Recently a damning commentary on the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) and its alumni was circulating on various social media penned by a concerned veteran. However, an article written by Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd) written last year aptly covers the issues raised, their relevance and advocates a way forward. Mission Victory India invited the tri-services fraternity, especially past and present DSSC alumini and instructors to share their views on the subject.
Responses received indicate that the existing system of training our student officers at DSSC more than meet the present and future organisational needs including the tri-service dimension and concept of theaterisation. It is in this context that this article was written for MVI by military analyst Neil John articulating what the DSSC is meant for and what they do.
Too many people have too many perceptions and analogies on training at DSSC. Firstly let me get the perception right, DSSC is about steering thought processes and focusing the knowledge acquired towards free, contemporary, futuristic and critical thinking.
The student officer at DSSC has gone through certain formative stages in his career graph. His experience as a junior leader in his unit, the basic mandatory courses, an out of unit experience in staff or counter-insurgency operations, the bedrock of middle rung military leadership, the junior command course, pre staff college course and finally the hundreds of hours of studies to crack the DSSC entrance exams.
He arrives fully loaded. All he needs is now to be given that free and frank atmosphere to realign, reposition, relocate his priorities and refocus on environmental needs and realities. With 9-11 years of service under his cap, he has already realised the need.
So what does DSSC do to facilitate the environment towards conducive learning. The institute amalgamates mind spaces. The first and most critical facet is learning through shared experiences. Towards this, adequate amounts of time on selected subjects that are relevant as on date and are likely to manifest in the future affecting military operations in the tactical and operational spaces are discussed and mentored.
Thoughts are channelised through ideation sessions, AGILE seminars and through student driven discussions. Fields of expertise are exploited to draw out lessons and contemplate on measures of how to do things efficiently and better. The mantra is to focus on the need of re-channelising assets both man and material.
The seeds of requirement through change in the ecosystem, is realised, the infinite domains of ever changing technology, application of the catalyst of information warfare, the cyber domain, war in the grey zone and in hybrid forms are discussed. Time is spent questioning the status quo.
No point is ridiculed and no speaker is ever made to restrict his thought processes. It is a constant open house. Geo strategy and the environmental scan is facilitated. I remember the verse from the Bible, ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. Here at DSSC we are enhancing the environment and making it conducive to seeking.
The present dispensation in DSSC has worked hard to bring in changes that are futuristic and real. The first thing is having a relook at the syllabus. It was a humongous effort to actually reinvest and relegate what was not needed as lower priority. The DSSC comes with a scope of study. The entire syllabus is a vibrant mix of war games, staff exercises, outdoor activities, research and analysis of core subjects, public speaking and most of all learning through prominent experts of their respective fields.
The first thought process was to break the stigma that the DSSC was into creating staff officers that believe that they are hard working instead of actually trying to be smart, focused and relevant. Therefore to cater to this you needed a smart syllabus. The entire broad syllabus was discussed tutorial wise and realigned to a systematic progression harnessing the need to concentrate on core subjects and cut off the fringe elements.
The core subjects then were dissected into sub subjects that would start at the base and accentuate towards what was desired to be known by the student officer. Modalities of conduct were identified. Written work was reduced to allow more time towards ideations and thought sharing.
Reading material given was to the point with links to open sources on the internet. Discussions on a subject were divided into multiple domains, student speakers, experts in the field both civil and military and thereafter through ideation on the same subject matter by the faculty and the chief instructor.
Research and review were encouraged and discussed. Perceptions were respected, the change was evident when a subject was taken all the way home right till the desired end, there is no mix and match. If something was started, then time was spent on that subject matter till deemed necessary within the constraints of time.
Speakers were given a clear scope of talk, to enable seamless thought manifestation. No subject went without being ideated to draw relevant lessons. The commandant himself spends time after every tutorial to validate through interaction. All war games were reset, modern technologies and ways of war fighting formed in. The environment was taken on board, present thought processes and futuristic need was included.
A study was done as to what the officers in field felt on the course content and in relation to the job content in the appointments they were tenting. The voids were identified, new teams were created to fill in the blanks, look at the gaps holistically and change the syllabus without emotion or remorse.
The commandant is very clear, what they know, don’t teach them, instead give them a platform of higher learning. The focus was realigned to situational awareness, leadership requirements through case studies, study of foreign militaries and relevant military campaigns. But above all to actually activate jointness in planning by the three services and integrated application.
There are service specific modules and there are joint modules. Both merge into each other deriving best practices and methods. Today the student officer in DSSC is empowered, he is not restricted in articulating his cognitive skill sets. He is given a platform at every level to process and profess his ideas. He is studying ideas and not bookish theory. His mental mobility is being constantly nurtured through activation of problem solving skills.
The tools are being provided to him, a method is being showcased, but he isn’t bound by it. Student officers have come out with systems and analogies that are superior and implementable. For example the force availability calculation matrices at the end of every stage of operation is available through a student-invented programme, where the students themselves with experience on ground have fitted in the tangibles and the intangibles, giving a realistic assessment.
The war games are played as actuals, it is not as if the Blue land will always win. The red land if it has a superior plan sees victory, as happened in the 75th staff course. There are no biases, constant feedback is taken to help in validation and refinement. The directing staff is well prepared and the DS prayer is the gospel. There are no pinks that are absolute, the IDEA is the IDEA.
Time has been freed for research work, dissertations are selected which are contemporary and relevant. Every student officer is given adequate unrestricted space and environment to voice opinions. The faculty is available and approachable. The retention exercises are no longer the ‘vomit the verbatim’ types.
It is all application based, more on concepts, thought processes and application on ground. Time has been given, to enjoy the environment, spend quality family time, indulge in adventure activities as a family. Talent pools have been given the platform to perform. The environment is positive and restrictive (within responsible conduct).
In the staff college today the commandant and the wing chief instructors have led the change and driven it consciously towards progressive and holistic mental growth. For those who still have apprehensions, come visit your alma mater. Trust me you will see smiling enlightened faces and not student officers running from class to class in disarray.
About the Author
The author is a military analyst and commentator on national security and strategic issues issues.