Commissioned in and subsequently commanded the 17th Rajput, Lieutenant General (Retd.) Bhopinder Singh fought in the 1965 and 1971 wars and various counter-insurgency operations in J&K and North East. He was the Military, Naval, and Air Attaché for the East & South Africa Region. Later, he was the Military Secretary to the Presidents: KR Narayanan & APJ Abdul Kalam. He was the ‘Colonel of the Regiment’ of the Rajput Regiment, President’s Bodyguards, and the Army Physical Training Corps. The General retired as the Director-General of Military Training (DGMT) and went on to become the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. He is currently a columnist for leading publications.
Excerpts from the interview...
What has been the contribution of the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) and their mother institution the Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) towards promoting Physical Training, (PT), Sports & Games, Excellence in Sports, and in Combat Fitness?
Indian Army’s intrinsic ‘inner health’ that breeds a culture of combat resilience, endurance and indomitable spirit is to a very large extent attributable to the physicality of its bearers. As the foremost Military Corps and institution to define, nurture, and implement those exacting standards of the Indian Army’s ‘physicality’ – its role in ensuring the ‘kinetic’ ability of its combatants is palpable, incalculable, and often, invisible.
Given the domain of ‘physicality’, its collateral extension and refinement to excellence in sports is both logical and desirable. Sports and Soldiering are positively interlinked, as Sports not only leads to even higher standards of physicality, but it also channelizes aggression, focusing of mind, inculcates a competitive ‘winning’ culture, builds cohesion, enhances esprit de corps, and above all, a sense of belonging and pride in a unit, regiment, corps, or service. It is empirically proven that those soldiers who have excelled in sports at any level tend to exhibit a higher level of courage under fire, confidence, and hunger for success in a battlefield.
Given that AIPT as the nodal and specialist institution can sift individual cases of extreme and potential excellence from overall generic standards – its role in picking talent and harnessing the same towards competitive sports standards has been exemplary. It is seldom acknowledged that the role of honour from the institute in churning sports personnel, especially in shooting, boxing, wrestling, athletics and gymnastics is higher than any private or governmental institution in the country.
What are some notable contributions of the APTC?
Above all, it’s the underlying role and contribution of APTC in inculcating and institutionalizing the ‘can do’ spirit of the Indian Army that makes it invaluable. The increasingly asymmetric nature of combat tests the physical, mental, and even emotional quotient of a combatant. Today’s soldier on the border or deployed in the internal insurgency works under the most hostile, inhospitable, and non-linear challenges. The institute that is reposed with the duty of ensuring ‘physicality’ and thereby, and collaterally, even mentally and emotionally wherewithal, is in that context irreplaceable and necessary to further hone and sharpen the combatant to meet any future challenge.
Given the complexities and demands of 21st-century warfighting, what are the physical fitness requirements that will ensure Army combat readiness and APTC’s role in ensuring high standards of fitness?
The context of fitness has become more sophisticated, scientific and layered. At an individual level it can mean physical, mental or emotional. It can be cut to the realm of competency (physical standard, fitment for higher leadership, self-discipline, courage, etc.) or cultural (coordination, esprit de corps, teamwork) and even institutional (resilience, ‘can-do’, competitive, etc.) The future-ready combatant or Army will need to widen the scope and appreciation of ‘fitness’ to prepare for the varied concepts, levels, and relevance of ‘fitness’ for future-combat readiness.
For example, increasing mechanization and weaponry may have lowered the QR for physicality in some vocations, but the same has substantially enhanced the requirement of ‘fitness’ at a ‘mental’ or ‘emotional’ level. Understanding the trade-off and calibrating the QR’s for individual roles, is absolutely essential in the formation of a ‘future-ready’ Army.
What is the way out of the serious non-availability of OPTC qualified officers and also drastic reduction in suitable officers for transfer into the APTC or on deputation?
The over-commitment of troops is a ground reality, as is the need for a physically, mentally, and emotionally robust combatant – both are not expected to change over time. Therefore, onus is on APTC to recognize, adapt, and continue contributing to the ‘inner health’ of the Indian Army, albeit, recognizing the ‘new normal’ of operation existence.
This will necessitate the optimal use of technology, science-based shorter/capsule courses and even adaptation of new teaching concepts like ‘train the trainer’ that has the logic of cascading skills or embedding APTC personnel in units/regions that work like ‘nodal’ set-ups.
The future of APTC has to morph from a generic institution of excellence to a cutting-edge institution of super specialization like Research & Referral Hospital in the Indian Military Medical domain. A leaner-meaner and more assertive footprint of the same can come if ‘specialist/permanent cadre’ is dedicatedly created for APTC – not only does it instill pride, specialization but also aspiration for joinees e.g. Special Forces.