PME: Poor Military Education & its Impact on Leadership

"Professional Military Education is the fundamental requisite of war winning strategies."


PME: Poor Military Education & its Impact on Leadership
“If war was ever too serious a business to be left alone to Generals, it is all the more serious today to leave it to uninitiated and uninformed, whether in uniform or not.”

— Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler in ‘ War and Anti-War —

War is a complex human activity. It is destructive but also the mother of human progress and development. Wars do not follow mathematical rules and formulae. Definitely past templates can not be applied to new military polemics. The tactics and strategies of war vary according to changing times and advancement in weaponry.

It needs specialised men with systemic training and orientation. Besides there is a need for their constant upgradation of knowledge keeping in line with  emerging forms of war as well as advancement in weapon systems so as to evolve befitting strategy and tactics. The “uninformed and uninitiated”, as Alvin Tofflers says, are not suitable to conduct modern wars. It must be appreciated that knowledge updating, particularly for leaders, is mandatory to ensure transition to new methods of war.

With the passage of time, generations of warfare undergo changes. In the past century or so, warfare has progressed from ‘Trench warfare’ to ‘Mobile warfare’ and now ‘Non-Contact warfare.’ All this affects the means and methodology of war. The ‘uninformed and uninitiated’ are also those military men, who have not been kept updated on new advancement in weapons and technology. It is essential for them to be keeping up the pace with the times. Professional Military Education (PME) is the fundamental requisite of war winning strategies.

When The War Evolves, So Should The Warrior

"It is clear that the military must be prepared and trained to cope with rapid advancements in weaponry and emerging war philosophies."
Indian Army Infantry, Aviation and Armoured Corps personnel during an joint training exercise; File Photo

Recently, two articles have come to my notice on the need for professional military leadership to constantly upgrade its knowledge with regards to new Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMA). One was by Dr Pauline Shanks Kaurin, renowned academic and the other by Ghazala Wahab, Executive Editor of FORCE magazine.

Defining the aim and purpose of PME, Dr Pauline Shanks says, “In one sense, it refers to a plethora of training, continuing education, and other activities designed to provide development to members of the military at various points in their career and to prepare them for the next level of responsibilities.” It is clear that the military must be prepared and trained to cope with rapid advancements in weaponry and emerging war philosophies.

It is no gain saying the fact that templates of the past can not be applied to new war scenarios of the future. To stagnate with redundant old weaponry and outdated war strategies is a sure invitation to a humiliating military defeat. The collapse of Saddam Hussain’s massive Iraqi army in just 60 hours during the second Gulf War is an example of what can happen when armies are out of sync with emerging weaponry and doctrines of war.

In short, it is to prepare military men and leaders for the transforming security environments at the regional and international level, keeping in league with the national security policy and objectives.

The second article, by Ghazala Wahab, brings out the lacunae in training and preparation of Indian military leadership. She brings out the politico-military disconnect and highlights its pitfalls, such as promoting mediocrity in the military leadership. This is an interesting fact and one would like to dwell upon this.

Splitting the Anatomy of Pliable Military Leadership

"Military leadership has always remained subservient to politico-bureaucratic apparatus on national security, and the results have been disastrous."

CDS Gen. Bipin Rawat along with other senior officers; File Photo

In my article ‘Splitting the Anatomy of Pliable Military Leadership’ I had stated that “the journey of Indian army’s pliable leadership was not in isolation and not of recent origin too. It came in hordes and with regular periodicity. The seeds of pliable military leadership were sown when the “Jeep scandal” took place in 1954. This scandal, by the turn of the  21st century, had snowballed into multiple scams,  involving many defence deals - in which senior officers were involved.”

The primary reason for pliability of military leadership is due to Nehru's fear of a military coup. Politicians thereafter continued to be worried about a military coup against the political leadership. In fact, Nehru is alleged to have stated in 1948 that India did not need an army as it had no enemies.

The distrust towards military leadership led to weeding out competent officers and this practice carries on from Nehru’s times. As a result the armed forces have been kept out of the framework of national security apparatus. Bureaucrats and police officers have been the pivots of the national security framework.

In other words, square pegs in round holes were fitted in the security framework, whose job it was not to deal with it. As a result military leadership has always remained subservient to politico-bureaucratic apparatus on national security. And the results have been disastrous, whether it was the Sino-Indo War of 1962 or handling of the Kargil conflict in 1999 or even tackling of the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks and Pathankot Airbase attack of 1 January, 2016.

Worse was that pliable military leadership, who swarmed the higher echelons, had become automated tools of bureaucratic directives. Personal promotion became the agenda of higher military leaders. They accepted a lesser role of a subservient in matters of national security. Consequently, PME in the Indian armed forces got reduced in scope to routine military matters.

PME: Poor Military Education?

"PME of the armed forces is not tuned to train independent thinkers. Careerism is in-built in all professional courses. The focus of students in Indian military courses, is on attaining a good grading and not to upgrade knowledge."
DSSC Wellington, is the mecca of PME for the Tri-Services; File Photo 

There is no doubt that India does have a system of PME by way of various courses at the training institutes both for junior and senior leadership. But it is flawed in its execution.

In theory, Indian military leaders are trained to think Two Up’. But in practice they follow the principle of ‘Two Down’. Over-insurance has cropped in because of the fear of failure. The ‘Zero Error Approach’ is the cause of the ‘Two down’ philosophy overwhelming the Indian Armed Forces, particularly the Indian Army. Thus, not only subordinates learn this but it kills the ‘initiative’ amongst juniors.

A habit of looking over shoulders has crept in the military leadership by way of  ‘on the job training’ by watching the behaviour of their seniors. Thus when they reach higher ranks they continue to look down. Indian Armed Forces thus, train leaders only to be perfect in subordinate roles and not higher roles. This is where bureaucracy gets an edge over Generals.

PME of the armed forces is not tuned to train independent thinkers. Careerism is in-built in all professional courses. The focus of students in Indian military courses, both for Other Ranks (ORs) and officers, is on attaining a good grading and not to upgrade knowledge or learn new features.

Courses are so designed that students are supposed to come with prior knowledge. They do not learn anything new on the courses. This phenomenon is applicable for both the men and officers. Higher grading on a course does not make one a good and competent soldier but a careerist who is governed by personal motives.

The Kargil fiasco showed that the Kargil Brigade Commander and Divisional commanders were  ‘Gladiators’ of ‘foreign postings’ and good course gradings. They excelled in extra curricular activities rather than ‘soldiering’. Up the chain of Command, it was the same scene. The Corps HQ officers were involved in playing golf while fatal casualties were brought by helicopters. It made then Defence Minister George Fernandez lose his temper.

At Leh, the Divisional Commander was busy organising Arboriculture and May Queen pageants, while Pakistan was consolidating on the heights of Kargil. Going down the line at the Battalion level, when civilians Bakarwals reported of Pakistani movement in the heights, messengers of such information were beaten and asked to shut up.

The irony was that all three commanding officers of the Kargil Brigade had been nominated for a prestigious Higher Command (HC) course, due to their excellent performance in extracurricular activities and NOT soldiering. This course is supposedly a link in the process of PME of higher Commanders. It is less said that the better that focus of the course is ‘nomination’ and not ‘learning’. There is no such system where a non-qualifier is demoted to a lower rank. It is just a stamp.

To say the least, such ‘course stamps’ only create much hyped ‘Gladiators’ but very poor military leaders. One of the finest military leaders of the Indian Army during the 1971 War was Lieutenant General Sagat Singh who was the lynchpin of the rapid Indian advance into Bangladesh and carved out Victory before the 7th US Fleet could intervene. And he was not qualified on any of these ‘Gladiator courses’. What more he was looked over for the post of Army Commander

The second drawback of Indian military PME is NO joint training of men below officer rank (PBOR). Even amongst officers, the first interaction takes place at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) Wellington — but this is also for selected few. However, even teaching here is cosmetic. It is done in a disconcerted manner. There is hardly any joint training.

Same goes for HC and National Defence College (NDC). They only  create Gladiators for ‘foreign postings’ and  ‘higher ranks’. This also influences their green paged monster called the Annual Confidential Report (ACR), which is definitely not based on performances but the stamp of these courses. This is a clear cut adulteration of the minds of ACR writing authorities.

I can write a thesis on how Gladiators were made in the Indian Army under the garb of PME. But this should suffice to shake up the defence edifice. As a passing reference, let me bring out that the three main causes of poor military leadership are: -

  • Annual Confidential Reports
  • Course Gradings
  • Weightage for Foreign Postings

Of ‘Ketchup Colonels’ & ‘Booze Brigadiers’

"Manipulated ACRs and course gradings lay the foundation for foreign postings and thus incompetent leaders become ‘great leaders’ on paper, who invariably fail, when crisis arise."
Representational Image

ACRs have become the sole instruments of promotion in the forces today. It is not rocket science to say that they are not only manipulated but far removed from reality. They are not performance oriented but based on how much one pleases one’s boss. In most cases, some competent divers suffer because of the ire of the boss’s wife.

Some two and a half decades back, on a new year’s night, a General Officer Commanding’s (GOC) wife in Amritsar, had hauled up all Divisional Officers. The ACR system also suffers from human weaknesses. Reviewing Officers (RO) and Senior Reviewing Officers (SRO) act as spoiled sports, in most cases, without knowing the officer. Inflated or deflated reports by them decide the promotion and rejection of subordinates. There are many other ills connected with ACRs. It needs a separate article.

Course grading is another menace playing havoc with officers' careers. High gradings on courses are not really a measure of true potential of most officers. Most of the time, they are manipulated through regimental and family connections. Having been posted twice as instructor in premier army institutes , one must say that regimental affiliations play havoc with the grading system.

Manipulated ACRs and course gradings lay the foundation for foreign postings and thus incompetent leaders become ‘great leaders’ on paper, who invariably fail, when crisis arise. Some of these ‘peace-time greats’ rise in the hierarchy ladder. Promotions after the rank of Colonel is certainly based on one’s purchased ACR and manipulated career profiles. No wonder that today, incompetent officers swarm the higher ranks because they had hoodwinked the system.

It is natural that wars do not occur every year. Most of the officers commissioned after 1972 in Indian Army, have had no such experience. Dealing with insurgency and terrorism is no substitute for war experience. In fact, insurgency environs make ‘false heroes’. Gallantry awards are manipulated by showing ‘fake encounters’.

The stories of ‘Ketchup Colonels’; ‘Booze Brigadiers’ and ‘Chicken gobbling Generals’ do paint a dirty picture of military leadership. The Tehelka-expose, Operation Westend had highlighted the rot that had set in. But it was many decades ago. Today it has reached its nadir, threatening the very fabric of military leadership.

Military leaders of today are more governed by ‘personal ease, comfort and honour first’ against the advice of General Philip Chetwode, who had addressed the passing out parade of first Course of the Indian Military Academy, (IMA) Dehradun. Generals rush to courts for personal gains; Generals make complaints against their superiors and Generals indulge in corruptions.

Obviously, their subordinates would learn from them and fill their slots when old ones retire. What was a trickle some four to five decades back, became a deluge some three decades back at the opening of the 21st century and now it is a Tsunami. It is a sad state of affairs.

Mediocrity mixed with criminality has crept in the military leadership of today. Cases of moral turpitude overflow. A chief of the Army manipulated the Low Medical Category (LMC) for himself, for the hearing impaired, a few weeks before his retirement. An Indian Air Force Chief got involved in the Augusta Westland helicopter scandal. An army chief runs to court for a change in date of birth.

Gone are the days when Lt Gen SK Sinha resigned and honourably retired when superseded. Recently, there was a case when two seniors continued to serve when a junior was appointed as Chief of Army staff (COAS). A retired general had made an offer of ₹14 Crores for approving a Tatra vehicle purchase by the army. It is nothing but a disgraceful act.

Point is that the Generalship today has lost the moral mooring which it had held on a very high pedestal in the past. it needs overhauling. Military leadership has to be rid of the ‘Godfather’ system; ‘Regimental loyalties’ and the ill effects of ACRs as well as Course Gradings. There are many ways to set the rot right. But the first thing is to recognise the ailment before a solution is found.  

But who would bell the cat? Those who have to overhaul it are the ones who had benefited from the rot in the system, in short, the law makers were the law breakers.

Also Read: The Indian Army’s Officer Promotion Policy Needs Urgent Overhaul!

Also Read: Revamping the Army’s Mindset

(Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in  ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as  ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: rajee749@yahoo.com)

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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