On 1 October 331 BC, 47000 Macedonian soldiers under Alexander decisively defeated the Persian Army twice its size in Guagamela. In August of 216 BCE, an allied army of 50,000 men under Hannibal of Carthage, annihilated the Roman Army of 80,000 in Cannae. Closer home, Babur’s Army of 15,000 routed Ibrahim Lodhi’s 100,000 strong force on 21 April 1526 in Panipat.
European military supremacy in India was established during the Battle of Adayar River in September 1740, when 700 French soldiers under Paradis defeated a Mughal Army of 10,000. Later, a mere 3000 soldiers under Robert Clive defeated Siraj-ud-Daula’s massive army of more than 50,000 on 23 Jun 1757, in Plassey.
This superiority paved the way for subjugation of the subcontinent by a miniscule proportion of troops. In February 1942 85000 Commonwealth troops surrendered to a force 36000 Japanese in Singapore. Each of these examples is one of victory in conventional battles under overwhelming odds. The two factors universally responsible for these victories were audacious, intelligent Generalship and superior training standards of the victors.
As India, today faces imminent conflict on two fronts, the question that hangs in suspense is, ‘How good is our training? Will we be able to pull off a victory despite fearful odds?’ In answer to that question, this article outlines the lacuna in our training process & suggests a conceptual change to overcome its weaknesses.
"Unavailability of essential training facilities such as firing ranges, training areas and equipment have led to a steady deterioration in essential individual skills of the soldier."
Training Philosophy & Complications: The Indian Army training philosophy is based on the ‘System’s Approach to Training’, whereby the soldier is visualised as a part of the larger system and carries out continuity training progressing through a graded process to achieve learning & enabling objectives that eventually allow fulfilment of mission objectives of the sub-unit/unit that he is a part of.
Though at the conceptual level this system may seem to be well suited, environmental realities and functional problems corrupt this process and blunt its efficacy. It will not be out-of-place to highlight a few of these problems.
(a) Environmental Knowledge and expertise in deriving individual level & collective objectives lending themselves to mission-oriented goals is scant and deficient. This majorly impedes the structuring of the training process.
(b) Greater focus on non-core activities such as maintaining guest-rooms, running welfare facilities such as shops & school busses, unplanned detailment of personnel on temporary duties, upkeep of a multitude of infrastructure such as memorials, golf-courses and messes, etc, deprives availability of manpower with the units reducing PT parades & other training activities to a mere sham.
(c) Unavailability of essential training facilities such as firing ranges (most of which have been de-notified by the government without creating an alternative), training areas and equipment have led to a steady deterioration in essential individual skills of the soldier. As individual capacity forms the bedrock on which the edifice of further training is built up, this deterioration is alarming and will manifest cataclysmically in eventuality of conflict.
(d) Training and management of manpower are interlinked. It is common practice that due to deficiency of available manpower, the strength of companies/ squadrons/ batteries undergoing sub-unit training carried out bi-annually are generally made up by combining those of other sub-units defeating the very purpose of collective training.
(e) Despite being medically unfit, many soldiers are retained in fighting units, denuding their combat strength. This not only severely impacts training, but also paralyses the fighting capability of the unit, effectively making it unfit for war.
(f) The constant deficiency of officers has resulted in officers tenanting multiple appointments. The lack of permanency results in poor planning for training. Talent is not identified and nurtured. Personnel are detailed on courses depending on availability, for which they may possess little aptitude or interest resulting in wastage of time and resources. This rotation of appointments enormously impacts training.
(g) It is also a reality that subunit structures have lost formality. No section or tactical detachments within the battalions/ regiments are today intact or permanent. Low Medical Categories, prolonged duration of outstation temporary duties and pooling of manpower by formation HQs have destroyed the homogeneity of fighting entities. They no longer train together and therefore will not be able to fight together in war.
A Need to Evolve: Clearly, not only does the Army require to change its training philosophy, but also needs to improve its manpower management. Therefore, is it possible to evolve a system that addresses both these complementary issues simultaneously?
A Framework for Change
“Despite being medically unfit, many soldiers are retained in fighting units, denuding their combat strength. This not only severely impacts training, but also paralyses the fighting capability of the unit, effectively making it unfit for war.”
Inter-Arms Knowledge: The Army, broadly divided into three essential verticals - the Fighting Arms, the Supporting Arms and the Logistic Services prosecutes operations jointly. The Fighting Arms require a much higher intensity of physical fitness & psychomotor skills whereas the logistic services rely a great deal on domain expertise (which builds up through experience).
But as they all have to fight jointly, the knowledge & experience of either is essential. Officers joining the services, undergo attachment period with the fighting arms for precisely this purpose.
Physical Fitness Versus Expertise: Today, the Army retires a soldier after a service of about 18 years to keep the force young and fit. However, levels of fitness required differs from the kind of unit that one serves in. Fitness levels required in Infantry is vastly different from that in the Ordnance. Vis-à-vis physical fitness, duration of service is more important in logistic branches. The longer a person serves in the services, such as Ordnance, EME, ASC, etc, the more he gains in expertise.
On the other hand, in Infantry, a soldier beyond the age of 40 is likely to become a liability as he will physically be unable to keep pace with his younger colleagues. Similarly, a person who becomes physically handicapped in course of his duties in artillery may not be able to perform satisfactorily in his parent arm, but would have no problems performing the duties of a clerk in the Ordnance Corps.
Hence, the Army desperately needs a formalised policy economise its manpower & enable migration of soldiers as per their physical & medical condition into other units/ establishments.
Validation of Individual’s Fitness: Two aspects determine the soldier’s individual prowess of fighting battles, namely his physical capacity and his mental aptitude. Only after this prowess has been maximised at the individual level, can this soldier be incorporated for collective training - where he learns to fight as a part of the team.
Presently, post basic training, the responsibility to ensure the fighting fitness of every individual is also that of the Commanding Officer, substantially increasing his workload. It would be more pragmatic to place the onus of individual fitness & professional skill on the individual - validated each year by an independent agency?
Summarising the above issues, the framework for change should be able to resolve the following questions:-
(a) How can we ensure that every fighting entity is maintained to its authorised strength without dilutions caused due to medical categories?
(b) How can we ensure that every soldier maintains optimal training standards for his specialised task?
(c) How can we ensure that every soldier (including officers) after joining can continue to be gainfully employed as per their capabilities within the organisation?
Sometimes seemingly intractable and complex problems have the simplest of solutions. A fit and well-trained individual is the bedrock of the Army on whose edifice the foundations stand. In order to ensure that at the individual level, every soldier is fit and capable, he/she needs to undergo annual validation.
Concept of Validation Centre: Akin to the concept where soldiers of the Parachute Regiment undergo yearly validation jumps to maintain their currency, validation centres should be conceptually expanded and formalised for all arms & services. A validation centre should be a location where the training standards & fitness of a soldier (including medical) are validated annually.
Every officer and Jawan up to the rank of a Lt Col must undergo yearly validation. Centres should be scaled at 3/4 for every Command Zone and contain infrastructure to validate Medical, Physical, Military Skill and Cognitive capacity of soldiers.
Beyond the Rank of a Lt Col (for Officers) & Subedar Major for JCOs, validation should be restricted to Medical & Physical tests only. For a few days every year (as per their choice), individual officers and jawans will be required to mandatorily validate their standards from any of the validation centres in the country/command zone.
Fully autonomous, independent, manned by Veteran Officers & soldiers these centres will report directly to the Vice Chief of Army Staff and be able to provide the true picture of the standards of training in the Army and identify deficiencies.
This which will act as a trigger to refine focus. Every individual (Officer, JCO or Jawan) as per his present unit & employment would be made to undergo a skill proficiency test (such as firing, driving etc), a service & rank specific cognitive aptitude test (in form of a computer adaptive test), a physical test and a medical test. Individuals will also be allowed to upgrade their standards which would enable them to qualify for promotions.
Formalise Service Specific Validation Criteria: The first step towards establishing validation centres will be to meticulously and scientifically formulate the physical and skill criteria required for each fighting arm, supporting arm and services for Officers, JCO/NCOs & Jawan.
For example, an Infantry Rifleman of a section, between 20-30 years of age should be medically SHAPE-1. Physically he should be able to run 10 Kms in 50 minutes with a backpack weight of 10 Kgs. He should be a Marksman with his rifle.
He should be able to dismantle and assemble his rifle in 45 seconds blindfolded. He should also be able to fire a pistol, a Rocket Launcher, and a Light Machine Gun. He also should be able to use a night vision device, a GPS, operate a Radio Set and navigate from point A to B using a Map. He should also be able to apply a field dressing and administer intravenous injections/ saline solution.
(Criteria for a crew of the Medium Machine Gun, or a sniper or an individual in the ATGM Platoon will all be different). To be a part of a detachment/ service, the individual will have to pass his validation criteria specific to his employment.
Dovetailing Manpower Management with Physical & Training Standards: In a departure from the normal precedence it is suggested that all officers and soldiers should be selected only for the Fighting/ Support Arms. If the Army is an organisation meant to fight, then all recruitment should be carried out only for the Fighting and Support Arms.
Direct recruitment by Logistic Services (and that too based on universal physical standards) must be discontinued. After basic training the following procedure should be followed: -
(a) Retention in Units: Retention of Officers & Soldiers in their respective fighting/ support arm will be based on his/her ability to clear service & rank specific validation tests annually. A failure to do so will lead to a punitive monetary deduction in pay and he/she will be given a year to clear the same. Inability to do so in the second year will make them eligible to move to a service for which he/she is able to qualify during the validation.
(b) Entry into Services: All entries into the Services (logistic arms) will be carried out from the Fighting/Support Arms based on the following:-
(i) Voluntary Change of Service after 4-5 years and vacancy available.
(ii) In case of a medical category or inability to pass training validation for two years in the Fighting/ Support Arms, an individual may be allowed to change into a logistic service for which he/she qualifies.
(c) Lengths of Military Service: Lengths of service in the Fighting Arms should remain statuesque (18 Years) for Jawans (officers generally move out of fighting units by 17-18 years of service). After 18 years Jawans should be allowed an option to migrate into Logistic Services (where domain expertise is not a criteria), or seek discharge.
Migration of officers into the logistic services should not be permitted beyond 10 years of service. Age stipulations should be applicable only for fighting and supporting arms and not for logistic services. Personnel in the logistic services should be allowed to serve until they reach the retirement age of their civil counterparts.
(d) Financial Compensation: In order to compensate for the high physical requirements, strain and reduced service length, the entry level basic pay grade of the Fighting/Supporting Arms must be between 15-25 percent above the basic pay of Logistic Branches.
(e) Unfit Personnel: Personnel who are unable to clear validation criteria for any arm/service (including mental aptitude tests) for more than two years will become liable to be discharged from service.
“Personnel who are unable to clear validation criteria for any arm/service (including mental aptitude tests) for more than two years will become liable to be discharged from service.”
What will be Achieved?
This process is simple to implement and transparent. It is also effect-based by targeting the responsibility of maintaining training and physical standards on the individual. It allows meritocracy and professional progression by permitting clearance of higher validation standards and therefore keeps the individual motivated.
It subsumes within its construct the need for holding periodic individual level tests such as PART-B & D for officers and JLPT for JCOs. Monetary penalties and incentives allow optimisation of manpower potential.
Migration into the logistic arms also provides ample scope for gaining domain expertise and allows for longer service tenures (at par with civilian counterparts), thus eliminating a major source of disenchantment within the military community. Financially it will majorly reduce the pension liability of the Army.
The greatest gain will be in achieving the paramount need is to maintain operational efficiency of the Army. All fighting entities will always be manned in full strength without the present personnel deficiencies that afflict them.
Individuals will remain optimally trained and the best talent pools can be retained within the organisation. It will also add a great deal of objectivity towards selecting personnel for promotions and pave the path towards all-rounded personalities up the hierarchical chain.
(The author during his service in the Indian Army had served in Counter Insurgency Operations both in Jammu & Kashmir & North East India. Highlights of his service include participation in Operation Vijay in 1999, rendering service as an aviator for eight years, as a Staff Officer in UNIFIL during the Israeli Hezbollah Conflict of 2006, commanding a battalion in Kargil, a tenure in Information Warfare (IW) & as an instructor in Army War College.)