DSSC: The News Maker - Debate Part 4

We define Defence Services Staff College as the pillar of hope, where the young breed of future military leadership will set their foundations towards professional growth.

DSSC: The News Maker - Debate Part 4

Editor's Note: To continue the series on DSSC, in  this Part 4 we publish an exclusive piece by former Senior Instructor. Hopefully, it will interest readers, especially the DSSC fraternity both past and present.

The Article


Staff college is amazing, you want to be the change. As a Brigadier and having multiple exposures, you have the required skill sets to bring in pragmatism, contemporary thinking and modern technique. But it’s an uphill run, by the time you reach anywhere distinguishable, you have already run out of breath. While the sheer energy levels remain in your mind, somewhere the seeds of doubt creep in, due to multiple agencies that constantly prick your confidence and your desire for contrarian views. We have an amazing selection of senior officers, as the commandant and the chief instructors, who are pragmatic, responsible and open to incorporating what the zillenials need. The process of defining the need and realising, that the change is based completely on AI and emerging technologies is positively engraved in this leadership.

But many things don’t actually happen when you open change to discussion. Change is the biggest enemy of an institution. The one adage … " but sir, when we did staff college it wasn’t like this", or "during my time we did it differently", or "sir, in my formation which is the test bed … we have gone through the semantics and have realised this is the only way after in-depth focus and study." and   "I have served here before, we are an well oiled machine, why change."                                      These are the biggest enemies, I have almost seen like minded people ganging up against change. Everyone wants to incorporate everything what he thinks is credible. It’s actually when I introspect … nothing but insecurities playing up. He wants to incorporate only those things he can handle. ' Cause any new subject or change will bring with it, research, analysis, new notes, multiple presentations and most of all consume time and once the course starts there is no time.

Tenures here are two to three years, grossly inadequate to see the change manifest. Most of the time we are under staffed. Preparations, corrections and mentoring take away most of our time. In fact, there are often more student officers in syndicates than what could be handled. The break between two courses is the only time leave is possible.

So how do you get over this problem?  Yes there is a training team, they work hard and systematically, they are also a chosen lot that have the experience. But it’s still one man working on one subject, presenting his prognosis to a larger audience, who accept it with minor changes and some relevant and irrelevant views. I learnt early in life, that in a power point presentation, people comment on only what is shown in the slide. If you don’t show them a critical slide, no one even understands the criticality. There can never be a change when you have vested interests, change comes with freshness of vision and deep understanding and the belief that there is a requirement to change.

Change can be both 'bottom to top' or 'top driven' . But if you want change to be effective, it has to have a power up matrix attached to it. Firstly  you articulate the change desired as a necessity and believe in it. Secondly  ,you set up unbiased teams to define the scope of the change, how much, where, when and how?  Thirdly you critically analyse the fixture of the change into the scheme of things that fit seamlessly into the programme. Fourthly, you run a mock up to validate the change before being incorporated. Lastly , you consolidate the change and run through it in the best method you perceived it. Mid course feedback and course correction is desired, but many of us do it half-hearted and midway into the programme. This is best avoided. Run through what has been fixed and then redefine or facilitate better modules for the next time the programme is run.

Here at DSSC, I have realised change is best when the approach is top down. When the Commandant or the Chief Instructors make their concepts very clear. They don’t have to ask for suggestions, because once you do, you get into a quagmire of resistance and individual ideologies, then there is no growth. Every individual here posted as directing staff has his show window ready to garner the votes, where he has few opportunities to showcase his mettle. So for him the best scenario is the leadership asking of suggestions in an open forum. Even if he articulates total confusion in the 'Queens English' , he is noticed, recognised and maybe because the exposure to senior leadership is not very intimate, he is awarded for it too. Therefore a board of officers, or constituting a team led by a senior instructor will pay greater dividends.

What we need to guard against is taking all perceptions and amalgamating them towards what we think will keep everyone happy. It doesn’t work like that. There are some veterans and officers who through experience feel the need of a certain subject to be included in the syllabi, they write about it, also with easy access to senior leadership they actually go forward and present their thought process to the people in the chain that matter. The issue is what he sees as contemporary, might just not fit into what the newer generation thinks is necessary.

Let’s take an instance, 'Grey Zone Warfare' , this subject is vast and well written about. The Americans gave it a name and defined it. We here in the sub continent are still very confused whether it is in the military domain or as part of the national effort as a pre-cursor to warfare. I have heard many senior leaders of the military talk about it as voids in intelligence during war. So the understanding of the subject is warped, that we want to include it into our syllabi, without it even being defined in the Indian context by the Indian military think tank. All because the Americans spoke about it, some veteran read it, some serving general borrowed the idea and the DSSC is stated as the best institute to run the subject. Where is the subject matter expert?

Next is the floating faculty. I somehow am a strong proponent of a permanent teaching faculty or a faculty of studies , who generates contemporary content and keeps in sync with the present.  This consisting of a mix of military personnel and civilians. Experts in the subject should be on the pay roll to run departments that deal with, Geo-Strategy & Politics, Operational Art, Wargaming, Research Methodology  , etc. We can’t have a directing staff coming directly out of the environment and teaching subjects that they are not experts in. Fails me, how we have got this far and call ourselves a reputed institution when there is no permanence? A military mind is fixated to the experience he has gained during his tenure. The logic that many military minds put together will put in checks and balances is completely flawed. For those who have served here or are serving here it’s just not relatable. Every officer posted has a task cut out. The morning directing staff prayer irons out a lot of confusions, but at the end of the day, there are 09 different colonels, from 09 different arms and services, from 09 different environments and 09 different perceptions, trying to make sense to an enriched audience of middle rung officers, on methods and concepts. Then over and above that we test them for what they have learnt through a single question paper at the end of the tutorial calling it the retention test. Therefore every individual will write what he perceived through the discussions under his respective directing staff. Yet the pink sheet of answers with what we gauge them is the same for all. Seriously? and we consider ourselves brilliant in defining the right methodology to analyse and assess? We need serious introspection here.

I would recommend a concept or an application based Revision Exercise only four questions where you attempt any two. To amplify - in the EX-GIRISANGRAM, the realisation of the need for intelligence at every stage of operations emerged as a key component to facilitate tactical and operational success. Define the battlefield environment in a launch of an infantry brigade. In the process identify the definite role players and incorporate existing technology. Recommendations of the need and the desired result be amplified. (At least all arms and services are on an equal playing field here, every individual feels that the test is relatable). Now assess performances deliberately and score. Parameters for scoring are defined in the same context as that when writing a military paper on the subject matter specific to that tutorial. This is better than asking them the modalities of battle drills. Cause every formation they go to have their own drills. Basic drills have been taught to them during the junior command course. Here they need to study the concept, the philosophies, the idea behind the idea, so that they can modify, incorporate changes and be fully adept for the next time war.

Finally ,we need fresh minds from the environment. An officer who was awarded an instructor grading when he was a student here, is posted back after approximately 8( eight)  years of doing the course. Lot changes have taken place by then. Yet we only find him alone as fit to be a directing staff here. We need to incorporate a system where instructors  to prestigious institutes are recommended by a 360 degree format in the ACR of the officer. Even after that a stringent selection like for UN missions by a board should take place to determine whether the officer is capable, has progressed and matured in his thought process, is well read and constantly strives to keep himself updated and in synchronisation with contemporary military thought processes. That he is in the know how of niche technologies being infused in war fighting and above all has the military bearing and mind set required to mentor the mentee without biases. He needs to be an example worth being emulated. The ARTRAC can easily facilitate the selection process of all instructors being posted, with the commandant of the school/ college being made responsible.
⁃ Change has to be constant.
⁃ Change has to be definitive.
⁃ Change needs validation.
⁃ Change has to be applicable to the business we do.
⁃ Change has to be contemporary.
⁃ Change needs focus of the ones driving it.
⁃ Change needs the, change drivers to be convinced.
⁃ Change has to be progressive
⁃ Change can’t be change just for the sake of change. It is not a fashion statement.
⁃ Change takes time to manifest, therefore patience.
⁃ Change is responsible.
⁃ Change needs strong foundations of facts, figures  and necessities.
⁃ Change needs decision making leadership.

We define Defence Services Staff College as the pillar of hope, where the young breed of future military leadership will set their foundations towards professional growth. Here we cannot afford sub standard mentor - mentee relationships. You want great military leaders, then you better invest your best, segregated not by age old methodologies, but by full  proof systems.

The author is a military analyst & commentator on national security issues

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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