Independence from colonial rule and the break up of the sub continent into two neighbouring countries owing to the insistence of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the two nation theory he espoused; dragged the Indian Army into a war with Pakistan over the just acceded princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to the Union of India. Our troops and the leadership provided by our officers, turned the table on the mix of Pakistan Army and tribal raiders, who were on the verge of annexing the Kashmir Valley.
Thereafter, the Army fought the tribal Tagins in 1953 in the Siang Frontier Division of the Noth East Frontier Agency (NEFA), liberated Goa from Portugese Rule in 1961, was made responsible for the entire eastern border from Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladhak, NEFA and to the Chin Hills and beyond around 1959, suffered a crushing defeat in the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, got sucked into fighting the insurgents in Nagaland & Manipur, upended the designs of the Pakistan Army in 1965, liberated East Pakistan to form Bangladesh in 1971, was part of Indian Peace Keeping Force and fought the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka in 1987-89, wrested back the heights of Kargil from the Pakistan Army in 1999 and continues to battle state sponsored terrorism in the Srinagar Valley.
In each of these military engagements and combat operations as also those undertaken as part of the 49 United Nations Peacekeeping Missions in Korea, Indo China, Africa, Europe, the Middle East etc; the Indian Soldier/Air Warrior/Sailor wasn't found wanting in any aspect of his training and more so that which concerned his physical fitness.
Therefore, the question which begs to be answered is, as to why should the Indian Army in particular, then consider bringing about changes or else modernization or transformation in its physical training and testing system, which has served its combat requirements exceedingly well for the past 100 years or so.
The obvious answer to this is rooted in the logic of adapting to the demands of the combat environment upon the physical fitness and mental robustness of the soldier, in keeping with the nature of the wars he is fighting and is likely to fight. Proxy wars, hybrid wars, low intensity conflicts, war by subversion, insurgency, conventional wars under the umbrella of nuclear threat and war by other means have become the norm rather than an exception.
The very nature of wars has changed from the times that these were fought during the twentieth century and were what we understand as conventional. Technology has impacted every aspect of human life and its fast changing nature has far reaching implications for the military too.
It is not my intent here to suggest that conventional wars are done and dusted, as these will continue to be relevant to us in the scenario in which our geographical borders lie; and the long standing belligerence of the Pakistan Army in the West and the contentious Chinese claim lines on the East. But, the changing reality with which the Army is seized in fighting the hybrid war in the Kashmir Valley as also holding fast all along the 4,000 kms long Eastern border with Tibet Autonomous Region compels a rethinking in the manner of imparting basic recruit and trained soldiers continuity physical training.
Also Read: Fit to the Corps!
It is the purpose of physical training to make a soldier capable of imbibing such physical skills as will develop and further enhance his/her military abilities to discharge the role assigned to them during combat and secure the country from external aggression and internal disorders.
In keeping with the playbook of the Army, its doctrine, physical training is dealt with at different levels within the military structure. There is a dedicated organisation, the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) which is responsible for imparting training at the institutional level to all recruits and trained soldiers through its instructors; study, analyse, develop, improve and disseminate basic and advanced programmes for assimilation by its qualified instructors.
"It is for the APTC to introspect and reinvent itself as a combat training organisation than all else or else it will perish."
For purposes of imparting structured and refresher training to officers, soldiers and the APTC instructors respectively, an institution exists in Pune, which is charged with the responsibility of catering to this requirement and providing the edifice for training the trainer, who in turn carries the pedagogical torch to units, formations and officers/recruit training institutions.
And last but not the least is the cutting edge of the sword, the units, wherein all training is the prerogative of the Commanding Officer and he is assisted and aided in this by the trained Unit Physical Training Instructors (UPTI) and the Staff Officer at the Field Command level, the Supervising Officer Physical and Recreational Training. As recreational sports and games is an important adjunct to physical fitness, it is therefore intrinsic to Physical Training and therefore does not find a separate mention from the latter.
It is a truism that militaries across the world resist change. And it was in keeping with this thinking that, the Army's Physical Training and Evaluation System continued as a legacy of the British Indian Army for about 35 years since it dropped the prefix British.
When the erstwhile Chief of Army Staff (COAS), then General and later Field Marshal SFHJ Manekshaw visited the USAAF establishments in 1969 and saw for himself Capt (later Colonel) Dr Kenneth Cooper's Aerobics Programme as a physical fitness regimen for the pilots there, he was impressed.
On his return from there, he tasked the concerned Directorate in the AHQ to examine our existing training and testing system and recommend changes in the backdrop of the changes and developments in the field of fitness over militaries and the world.
In pursuance of this directive, a study group was formed under the aegis of the then Inspector of Physical Training and included scientists from the Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS), a human performance wing of Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
But, the group, true to the truism expounded above, made an earth shattering one page submission and which read “The prevailing System of Physical Training in the Army is adequate to meet the demands of its soldiers and hence no change is thereby recommended".
The period 1971 followed and the matter got enduringly buried in the clutter of bound files, which adorn the Office Superintendent's room adjoining that of DDGMT (PT), in Sena Bhawan in the Integrated HQ (Army) of MOD.
Fortunately, it was during the late General KS Sunderji's tenure as COAS that, the subject of re-examining the existing System of PT and Evaluation System and making objective, comprehensive and concrete recommendations for a Revised regimen as also a testing matrix, was to be submitted for approval and phased implementation in the Army.
The process was similarly adopted and after about three years of intimate examination of the existing system, analysis, research, formulation of revised table cards and performance tests specific to the fitness components, on ground conduct of the experimental design of training in regimental centres and units deployed and employed in varying regions, climatic conditions and age categories, comparing the performance results of subjects (a population of about 5000 recruits and 5000 trained soldiers), determining the degree of improvement brought about by the existing and experimental systems of training and comparing the pre and post training test results, to determine the statistical significance of the improvements brought about by training in the control and experimental groups and then after approval of the study group recommendations by the appropriate channel upto the VCOAS, overseeing the publication of GS pamphlets by ARTRAC and finally implementing the Revised Training and Testing System in the Army in 1989-1990 was achieved.
"It has been my observation while serving in the Corps that the APTC has been wrongfully saddled with the responsibility of training and managing elite sports performance and for which it is neither trained or else equipped."
A much needed change, not just for the sake of change but instead necessitated by the contemporary understanding of developments in the fitness environment around the world and to compress time in bringing about similar and better changes in the motor abilities of soldiers was accepted and adopted.
Now, it has been over 30 years since a change was ushered into the fitness training regimen and new evaluation tests to validate the training, was introduced in the Army. Since then much time has elapsed and the soldier is subject to an extremely stressful and demanding service environment necessitated by the operational commitments he/she is exposed to.
It is not my case to say that, the existing fitness training and testing system is not adequate to meet the demands of service but instead to deliberate that, there exists a huge scope to accommodate effective and more efficient trends, which are available in the fitness industry to better meet our needs, hone combat skills, enable to psychologically internalise the habit of remaining fit to fight and fighting fit and physiologically ameliorate the costs the Army has to pay in terms of troops morbidity and man hours lost on its account.
There obtains a bouquet of activities/practices/programmes/sports related conditioning exercises and martial art styles, which have a very genuine potential to be co opted into our Army training regimen and better serve the needs of its soldiers.
The challenge to design and prepare the programme must be taken up by the APTC, so as to respond to the demands of the combat force rather than impose upon them that which finds favour with the experts in conditions of ideal circumstances. The two way traffic between the experts and the users must become smooth and mutually responsive.
It has been my observation while serving in the Corps that the APTC has been wrongfully saddled with the responsibility of training and managing elite sports performance and for which it is neither trained or else equipped. Our Master at Arms (Officers) and Physical and Recreational Training Instructors are at best makeshift Sports Administrators upon whom the responsibility is thrust as a matter of convenience rather than any genuine expertise.
A win in any sports activity as against the results of hard training for combat, is as different as chalk is to cheese; owing to the timeframe in which the former is achieved and hence providing instant gratification but the latter is long drawn and may not reveal its outcome in quick time. In that sense training for combat is abstract and intangible.
The APTC was quick to seize the opportunity to claim glory for itself from sports rather than its core competency and which remains training. In doing so, the focus of the APTC shifted from combat Physical Training to elite sports performance and its related spin offs. The bread and butter of APTC is fitness training in the Army.
But it has willingly taken upon itself something for which it is neither qualified or else trained or else capable of doing and hence at best can only deliver mediocrity. Now these are the questions which must consume the present day leadership of the Corps as also the Army respectively and not subscribe to an existing trend of marginalising an aspect of Training which is the mainstay of all military training.
It is for the APTC to introspect and reinvent itself as a combat training organisation than all else or else it will perish or at best remain a poor cousin of its original self when it was conceived in 1946.
(Brig. Sarvesh D Dangwal commissioned from IMA in 1971. Born into battle with 4 Garhwal Rifles , saw action in Jhangar, Naushera Sector in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Served in APTC for 25 years, was Comdt AIPT & DDGPT before retirement in 2008. Was instrumental in revision of entire system of PT and Testing of Army implemented in 1992 and obtaining till date. An avid reader and writer who freelances on diverse issues that impact civil society and especially those which concern the people of the hills of Uttarakhand.)
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