“The difference between mediocrity and brilliance is daily burning two hours of midnight oil”
-Lt Col S Chengapa, Commanding Officer of 9 Sikh, later Maj Gen who succumbed in harness while commanding an Infantry Division-
In 1971 we assembled for dinner in the Officer’s Mess after the daylong preparation for a likely war against Pakistan. The Bangladesh genocide was in full swing. War was imminent. A conversation broke out on the shaping of a mediocre and brilliant officer. At that time our most revered and thoroughly professional Commanding Officer, then Lt Col S Chengapa uttered these few words which still ring in my ears even today. I totally believe in these to be the gospel truth. This is applicable in all walks of life. Einstein said “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration”
For sometime intensive discussion is going on Professional Military Education (PME), in military parlance ‘Professional Military Training’, specially at strategic level with special emphasis on quality of present general cadre, available training facilities to train higher military echelon, battle readiness and participation in political-bureaucrat and military interaction to develop and achieve strategic aims.
To achieve success in any profession one needs to develop both theoretical and practical knowledge. So along with burning two hours of midnight oil, one needs to soil one’s hands too.
When someone joins an organisation like the defence forces, administrative service, medical or engineering or any other service through a competitive examination, the successful candidates would definitely have secured a minimum bench-mark for their successful entry. Further advancement, thereafter, depends, primarily upon self endeavour followed by ethos of the organisation one serves in.
It’s a process of gradual advancement acquiring professional knowledge, field experience, maturity, self integrity, self confidence, honesty, love for the country and its countrymen and last but the least showing compassion towards the men he commands. These are the primary requirements to excel in any public service or individual life and more so in the army which needs to protect the country at any cost, with the primary aim to destroy the enemy or capture strategic locations and secure his own men.
I would like to mention a small anecdote here. Somewhere I read when the British 1 Airborne Division was taking off from England, as a part of 1 Allied Airborne Army, to capture a number of bridges across the number of Dutch rivers, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was present. Tears were rolling down his eyes as he murmured “many would not come back”.
Military service is incomparable to any other service which provides ‘soft arm-chair, air-conditioned office job’. Nobody can fathom the extent of adversity faced in this service unless one has experienced it. Destruction is all over. Killing and getting killed is not at all a pleasant experience. This service needs constant knowledge-gain and updating in both theory and field exercise.
The more one rises, the more it becomes challenging for him with obscure knowledge of the field situation, enemy reaction and its resources and even own reaction. The war starts with a plan but ends with many unexpected changes. It is very difficult to hold one's nerve especially when one is under extreme adversity.
"In war there is no second position: you kill or get killed; no second chance is given and that is the best strategy. It is that rifleman that will bring you victory! Hence, do not forget their training!
I have seen thirteen of my soldiers being thrown up in the air when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blew under their feet in one of the lanes near Jaffna fort while they were clearing it. That is the level of price one has to pay. Those who have the wrong notion while working in administrative services or politics about the defence services may cut it out.
Unlike other services, the defense services, besides thorough training, knowledge and experience need special character traits like boldness, courage, physical fitness, clear thinking in the fog of war, power of endurance, enthusiasm and last but not the least intuition. Mistakes in other services can be mended but not in the defence services where the stakes are far too high.
Defence services have three stages of command; executive, up to unit command level, directional, from brigades to corps/command level and strategic from command/theatre to army or army group level. These officers accordingly need to be trained and upgrade themselves.
At the same time there is a need for combined training at national level for higher military brass and similar categories of bureaucrats, politicians, technocrats, industrialists, scientists etc, to understand each other’s work responsibilities in the big wheel of war and get exposed to nuances of formalising and achieving the national strategic aim and objective.
Under the above situation, the military needs to run the Professional Military Education (PME) separately for each service and jointly for all the three services and combined strategic training for those top military brasses in coordination with top bureaucrats, politicians, intelligence service officers, technocrats, scientists, industrialists etc, which may be called ‘Strategic Interactive Training” who are involved to help achieve national strategic aim.
The training is required to be planned and conducted to achieve dual results. One, for purely on military matters; two, military-civil combined strategic training.
The military, therefore, is required to plan and conduct training accordingly. Up to the unit commander level it is going to be hard core military training involving tactical movements, battle drills, weapon training etc. From the Brigade commander and up to the level of corps commander, it shall be a combination of tactical training and strategic maneuver in order to assist attaining overall strategic aim.
The real strategic training starts at command and army headquarters level where decisions are more of a strategic nature with proper understanding of national aim and strategic direction given by the national cabinet. Job of bureaucrats and other players, as mentioned above, is to assist the effort by coordinating national resources.
The responsibility to develop a newly commissioned officer up to the unit level rests on the concerned unit and formation and service headquarters. From brigadier to corps commander the system gets broader and the officers as they grow will have to adapt themselves in their larger role. Their work is constantly monitored and directed by the higher Headquarters.
For this there are necessary professional courses at each level. Commanders at command and army level, when they start commanding more than one lakh to million troops, which is beyond the conception of civil bureaucrats and most of the politicians, require ingenuity, perception, knowledge, courage, strategic forethought and honesty to the nation.
There can hardly be any training modules for this. This leadership needs extraordinary attributes to grasp the intricacies of the situations which are generally vague. Unlike other services the situation will generally remain vague. Correct input will never be available due non-availability and denial of correct information due to various reasons and that too will be rapidly changing.
Two things get established: one, need of continuous tactical and professional training for all ranks of defense service officers to remain update with the new tactical, weapon and strategic situations; two; there is a need for combined higher level strategic trainings for top military brass with other associated services and experts to understand the intricacies of selection of strategic aim and the means to achieve it.
There is an indisputable undercurrent between the government, politicians, bureaucrats and military who seem to be not giving their best to the defense services, which is the last resort of any government to apply its political will on ground, when all other endeavours fail and also protect the country. The reasons may be lack of mutual understanding, trust and interaction between these most important government agencies.
"Whether tactics make a battle successful or vice-versa is an unending controversial discussion point."
Once periodical combined training starts and relevant parties understand the importance of each other for the very existence of the country, I am sure the present distance will be removed and the country will get stronger.
Yes, India started with poor political as well as defence strategy consequently we lost UN seat, Tibet and the 1962 war. Had Tibet been what it was the geo-political situation would have been totally different. China would not have been what it is today and it would not have breathed down our neck.
Those days the Ichapur gun and shell factory was believed to be producing lanterns in place of rifles!! Our soldiers had a .303 Springfield rifle of 1903 model which was used in both the world wars whereas Chinese were much better equipped.
When the British General Roy Butcher took the Indian defence policy to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru he was believed to have said that India did not need an army, police was enough. The dispute and distrust between the Defence Minister V.K. Menon and the Army Chief Gen Thimayya reached to such an extent that Gen Thimayya had to resign.
Nehru did not accept the resignation and he continued as the Chief but his recommendations were not accepted and the result is best known to everybody. That was our understanding and national strategy. Now let us get clear as to who needs strategic training more? Trying to isolate the army in strategic training may not be a correct assessment.
I still do not understand why a police officer should always be National Security Advisor (NSA) in place of a defence officer whose daily bread and butter is strategy? Employment of the defence forces is too intricate to be understood by a non-defense person. For proper development of defense forces the government is required to issue a strategic aim encompassing a minimum 25 years for the entire country to develop itself accordingly. There is no shortcut.
With regards to military strategy, it changes with the changing geopolitical situations. Things have changed very fast in the last one decade. China has become hostile, the South Asian countries are fast coming under Chinese influence, they are becoming more and more economically powerful and playing important role, Russia is moving away and losing superpower status but US at the same time leaning towards India, Pakistan is becoming economically weaker, however, leaning more and more towards China thus making two and half fronts a reality.
The Chinese economic invasion into South Asian countries, construction of CPEC, developing string of pearls, creating naval bases around India in Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, besides North and South China Sea, are giving certain indications which cannot be missed.
In future war, the center of gravity will shift from land army to navy and air force. These two along with the missiles and the cyber warfare will be the battle winning force. Without any experience in using nuclear and with the vast devastating capacity it has, it is very difficult to have a clear cut policy. It is the debate between first strike capabilities or retaliatory one. Both will usher in destruction!
Nuclear weapons are both of strategic and tactical nature depending on its yield and target. As per the procedure the control of nuclear weapons during peacetime is with the heads of the states. It is unlocked during war and authority of its use is decentralised based on the nature of likely target, strategic or tactical, and accordingly its yield. However, the authority never goes below strategic level. There are some exceptions with regards to the Navy.
Another thing which is very important to understand is starting constructing defensive shelters against Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) strike, first for soldiers subsequently for the nation. It is a huge task requiring huge resources for the country and the population of our size.
Therefore, the necessity of creating National Defence Universities and various other associated study centers, for military and combined civil-military training, cannot be over-emphasised. The government must take necessary measures for their early set-up. The delay, that is being caused, may again be the result of mutual circumspection. So, establishment for training military universities will improve the strategic thinking and new battle concepts and combined universities will definitely dispel mutual circumspection and make a civil-military homogeneous team.
Last but not the least, whatever generals may do whichever army has the best trained section, platoon, company and battalion; will win the battle and will carry the commander. Strategy matters second to physical fighting in the battle field. Whether tactics make a battle successful or vice-versa is an unending controversial discussion point.
To conclude I would like to mention I used to tell my troops during training that in war there is no second position: you kill or get killed; no second chance is given and that is the best strategy. Whatever may the manoeuvre be, you have to kill and not get killed. It is that rifleman, seaman and airman that will bring you victory! Hence, do not forget their training!
(Lt Col. MK Guptaray is an author of two books; Sri Lanka Misadventure, coauthored with Col Gautam Das and Birth of a Nation on Bangladesh war of 1971. He is a seasoned veteran of the 1971 war; where he had the privilege to participate in the Naogan Sector under 104 Brigade, 19 Division.
He participated in Op-Pawan in 1987 capturing over half the Jaffna Town within 5 days of landing at Palali airport with barely a strength of 220 to start with which reduced to 180 in no time. He has held various A, Q and G staff appointments from Brigade to command level.
He was born on 23rd October 1946 in village Madhabi, Dhaka District, of undivided India prior to partition. Moved into Kolkata in 1950 graduated from Kolkata and joined OTA on 13th April 1968 and commissioned on 12 Jan 1969. Joined 9 Sikh. He is presently having a retired life in Pune.)
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')