is required to conduct a class. Unfortunately, he is never tested in his capabilities of planning, organising and conducting training which is a fundamental responsibility of any commander.

The “training by rote” mindset imposed by the British on the native army before independence continues to rule the roost. This mindset inhibits independent thinking and leads to the “playing safe” mentality. The systems approach to training is yet to take root in our army though attempts have been made for the same since 2003-4. All armies including the British have adopted it long long ago, we are still skeptical about the concept. Today even primary school education is based on this approach, wondering what inhibits our army.

As a Division Commander I used to have regular interactions with young officers separately (as indeed I used to have with JCOs, middle ranking officers and Commanding officers separately as well). In one such interaction one Lieutenant said to me “Sir if you have to make it, you must toe the line”. This left me with a few worries about the climate that was prevailing. The young man could not be blamed. The hierarchy starting from me downward needed to introspect.

Professionalism constitutes three attributes. The first is intellect or wisdom, the ability to put things in perspective and take well informed decisions. This comes from self education and that given by the organisation. The second attribute is character, the ability to implement our plans on ground.

The German General Hans Von Seekt said “the essential thing is action." Action has three stages: the decision born of thought, the order or preparation for execution, and the execution itself. All three stages are governed by the will. The will is rooted in character, and for the man of action character is of more critical importance than intellect. Intellect without will is worthless, will without intellect is dangerous''. The third attribute is attitude, the ability to swim upstream, to take it on when no one else is willing or able. A man having intellect and character in equal measure but with a negative attitude, is worthless. Our military education and training must aspire to inculcate these attributes in equal measure in our officers.

Book Available on Amazon & Pentagon Press

Lieutenant General Harbhajan Singh (Retd), ex-SO-in-C,1st Course JSW/NDA

When we were in the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in the early 1950s, there was a subject called Methods, meant to teach cadets how to be instructors of men! While making lesson plan, one was to ask three simple questions, so that essentials are covered within the allocated time and non-essentials do not eat away time: -

  • Must Teach
  • Should Teach
  • Could Teach

These simple questions have come handy in all walks of life, as time, money, staff etc are always at a premium. An Army Officer needs education at different phases of career, e.g.: - up to Captain/Major rank when one is directly dealing with and leading them. Then up to a Colonel in our case, commanding a battalion/regiment. Following which are the Brigade and higher ranks where an officer is handling national level planning, which cannot be carried out without knowledge of countries that can influence geopolitics and impinge on national security.

So, let us put down in point form must, should, could an officer study and know in these three phases of career. A fourth Phase may be added for Major Generals and above. Everything cannot and must not be formally taught in courses. Officers should be encouraged to carry out self-study instead.

While working out what all an officer can do, it needs to be remembered that a day has 24 hours and about 16 hours when one is awake. In this time, he has to do Physical Training, take part in some sport, drill, train and administer his command, carry out Cs of I etc, have meals, take at least 45 minutes of rest, so on and so forth. Furthermore, many officers get employed on the Line of Control (LoC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC), in counter insurgency areas i.e., semi operational duties where time for self-study is limited. Therefore, when we talk of self-education, commitments like those mentioned above must be considered.

There is no need to go to Universities for advice on what education is needed. These are run by old timers whose knowledge is outdated. Our officers are well experienced and qualified to draft curriculum/subjects to be studied. We underestimate the capabilities of our own officers! The Curriculum of worldwide education institutions are available online and can be examined to validate own thinking, if considered necessary.

Key Areas Affecting Efficiency

  • The Indian Army is perpetually short of officers.
  • Our unit and formation routine are still of British days.
  • Infantry battalion functioning is always taken as the yardstick for all arms and services.
  • Geru Chuna is still our way of preparing for visits/inspections. Putting flags of different colours has now been added!
  • We have started to talk of Network Centric warfare and cyber warfare etc. But our operational and administrative thinking is still of WW2 vintage to quite an extent.
  • We are too busy with routine!
  • Seniors by and large lack quality of listening patiently! This inhibits officers from putting across new ideas and fresh views.
  • We must look ahead 25 years and then work out the details.
  • All this affects what education should/can be imparted!

Brain and technology, geopolitics, human behaviour are some of the important topics to be emphasised in India’s PME efforts.

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Colonel Rajinder Singh Kushwaha (Retd), Author & Analyst

We should be crystal clear on the aim and purpose of PME. Do we wish to produce robotised thought machines or the purpose was to create chameleons of war to adapt and handle fleeting situations of modern combat zones? The present system of PME is creating automated machines who are capable of Garbage in/Garbage out. Application is lacking, if the situation varies from the data, so fed during the process of courses attended or so called PME.

All courses in the armed forces are gradings oriented. Emphasis of teachers and students is only in gradings to be obtained. Gradings are passports for good Annual Confidential Reports (ACR), foreign postings and promotions. The purpose of the courses should be imparting knowledge and not to make Gladiators—who are basically show pieces and manage to stay out of real military conflicts but do rise up the military ladders.

Emphasis of PME should be on Technical and Analytical upgradation of leaders. Case studies of wars/Insurgencies in Indian context must be evaluated at each level. There is a need to introduce a promotion examination for the rank of Lieutenant Colonels/Colonels. ACRs and course gradings alone should not be the basis for foreign postings and promotions. There should not be any ACR till a person becomes a Lt Col and a Lt Col should only be promoted to Col if he has passed the promotion exam.

The main subjects of this promotion examination (call it Part E or whatever) should be of three subjects:

  • Analytical Military History Campaigns in the Indian Context
  • Technical Orientation/Upgradation — also Military Law
  • Revolutions in Military Affairs

To nominate officers for various courses such as Higher Command/Higher Defence Management Command/National Defence College should be after a written examination and performance evaluation. There is a need to pay attention to Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) too. They also are required to be centrally educated so as to take on the job of a Company/Battery and squadron commanders.

Their knowledge is also required to be upgraded and freed of parochial promotions in the Regiments. They need to be educated on Indian military campaigns post 1947. No harm in introducing one or two promotion examinations. Two subjects could be, Military History and Special to Corps. It could be done at the Theatre Command level. Enforced Study of military history can upgrade knowledge on tactics and strategies. It will also educate leaders on combat decision making. Focus on military history is the basic foundation of effective military leadership.

Lieutenant Colonel MK Guptaray (Retd) Author & Analyst

The Military subject is too complex to be understood and commented upon by a person who hasn't had any practical experience of what services in Defence mean, specifically in the field army, both during war and peace specially in fighting arms. A general will need to have a combination of both brawn and brain. Brawn will carry the brain. Both are equally important in the army.

The importance of brawn is realised when one must physically operate for days and months under most destructive conditions when the comrades are being slaughtered while keeping the brain in its place to achieve the goal. It is exceedingly difficult to understand for a person who has not undergone such a situation.

While advancing to Jaffna from Palai in Sri Lanka we had operated marching and fighting for three days practically on empty stomach. In Galwan Valley our comrades killed a greater number of Chinese bare handed. A corps commander operating in Ladakh will have to be as fit as any other soldier.

"War is the province of danger; therefore, courage above all things is the first quality of a warrior" Clausewitz’s Atmosphere in War comprises danger, physical efforts, uncertainty and chance for which one requires a great force of energy, firmness, staunchness, strength of mind and character. Commander must have a great force of will.

These are as far as cognitive qualities are concerned. Fighting is a trial of strength of the moral, intellectual and physical strength more so by means of later. If one does not have adequate 'brawn' no quantity of brain will carry him. For one's information both (military stalwarts) Napoleon and Montgomery were in low grade in their class.

Training has its own stages. One does not become a general immediately after commissioning. One has to go up stage by stage and each stage has its own training applications and types of training differ as one goes up, from purely tactical training it becomes tactical-cum- strategic and lastly strategic. Numbers of tactical victories will lead to strategic victory.

So called "intellectual" bookish knowledge will never give victory. One needs to have thorough information about the ground and realities. War is a domain of total uncertainty. In fact, a strong-willed general with courage have more chances in achieving victory than a general with a strategic mind, less courage to apply the strategy.

An Anecdote

In the 1971 war, one of our platoons, left to hold the feature after the objective was captured, was counter attacked. Two counter attacks were thwarted. While the third one was coming our platoon was down to 5 to 10 rounds of rifle bullets and 25 to 30 for light machine guns. The enemy came as near as 15 meters. The entire platoon of about 25 soldiers were about to be taken as prisoners.

Suddenly the counterattack petered out. The enemy withdrew. Our platoon sighed a great sigh of relief. Later we found the company commander was lying dead. His death perhaps saved us. Lastly. What was it, a strategic manoeuvre, tactical move or sheer luck? There are plenty of such incidences in the field of war.

Genius must burn much midnight oil. Without self-effort no one can become a genius. Everybody must struggle. Now comes a short discussion as to what is strategy, tactics and field manoeuvre and at what level are these applicable?

“Tactics is the theory of the use of military forces in combat. Strategy is the theory of the use of combat for the object of war” Clausewitz’s, On the Theory of War. This means greater or less numbers of single acts, complete in them, is called combat and number of such combats is called strategy which wins the object of war.

Now we need to analyse up to what level a single combat is fought and at what level the number of combats are fought and by whom? We can further simplify it by saying the combat is fought at sector level are primarily based on tactics and the number of such combats fought in a theater level will be called strategy. Thus, it can be construed that a sector would be under a division/brigade and number of such divisions or brigades will be handled by higher commanders who have the adequate military force and logistic capability to attain the goal.

This will indicate the mode, need and level of imparting tactical and strategic training. There is no point in thinking of imparting strategic training from captain, major up to Colonel level. Let them be hard core tacticians and fighters to achieve combat success. Their physical fitness and combat experience need to be of prime requirement. Officers above them must be initiated to strategic thinking and application. After all, how many officers reach a strategic level?

More than courses it is the unit and formation commanders who should take pride in developing and shaping their officers to be able handle higher responsibilities, at higher rank, when time comes. Training is a constant process combination of academics and field exercises. Field exercises though do not replicate actual battlefield but would condition the troops and their commanders.

Courses, I feel, is the place of revision of what one has been learnt over the years in his unit and formations. In addition, it should open-up the mind to broader vision. If one starts learning in the course, one will land up in confusion, unable to derive maximum from the concerned course at whatever level it is.

But the point here is how much time do the senior officers spend with their young officers to initiate them to professional thinking?? Commanding officers either do not have time or do not care to spend time with the young officers who are in the receptacle and formative stage. Brigade Commanders are generally seen in yearly inspection time or some formal exercises and divisional commander may be once in entire tenure.

There is great debate whether a leader/genius is born or made? I feel whatever qualities an officer is born with he needs to be shaped. Staff college, Higher Command, NDC are not the only place. They go there to sharpen themselves. Last but not the least, self-study and self actualisation and self-analysis are the only way to become a strategist.

An ex-Commander-in-Chief

We need to start PME in-house also. It was started a while ago by writing service papers with every ACR however that was taken very lightly, one can call it a cultural problem. I did my Staff Course in the United States where PME was a very prominent component. There was lots of literature on military history, various campaigns starting from the US war of Independence and Civil War, other wars fought by the US and we had to read and write book reviews.

Also, the Staff Course gave around 12 points for a civil Post Graduate degree which could be obtained only with additional six points (I do not recall the exact number) from Montgomery University by attending evening classes.

So, it had more meaning. But stress on PME was quite a lot. It was very evident there as the majority of papers in their magazines were authored by Majors and Lt Cols, whereas in our Defence forces, generally these are written by high-ranking officers. It will take a lot of time before we correct this. Probably more discussions in the military magazines and in the defence media may bring in some improvement but, the mindset needs quite a changeover.

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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