Glaring Discrepancies in Selection, Training, and Placement of Armed Forces Personnel

"It is pertinent to have a relook at officers' selection by the Services Selection Boards. Ironically, even after knowing the glaring discrepancies, neither the recruitment directorate nor the Defence Institute of Psychological research has moved in addressing the lacunae."

Glaring Discrepancies in Selection, Training, and Placement of Armed Forces Personnel

Defence Forces: An Image Of  New Vibrant India

India rightly boasts of one of the largest, motivated, and well-officered defence forces in the world. The armed forces never failed to live up to the countrymen’s expectations, both in peace and war. Civil society always looks up to its armed forces in times of natural calamities, be it floods or any other natural disasters that continue to visit our geological space too often. At the time of writing this text, our nation remains engaged in finding ways of the complex border issues with our intractable and hostile northern neighbour.

I see no one who is not confident of the ability of our armed forces in coming out victorious in case violent engagement occurs. We also are convinced that the armed forces would continuously renew the weapon systems and engagement procedures periodically to stay ahead of our adversaries. Our defence forces are the truly secular, nationalistic, apolitical, and energetic image of new vibrant India.

Fighting Elements & Regimental Pride

Indian army, in its present form, was constituted in the mid-sixties of the nineteenth century by the British. The British had the experience of working with the regional armies like the Bengal army of the erstwhile East India Company and carried the concept forward to structure the larger British Indian Army. The basic premise was the identification of martial castes and structuring the fighting elements around this basic idea.

We have Infantry, Armoured, and Artillery units based on the rigid caste system. This practice proved useful in the world wars and later in engagements after independence with our neighbours. Our soldiers draw their emotional strength from their caste identities and the regions represented in their respective units.

This system of the structuring of the fighting army units is unique to our subcontinent. No western army is mainly structured on this premise. This idea was not practised for the employment of the Indian officers by the British in respect of Indian units before independence.

The Diversity of the Indian Armed Forces on Display during the Republic Day Parade

We carried the same message forward, and now Tamil officers are leading Sikh, Jat, and the Maratha troops with excellence. Indian Airforce and the Indian Navy also did not follow the practice and continue to perform exceedingly well both in war and peace. Since the present structures are proving exceedingly useful in energizing and motivating our troops, it may not be possible immediately to do away with caste and region-based structuring.

It is, however, desirable to do away with this arrangement for more than one reason. The foremost reason is the emergence of new national consciousness beyond caste and racial thinking. Indian army recruits better-educated youngsters in fighting elements since the mid-eighties of the last century. These new service persons think in broader national paradigms.

The second more pertinent reason is that a large number of castes, racial and tribal groups remain unrepresented in the fighting arms who are equally qualified and motivated. Gradually, a parallel national consciousness is emerging, and the caste identities are taking a back seat. The country has to reconsider the structuring of the fighting arms solely on the castes for sustained motivation and regimental pride.

Upgrading Written Tests for Soldiers, Sailors & Airmen

This discussion about doing away with caste-based fighting units has not even commenced in our country, which is long overdue. We do see a large number of teenagers running on the interior roads all over the country, preparing for the physical tests for recruitment as soldiers.

It is a pleasant sight, and it is an indication that there is complete transparency in the recruitment process now. Men getting recruited are physically fit and motivated. It is also a fact that these youngsters are job seekers and are ready for enrollment in any part of the army, be it fighting arms or the services. The physical test follows a general ability test for which many coaching centers exist all over the country.

The tests are slightly more difficult for those who apply for the technical branches. The general ability test is not an aptitude test. It is merely indicative of basic general awareness of issues that may not have a direct bearing on the vocational choice and later performance. Future soldiers are assigned corps and regiments without counseling and without obtaining their express acceptance of the choice offered in most cases.

No aptitude related distinction is made, and the procedure is highly arbitrary. Time has arrived to upgrade our written tests for the recruitment of servicemen like the western armies. This positive change will ensure more self-actualization and job satisfaction. In case we fail to do so, we won't be using available psychological tools for a better selection of our soldiers, airmen, and seamen.

US Military Selection System

United States Army Cadets Training at Westpoint

The United States of America uses well researched, standardized test batteries to recruit service members in different fields. The test battery is called ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). The system commenced in the year 1968 and was later upgraded. The last up-gradation was instituted in 2004. It is a multiple-choice test administered by the United States Military Entrance Processing Command, equivalent to our Recruitment Directorates for the three services.

The tests are conducted both on the computer and also in writing. The test is often offered to High School Students willing to join the military service. We have The Defence Institute of Psychological Research that needs to take up the standardization of such an instrument post haste for scientific selection of our men for different branches.

The introduction of high physical standards and transparency is a vast improvement from the arbitrariness of previous decades. The introduction of aptitude tests will take our recruitment to world standards and make the system comprehensive. There exist several culture-free well-validated, useful, and reliable psychological instruments that need to be utilized.

All modern armies are making good use of the scientific methods for the recruitment of their servicemen. The world is moving fast, and human consciousness is evolving even more quickly. Old concepts of motivation and enlistment, some are middle-aged, have become redundant, and we need to transcend to modern ways, sooner the better.

Glaring Discrepancies in Our Officer Selection System

It is pertinent to have a relook at officers' selection by the Services Selection Boards. This issue has already been deliberated several times. Ironically, even after knowing the glaring discrepancies, neither the recruitment directorate nor the Defence Institute of Psychological research has moved in addressing the lacunae. Also, if the methods and the psychological test batteries remain unchanged, there exists a wide gap in perception of the competencies between the assessors in the Selection Boards and the trainers in the Officers' Training Academies.

A large number into the Selection Boards get pushed with deficiencies in cognitive and dynamic qualities, namely organizing ability and ability to persist in the face of obstacles and failure. These observations are acute in case not addressed timely. The assessors recommend candidates with reasonable assumptions that these qualities will improve in training in the academies, and later in the units after the candidates pass out of the academies.  Academies these days are provided SSB dossiers of the cadets with the express purpose of addressing such individual issues.

I have worked both in the Selection Boards and in the Academies more than once. I am convinced that the young trainers give no such personal attention to the profiles that emerge in the selection boards in the academies. Instructors remain concerned only with two categories of cadets; those who are in the category of excellence, mainly in sports, and those who are too weak in the physical tests.

Rest is the silent majority that moves on and waits for the passing out day. The young instructors get no training even in the first mandatory period of three months required for acceptance as instructors in the academies for dossier assessment of the cadets needed to address the individual issues of their future wards.

Crucial Physical Fitness Factor Overlooked for Officers

Avoidable injuries due to Lack of Fitness has Lead to Harrowing Rates of Relegation's 

There is a need to address one of the central issues related to the physical fitness of the prospective candidates in the SSBs that has a crucial bearing on the training in the academies later.

Services Selection Boards are not screening candidates for physical fitness before the primary testing and remain concerned only with the psychological attributes. The only physical test that the Group Testing Officers conduct is a three minutes obstacle test that is primarily to test necessary physical confidence and organizing skill. Col Vinay Dalvi, who had been associated with the academies as Physical Training Officer, is much concerned about the physical fitness standards of the cadets, which is the main obstacle and the cause of lost confidence in the prospective officers. Nearly fifty percent of the cadets continue to struggle with physical training till the last phases. The tests are so basic that it is difficult to fail by any active teenager.

This state attains pathetic scenarios when young men fail to jump nine feet and swim fifty meters. It causes a severe lack of self-esteem and a loss of confidence, which is so crucial in future officers. It is a well-known fact that crucial mental and emotional energy of nearly fifty percent of the candidates is spent in a struggle to attain even the minimum mandatory basic physical fitness standards.

They fail to make use of excellent facilities of the academies for self-growth, like participation in sports, club activities and reading in the well-stocked libraries.

Linking Officer Selection with Training

The SSBs must screen the candidates based on the basic physical tests of the academies. Once this requirement is made public like in case of physical standards needed for the screening of the prospective servicemen, everyone will be preparing well before reporting for the interviews. Academies, after that, will only prepare the cadets for higher physical and mental attainments. Physical test anxieties will reduce, and self-esteem and self-confidence will grow immensely.

Interestingly, even the performance of the candidates will improve in the selection process. Only a Physical Training Instructor of APTC posted in the SSBs will suffice for the screening. Strangely, we all know that better physical fitness standards lead to obvious mental and emotional benefits and still do not institute screening at the time of testing. We all want boys and girls who are more energetic, have stronger resilience, and better cognition and still fail to take the required action.

('The author was commissioned in the Army Educational Corps in June 1975 from the Indian Military Academy (IMA). A post graduate in Psychology, he held a number of Instructional appointments including one in the Army Cadet College. He worked in all the three Service Selection Centers as Technical Officer and as a Psychologist. He retired from IMA where he was last posted as Head of Academic Department. He is presently working as a consultant in an organisation engaged in assessing the corporate managers'. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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