The crux of the problem is that the entire focus is on sports and games or extracurricular activities, in the training academies. If you carry out an analysis of the last 50 courses which have passed out from the Indian Military Academy (IMA)/Officers Training Academy (OTA), you will find that Gentlemen Cadets (GC) good in sports pass out remarkably high in the order of merit. This gives a greater advantage to candidates joining from the military/Sainik/convent schools who generally have a higher sports acumen.
Is it not an unfair dis-advantage to our civilian counterparts who join from different backgrounds? Furthermore, if you carry out analysis of the officers who have passed out from the academy with a higher IC number and analyse their progression in their military careers, you will notice that barring exceptional few, have made it to the higher ranks of the army (sword of honour – Lieutenant General HS Panag (Retd), Gen Aditya Singh etc are a few cases. However, in my course – the sword of honour got superseded at the first promotion board of Lieutenant Colonel).
To reach higher in the military hierarchy, one needs more than mere sports, that includes sycophancy, course grading, contacts, and a god father etc. Today’s, young officers are not ready to slog it out in the troop games and intercompany/squadron tournament but would concentrate on other aspects referred earlier. As a Commanding Officer, I was playing in first five in the Battalion Basketball team and my youngsters were clapping from the stands. So, we need to address these issues on priority. With reference to the afformentioned, and you as the future upcoming author of the military writings, I recommend the following:
Read: 'What Generals are Made of' by Maj Gen. Aubrey Newman: Fantastic book. Both Gen Eisenhower and Gen Douglas MacArthur were already playing for United States Army rugby team and represented at the Olympics while they were at the US Military Academy in West Point. The author has given out passing out course merit list at west point of top generals and where they reached in their glorious military careers.
Be sure to watch the war movie ‘We were Soldiers’ starring Mel Gibson as the CO of an Infantry Battalion during the Vietnam war. It is by far the best war movie I have seen on depicting an army officer in combat and in peace.
Performance of PCT Institutions (IMA/OTA) depends on head of the individual establishment, I agree totally, but it is also true in the fmns as it is based on the personality of the General Officer Commanding (Gen Satur-sports, Gen Panag-training, Gen A Ray- training and development, Gen atty-admin and works, so on and on). But this does not mean that they were not doing the mandatory training and other requirements in the army. Similarly, the same rule should be applicable to the academies as recommended by you and no deviation should be accepted by the Army Head Quarters (AHQ).
PT and Sport Directives
- We can lay down Physical Training (PT)/Battle Proficiency Test (BPT) standards in the academies, without which GCs cannot pass out.
- For National Defence Academy (NDA) cadets, we need to apply different yard sticks as they are in adolescence formative age and therefore, they must reach the basic standards achievable for entry in the Tri-services academy. No over emphasis on achieving the impossible must be planned for the cadets and they should be given adequate time for rest and recoup. The experience at NDA for at least first two terms must be beautiful one which should anchor them for future scientific training. This will also reduce the number of withdrawals and medical cases due to stress fractures.
PT Syllabus: We must avoid compressed training schedule. Sometimes the physical state of GC is extremely poor, who cannot cope up with stress not only due to physical activities but also due to training activity which are equally taxing.
Testing system: We need to have uniform testing system at all the academies, however the process may be flexible based on locations and type of entry.
Selection at Services Boards (SSB)
Comments on requirement of Physical standards at the SSB.
- The process of selection at SSB is not at all transparent. We do not have any mass communication plan to attract the youth of this country. Today, there is large number from middle/lower middle class candidates who aspire to join the armed forces, however they do not have any knowledge beyond applying for written exam through the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
- There is a total impasse when they are asked to report for SSB (fear of the unknown). They are not even aware that they will be tested for Psychology/Group Training Officer (GTO)/Interview during the process. It must be brought out that most of them first take help from some retired officers or some academy which has mushroomed nearby. They are not even aware that certain screening process will take place at the beginning of the SSB. We therefore must make the process transparent and ensure that all are aware what they are supposed to do.
- If we lay down certain physical criteria at the SSB, we must list them out from the beginning like we do for enrolment of jawans, so that everyone has an equal opportunity and time to meet those criterions. This criteria on physicals, should be included during the screening process itself and only those found fit should be made to go through the balance of the process.
- Presently, the entire screening process is carried out within three hours from the time they report at the SSB, which includes the following:
1. Batching of screening.
2. Limited psychological testing to include the OIR test (IQ Test)
3. Group discussion
4. Final marks and confirmation for the Main SSB
- The retention % after screening process is about 35-40%. Meaning that about 60 to 65% are rejected within span of a few hours. Are we doing justice to the candidates who have put in hard work to qualify in the written test for the UPSC? We need to have two level tests like that of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS)/Indian Police Service (IPS) viz prelims and main. We must allot adequate time for the first level screening to include physical standards, psychometric testing, planning exercise, group discussion, interview etc. We can even, outsource this to private agencies (headhunters) to reduce the burden on the SSB.
- A refined, transparent, and robust process will reduce our wastage rate in the academies since we will be able to weed out physically weak cadets at the screening test level itself.
- We should avoid taking shelter in the trainable quality as far as the physical standards are concerned especially at NDA. Yes, PT is a trainable quality to meet the requirement of the armed forces, however a minimum take off point/level should be achievable at the screening process itself. I have seen my own course mates with military backgrounds in the academy remained weak in this aspect and passed out with great difficulty with suitable links and pinks and were physically disasters in their military service too.
The military sports policies of the 1980-1990 period have undergone major changes due to the non-availability (NA) of officers in the Battalion. This is also due to insurgency deployment in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the North East (NE) and officer courses etc. There are no inter Brigade/Division/Corp/Command level tournaments held, as such the interest is lacking not only at the junior but also at the senior levels. We must continue with our time-tested policies.
Recommended corrective measures given by you are good and viable, however you have analysed the short comings from the point of view of Physical training aspect at the academies and your experience with various training establishments.
I would request you to have a fresh look at it from an infantry battalion CO perspective deployed in counter insurgency areas or has just retuned from a long tenure to peace area and is looking forward for some rest and recreation (R&R). Therefore all such standards laid down should be an enjoyable experience. Some recommendations are:
- Encourage state of the art Gymnasiums with qualified instructors.
- Encourage selective troop games over a calendar year to avoid cramming up of sports events.
- Suitable training schedule for troops and officers.
- Officers games like golf, six aside hockey, Basketball etc to be encouraged and included in the officers training curriculum.