This special MVI feature story is to highlight the contribution of late General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, former Chief of Army Staff based on the personal interaction with MVI's Editorial Director, Colonel Vinay B Dalvi (Retd) in August 2020. This interview was not published in 2020 due to reasons beyond our control. It is now being published as a tribute to the departed General. It is a follow up story to our numerous previously published articles on 'The Revival of PT and Sports in the Armed Forces' including interviews of two former DGMTs Lieutenant General Bhopinder Singh and Lt Gen Vijay Ahluwalia. This piece is intended to add to the ongoing overall discourse of PT and Sports in the Army. The unique perspective of Gen. Rodrigues will surely give new insight to the discourse as he brought about several meaningful changes in this field.
Background To The Interview Questions
There are four major aspects that need urgent consideration:
- Physical Training
- Sports and Games
- Excellence in Sports
- Combat Readiness
The Army Physical Training Corps (APTC), and the erstwhile Army School of Physical Training (ASPT) now rechristened as the Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) are primarily responsible for the first three of the aforementioned aspects in the Indian Army that also affect the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force; For the fourth aspect they are both directly and indirectly responsible.
The APTC and AIPT Pune, which is due to complete 75 years on 1 Jul 2021, were raised in 1946 for fulfilling the four aspects of conducting PT, Sports and Games in the Army at all levels; for cadets, recruits and combatants (indirectly) and facilitating excellence in sports, with the participation of identified and proficient talent at both the national and international level.
For Combat Readiness, the emphasis is on Endurance Training (ET), Obstacle Training (OT), Unarmed Combat (UAC), Swimming, Confidence Jumps and Boxing for Cadets and Recruits coupled with their Battle Field Efficiency Tests (BPET), Physical Proficiency Tests (PPT) and Instructors Physical Efficiency Tests (IPET). All of the aforementioned collectively prepare the trainees for Combat Readiness. This state is required to be maintained in units for all Combatants of all Arms and Services based on the role and task assigned to their units and the specific job profile of the combatants through their qualified and experienced staff/instructors. For the past 74 years the APTC personnel have befittingly performed their assigned roles and function in keeping the Army fit through their APTC instructors (for cadets and recruits) and combatants (indirectly) through Unit PT Instructors (UPTIs) and Unit PT and Sports Officers trained at AIPT, Pune. The aspect of sports and games at all levels, especially at the unit/grassroot level has been met by the APTC staff and/or AIPT trained staff.
For excellence of Sports at National and International level, the periodic Army Sports Policies catered for nurturing, creating, identifying, promoting, training and participation of talent from the grass root level at units and recruit/regimental training centres upwards from the Brigade, Division till Command, Army, Services and the National level. The identified, talented and proficient Army sportsmen were/are trained at various nodal centers including Select Regimental Centres, AIPT, Armed Forces Sports College (AFSC) now ASI, Pune. The Sports Medicine Centres too were created to complement the effort of excellence in sports at higher levels. The Boys Sports Companies at over 16 select Regimental Training Centres and ASI was a scheme implemented through Sports Authority of India (SAI) through interaction and coordination between Army and the Sports Ministry.
Post 1982, 9th Asian Games, the Army and the Services got a great boost for development of their sports infrastructure at their premier training institutions and sports nodal centres that enabled improvement of sports and fitness standards and also brought laurels to Army and Services. The conduct of the World Military Games at Hyderabad and Secunderabad during 2007 were International level events conducted mainly by the APTC fraternity and their AIPT, Pune trained staff.
Another notable contribution of APTC and AIPT, Pune was the overall review of the PT system of training, Physical Efficiency Tests (PET) applicable for all Army personnel of all age groups including recruits ,cadets and combatants. This review of PT and PET was carried out under the directions of the then DGMT during the late 80s and early 90s. After several trials the New PT System and PET were implemented in the Army in 1992 and applicable till date. All the concerned PT pamphlets too have since been revised and issued to all concerned through the DGMT and ARTRAC.
Due to the present environment in the country and the tense situation on our borders, the consequent pressure on our Armed forces, especially Army, must be taken into account.However, what has happened in the last 74 years must be reviewed and analysed. All concerned authorities, especially the Army Cdr ARTRAC, DGMT, Army Cdrs, Heads of Arms and Services must objectively debate, deliberate and discuss all the connected issues to reach a consensus or conclusion on all these four aspects of military training. The improvement of PT and Sports, Excellence in sports and Combat readiness in the Army must be enabled and facilitated through meaningful discussions in the Army Cdrs Conference with the point being sponsored by Army Cdr ARTRAC and DGMT with the AIPT and ASCB/MT-8 being in the loop. The Army Cdr ARTRAC and Comdt AIPT can play a vital role in taking this point forward. Before concluding it is imperative that the fourth and most important aspect of ' Combat Readiness 'is highlighted:
Although the job of AIPT and APTC is to provide guidance to initiate the recruits and officer cadets to physical fitness, learn the nuances of various sports and games and finally achieve excellence at various levels does not end here. In fact, it starts from here. After the development of basic muscles and achieving flexibility, one participates in various sports and games, at various levels. But these are the domain of precious few who have the knack and skill sets of various sports and games. It is not a cup of tea for every soldier! But every soldier has to be fit for battle. Combat fitness and readiness is different from basic fitness and participation in sports and games. Though historically it has been proved that sportsmen always excel in the battlefield because of their superior fitness and self confidence to sustain battlefield rigour for longer duration.
Hence directly and indirectly personnel of APTC have been contributing towards building Battle Field Endurance and skill sets of strength and stamina through various allied subjects of PT like ET, OT, UAC, Swimming and BPET which is the most vital aspect of all. Finally, PT, Sports and Games and Combat Readiness in the Army, form an indispensable and integral part of the military training of all ranks in the Army including Cadets, Recruits and Combatants. The role and function of APTC and AIPT, Pune must be viewed against this backdrop in the highest interest of the Armed Forces and Nation.
The Q&A With Gen. SF Rodrigues
Q. In your opinion what has been the role, function and contribution of the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) and their mother institution Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) towards training the recruits, cadets and combatants in the four aspects of military training: PT and Sports & Games, Excellence in Sports and Combat Fitness?
Ans: The Army Physical Training Corps (APTC)and Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) are primarily responsible for physical training, sports & games, excellence in sports and combat fitness in the Army. The APTC and AIPT Pune, was raised on 01 Jul 1946 for fulfilling these four aspects including the conduct of PT, Sports & Games in the Army at all levels and facilitating excellence in sports, with the participation of identified and proficient talent at both the national and international level. For the past 74 years, personnel of the PT Corps have befittingly performed their assigned roles and function in keeping the Army fit through their APTC instructors through Unit PT Instructors (UPTIs) and Unit PT and Sports Officers trained at AIPT, Pune. The aspect of sports and games at all levels, especially at the unit/grassroot level has been met by the APTC staff and/or AIPT trained staff.
Q. Having been the COAS and held appointments of VCOAS and DGMT you gave both vision and direction to the entire military training of the Army. In this sphere of military training how relatively important are the factors of physical training, sports and games, excellence in sports and combat readiness, and how is the training methodology distinct?
Ans: The four key areas which require urgent distinction and reflection upon are, physical training, sports and games, excellence in sports and combat readiness. These four aspects form the foundation of all fitness related training for personnel of the world's largest ground force! The training methodology for these are distinct and have their own set of nuances which require the supervision of specialists.
For the aspect of combat readiness in frontline soldiers, the emphasis is on endurance training, traversing obstacle courses, martial skills such as unarmed combat, swimming, confidence jumps and boxing for both officer cadets and recruits. These are coupled with their Battlefield Efficiency Tests (BPET), Physical Proficiency Tests (PPT) and Instructors Physical Efficiency Tests (IPET).
All collectively prepare the trainees for combat readiness. This state is required to be maintained in units for all combatants of all arms and services based on the role and task assigned to their units and the specific job profile of the combatants through their qualified and experienced staff/instructors.
Meanwhile for excellence in sports at both the national and international level, the periodic Army Sports Policies are supposed to cater for nurturing, creating, identifying, promoting, training and participation of talent from the grass root level at units and recruit/regimental training centers and upwards from the Brigade, Division all the way to Command, Army, Services and the National level. The identified, talented, and proficient Army sportsmen were/are trained at various Army nodal centres including select Regimental Centres, AIPT, Armed Forces Sports College (AFSC) now ASI, Pune.
Q. What in your mind are some of the most notable contributions of the APTC towards the Indian Army?
Ans: The APTC and AIPT have been responsible for building the very foundation of physical fitness for recruits and officer cadets at Recruit training Centres and military training academies. They are also imparting or promoting physical fitness amongst the rank and file of the Indian Army. Every aspect of the aforementioned training has been carried out by the APTC and officers/instructors trained under it.
Post 1982, 9th Asian Games, both the Army and the Services got a great boost for the development of their sports infrastructure at their premier training institutions and sports nodal centers that enabled improvement of sports and fitness standards and resultant laurels to Army and Services. The conduct of the World Military Games at Hyderabad and Secunderabad during 2007/08 were International level events conducted mainly by the APTC fraternity and the AIPT trained staff were laudable achievements.
A notable contribution of APTC and AIPT, Pune was the overall review of the PT system of training, Physical Efficiency Tests (PET) applicable for all Army personnel of all age groups. This review of PT and PET was carried out under the directions of the then DGMT during the late 80s and early 90s. After several trials, the New PT System and PET were implemented in the Army in 1992 and applicable till date.
Another positive development was at the behest of the ARTRAC during 2013 -15. This was the Review of PT in the Army with recommended methodology for attaining and maintaining fitness of all ranks including formulation of a PT Doctrine. This was successfully followed up by AIPT, Pune (under ARTRAC) by incorporating the same in the review and revision of existing PT pamphlets and issue of two comprehensive volumes and PT Doctrine to all concerned units, formations and training centers through ARTRAC.
Q. Given the complexities and demands of 21st century warfighting, what are the physical fitness requirements that will ensure combat readiness of our warfighters and what in your view is the APTC’s role in that?
Ans: Indian Army personnel are deployed in some of the most diverse and difficult terrain and climatic conditions present in the profession of soldering .This lays immense emphasis on physical fitness to ensure combat readiness; after all it is the man behind the machine who counts when the chips are down. Now coming to the intricacies of the subject, the job of the APTC and AIPT are to provide guidance to initiate physical fitness, in recruits and officer cadets.
Empower them to learn the nuances of various sports and games and finally achieve excellence at various levels of competitive sports. However, the corps role does not end here, In fact, it only begins from there. After the development of basic muscles strength and endurance along with achieving flexibility, one participates in various sporting events and games, at various levels. However, these are the domain of a precious few who have the knack and necessary skill set required to achieve success in these various sports and games.
It is not the cup of tea nor primary job description for every soldier! However, that said, every soldier needs to be fighting fit for battle. The aspect of combat fitness and readiness is far different and domain specific as compared to basic fitness and participation in sports and games. However, as a footnote, it has been historically seen that sportsmen always excel in the battlefield because of their superior fitness and self-confidence to sustain battlefield rigor for longer duration.
Q. Due to change in priorities in the last 3 decades or so and shortage of officers, the OPTC courses were discontinued for some time and reintroduced with reduced number and strength resulting in non-availability of OPTC qualified Officers in the majority of units and also drastic reduction in pool of qualified and suitable officers for selection/transfer into the APTC or on deputation. This has adversely affected conduct of PT and sports at the unit/grassroot level. How and why should this be revived in the Army?
Ans: the shortage of APTC trained PT instructors at the unit level have been identified as a core problem area according to several individual studies including a recent, 2018/19 HC dissertation on this subject. These studies and articles in Victory India Campaign books has amply and elaborately highlighted the dwindled number of Officer Physical Training Courses (OPTC) that adversely affected training at unit level. Incidentally, till the late 1950s, the ‘Basic PT Course’ was mandatory for all officers. With changing priorities, the number of OPTCs run in a year and the strength of the course at AIPT, Pune, were drastically reduced.
Presently, I am led to believe that the AIPT conducts the AIBC course for approximately 900 other ranks spread over four courses; 10 weeks each and OPTC courses for 60 officers held twice a year. Going by the data presented in the studies and validated by Victory India Campaign books, the OPTC courses saw a sharp drop from six, eight week courses consisting of a total strength of 45 officers per course in the 1990s down to two, six week courses with 30 officers in 2018.
The General's Pearls Of Wisdom From His Final Correspondence With MVI
Post the interview Gen. Rodrigues forwarded the following few lines of wisdom which will remain most relevant and infact would be the guiding light for future.
We have a very elaborate and suitably funded organization and any analysis has to validate the parameters of our policy and where it needs modification or amplification.We join the Armed Forces to serve and, given our operating conditions, need to be physically fit. This is something personal and can best be established by introducing periodic fitness standards for all our soldiers to qualify in. Personal fitness does not require supervision! I also feel it is important to amalgamate the Armed Forces institutions with the national endeavour more harmoniously. This needs to be very strict to avoid politicization and will need expert involvement. The important aspect to remember is not what the policy mandates, but how effectively it has been implemented. My congratulations on your endeavour.
Brig GS Sandhu, Ex-Comdt AIPT(ASPT) & DDGPT Recalls Gen. Rodrigues Legacy
Gen. Rodrigues was instrumental in getting the Boys Sports Companies raised in the Army. As DGMT during his first visit to ASPT in 1985, among other APTC/ASPT issues, I raised two points, related to promotion of games and sports in the Army. First was, ‘Raising of Boys Sports Companies (BSCs) ‘in the Army, in place of earstwhile Boys Companies, (although I had been pursuing it since 1979, when I first took up the matter with Gen KV Krishna Rao, then Army Commander, West Comd, requesting him to take up the case in Army Commanders Conference.
Second point that I raised with then DGMT was regarding the shifting of Sports Medicine Centre (SMC) to ASPT location from Harbaksh Stadium, Delhi Cantt. General promised that shifting of SMC will be done soon, but regarding BSCs, being policy matter, it had to be taken up with the Govt. As assured by the General SMC was shifted to ASPT in 1986. Regarding BSCs, I was constantly in touch with him, while he was Army Commander, Central Comd, and later VCOAS.
It was coincidence, that I was posted as DDGPT and Chairman, ASCB, and Gen. Rodrigues was COAS when I once again briefed him and assured him informed him that there won’t be much cost to the Govt, only notional expenditure of housing the boys in barracks of selected Regimental Centres with rest of the expenditure being met by Sports Authority of India( SAI) as one of their schemes. (some SAI schemes were not doing well). After presentations to the DGSAI, they readily agreed to have a joint venture, where SAI would provide all the expenses, on training/coaching, meals/diet etc. So thus, with all the approvals from Gen Rodrigues, then COAS, we were able to raise the BSCs, in 13 Regtl Centrs, in 1991