The Revival of Sports and Physical Training in the Armed Forces

"How we select, nurture, train and groom our soldiers and officers with respect to their physical fitness factor. The prevailing culture or norms must be analysed to bring out shortcomings if any in our processes of selection and training."


The Revival of Sports and Physical Training in the Armed Forces

INTRODUCTION

The importance of ‘physical fitness’ in the Armed Forces, especially the Army, is of immense significance to all ranks. From the lowest level of a soldier to the highest rank of a general, all are expected to be physically fit and mentally sound to withstand and survive a tough, hazardous and challenging military life during their onerous service to the nation in the most inhospitable terrain and harsh climatic conditions prevailing in their operational areas, adjoining our lengthy international borders and vast  frontier territory of our country, mainly in our northern, eastern and western sectors, where the bulk of our fighting forces are deployed.

Physical fitness is equally important in the Navy and Air Force as the chances of a physically fit person falling sick is comparatively less than one who is not. Besides this the ‘on parade status’ also greatly improves with higher physical fitness levels. For a fighter pilot physical fitness is a vital aspect not only to maintain his flying status but for his very survival in all eventualities.

In the Navy, the sailors and submariners too are required to maintain high fitness levels for long off shore periods of operations and training at sea. Hence, even if there is no organized  PT or sports activities in the Air Force, the fliers or navigators  maintain their own fitness levels with individual physical work outs, games  or  runs  to maintain their optimum levels  as demanded by their  specific task or job.

Although the quality and adequacy of weapons, ammunition and equipment, besides administrative support and backing are significant and consequential factors, it is mainly the ‘man behind the gun or machine’ and the ‘quality of his officer leadership’ at the vital or key operational levels that become the most crucial and decisive factors for securing victory over your adversary in any level of military operations of any campaign.

Hence, the ‘quality’ of the man and his military leader, especially the officer, at all levels of the Army is of paramount  importance and merits the highest priority to enable and ensure  that this critical  ‘winning edge’ is in our favour.

In light of the above, it is relevant and pertinent to review or audit, how we select, nurture, train and groom our soldiers and officers with respect to their physical fitness factor. The prevailing culture or norms must be analysed to bring out shortcomings if any in our processes of selection and training. Suggesting suitable remedial measures to address these must be with a view to raise the overall physical fitness levels of both officers and soldiers and facilitate improvement in our cutting edge, especially at the decisive unit/sub unit levels.

The role of sports or recreational activities  in military training, particularly in the Army is indispensable as the same is a complementary physical activity which develops or enhances the physical fitness of the participants  besides inculcating or promoting positive soldierly traits of team spirit, sportsmanship, co-operation, will to win and killer instinct. Individual games or sports promote mainly individual skills, abilities and aptitudes with the gainer being the concerned individual only.

However, team events especially troop games like football; hockey, basketball and volleyball promote team spirit and leadership qualities which are so essential for young officer leaders particularly in units and subunits. It was for this reason that in the past/yesteryears all sports competitions from Services/Army level  right down to unit levels it was mandatory to field at least one officer player per team who became the team captain of his team, even if his skill or standard was not up to the mark as the rest of the team.

Discontinuation of this policy killed the sports and games at the grass root unit/subunit levels and officers stopped playing games, as hitherto fore and healthy interaction and mingling with troops declined with serious negative implications in the development of positive leadership traits for young officers. This resulted in destroying the culture of healthy sports and games in units and thus widened the gap between officers and men in the units.

CONDUCT OF PHYSICAL TRAINING AND SPORTS

The effective and efficient conduct of physical training and sports activities largely depends on the possession of theoretical and practical knowledge of these subjects besides vast experience as a player, coach, manager or official in different sports disciplines.

Hence if the physical training and sports activities from Services/Army level down to unit level were befittingly and effectively conducted in the past, there was a system, policy and procedure in place to enable and facilitate the same, with many positive gains being made in the grooming young military officers, at the critical unit level.

ROLE OF APTC & AIPT

The Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) is a fed corps from all Arms and Services and has Physical and Recreational Training Instructors (P&RT Instructors) of the rank of NCO’s and JCO’s only. The Unit/Regimental Instructors are called Unit PT Instructors (UPTI’s). The officers of APTC are SL Cadre officers called ‘Master–at-Arms’, and include commissioned officers from the ranks or regular officers  permanently  transferred into APTC  from other Arms and Services.

The Army Institute of Physical Training (AIPT) or erstwhile Army School of Physical Training (ASPT) is the mother institution of Physical Training and Recreational Training, including Sports and Games. Established  in 01 July 1946  the APTC  Depot has been co-located with ASPT/AIPT which has been at Sholapur Road campus, Pune  since early 1950’s when the NDA /JSW  was shifted to Khadakwasla, Pune and are 30kms apart located  at the Eastern and Western ends of the city.

The basic PT Course for UPTI’s at AIPT/ASPT is the Assistant  Instructors Basic Course (AIBC) and Advance Refresher Course (ARC) and Basic Gymnastics Course (BGC) being the mandatory courses for transfer into APTC with a minimum service of 5yrs in the rank of direct Havaldar. Officers being granted SL Commission through ranks have to be qualified in the courses applicable for APTC NCO’s unless they are from APTC.

After transfer they undergo the Officers Physical Training Course (OPTC) which is mandatory course for regular cadre officers transferred into APTC. Besides the basic physical training proficiency all Officers, JCOs and NCOs are also imparted basic knowledge of all allied subjects of PT and all disciplines of Sports and Games of the Army, as they are primarily responsible for conducting these important training activities to recruits in all regimental training institutions (with assistance of UPTI’s) and officer training academies like NDA, IMA and OTA.

Hence besides just PT the APTC is responsible for uniform conduct of all sports and games through their AIPT/ASPT qualified PT instructors.

OFFICER PHYSICAL TRAINING COURSE (OPTC)

After the raising of ASPT and creation of APTC till the late 1950’s ‘Basic PT Course’ was mandatory for all officers and those who excelled or had aptitude and proficiency in this field attended the ‘Advance Course’. However, since late 1950’s/early 1960’s only one course was conducted for Officers and called Officers Physical Training Course (OPTC), with six courses of 30-40 officers being held till late 1990’s. Sadly, thereafter the OPTC courses were drastically reduced and a stage reached when only one token was held.

With this low priority for PT and SPORTS in the training of officers for almost 15-20 years there were no OPTC qualified officers in units, regimental training centres and even military academies. How the units have conducted or presently conduct PT and Sports without AIPT/ASPT trained/qualified officers is anybody’s guess as we mostly find the unit PT, Sports and Games fields empty! Due to this low priority the APTC was deprived of suitable, willing and talented officers from joining APTC as a career.

Unless the officers are trained in this vital field of PT and Sports, the culture of fitness and sports can never be promoted or cultivated at the grass root level in the units. With the damage already done, there exists a lot of scope to revive the shortcomings that have crept into the system primarily at the grassroots level in the units.

If the officers could not be spared on some grounds, surely some young  selected officers with interest, aptitude and proficiency could have been identified from military academies itself or by all Arms and Services  and sent for OPTC purely on voluntary basis. This could be planned and easily executed now with positive long term gains for improving the fitness of all ranks and improving the officer men relationship through healthy, vigorous and highly recreational sports and games.

KNOWLEDGE OF PT, SPORTS AND GAMES & THEIR ALLIED SUBJECTS

With the long discontinuation (or just token existence) of OPTC for past 15-20 for Army officers at AIPT/ASPT, the knowledge of these basic subjects amongst the officer cadre is very shallow or missing due to which the units have considerably suffered on this account both in PT and Sports and Games as most units do not have any worthy, qualified or knowledgeable officers in this field! The military academies and recruit training centres too would be finding it difficult to conduct these activities effectively and efficiently as there are very few OPTC qualified officers.

Besides this grave shortcoming, it is also pertinent to highlight that in our military academies including NDA, IMA and OTA, no theoretical and technical knowledge of these subjects is imparted as the focus  is mainly on sports participation and passing of mandatory PT tests. Hence, there is an imminent need to correct this anomaly by training young officers in all concerned subjects, initially in the military academies and subsequently the OPTC courses with allotment of more officer vacancies to units of all Arms and Services.

This will provide more units with OPTC qualified officers and facilitate the revival of sports culture at the grassroots level and enable conduct of all PT and sports activities effectively and efficiently.

COMMAND PT SCHOOLS

Since the existence of ASPT and APTC all the senior Army Commands had an exclusive Command PT School; Southern at Pune, Central at Lucknow, Western at Shimla, Eastern at Barrackpore, Northern at Udhampur. These were run within the resources of the respective Commands and managed by either a separate OC PT School or Supervising Officer Physical & Recreational Training (SOP&RT).

These schools served several purposes like running preparatory courses for all AIBC Courses and other Basic Courses at ASPT for vacancies allotted to Commands for all soldiers, besides providing useful knowledge and pre-course training to all ranks who attended courses at ASPT. This facilitated uniform pre-course training to soldiers from different units or regiments, especially when their units were located in field or operational areas where there were no such facilities or equipment.

The schools also provided a base to SOP&RT/Command Sports Officer with minimal PT staff for conduct of physical training and sports activities in the station; especially the staff of Command HQ’s located in close proximity. Due to manpower constraints all these Command PT schools were shut down with consequent loss of these facilities and lead to general decline in interest and culture for PT and Sports in the Commands.

Coupled with change of Army Sports Policy from Inter Unit competitions to Inter Regimental Center competitions the focus of sports in the Army shifted from the huge base and grass root level of Units to just a few Regimental Centers thus killing the potential talent in the units (nurseries) besides destroying the culture of sports and games in the units. With the passage of time the post of SOP&RT (Command Sports & PT Officer) in all Commands became redundant and now basically responsible in allotment of Sports Activity Grants (SAG) through the DGMT Army HQ.

Hence, presently there are no effective Command PT & Sports Officers and the culture of PT and Sports has been totally destroyed. Hence, there is an inescapable need to revive all these shortcomings that have crept into the system and adversely affected our past healthy traditions and way of life.

TECHNICALITIES OF PHYSICAL EDUCATION

The problem is that everybody is a so called expert in PT or Sports. Having been through a regimen of PT and some military training including some of these basic subjects in the academies, one does gain little basic knowledge which he believes to be sufficient to navigate in this field.

This is a fallacy which needs to be realized, and the sooner the better, as this field is as technical as any other field. There are a multitude of dimensions to this and one needs to have some knowledge of subjects such as: Health, Fitness, Nutrition, Sports medicine, Yoga, Martial Arts, etc. Including:

1. Knowledge of human physiology, muscle types, muscle behavior, skeletal structure, Cardio-vascular system, respiratory and circulatory systems.

2. Nutrition balance and its optimal absorption into the human system.

3. Mind-body coupling.

4. Workouts, regeneration of tissues through rest and recuperation, systematic build-up of physical prowess, balance of strength, stamina, endurance, flexibility and skill.

5. Excellence in sports and games.

6. General medicine and Sports medicine.

It is humanely impossible to be an expert in all the fields and yet, a military commander who is better aware and knowledgeable of even some of these subjects can ensure better health and fitness of those in his charge, and optimize his resources for all eventualities.

One way of enabling or facilitating this is to provide some of this knowledge and understanding as a physical education culture in the academy. Availability of high caliber or proficient sports coaches in few sports disciplines, sports medicine specialists for teaching and educating the officer cadets can be a way forward.

Provision of Coaches and SM specialists from within the Services will be the best long term option and hiring or employing civil coaches can be a temporary option. These options can greatly enhance or supplement the basic knowledge of PT and Sports already being taught by the PT instructors in academies.

SHORTAGE OF APTC OFFICERS

Although the present authorized strength of APTC officers is 67, the posted strength is only 35 resulting in a long standing deficiency of 40% .This shortage for many years has been on account of low priority for PT and Sports in the Army and adversely affected the conduct of effective and efficient conduct of physical and recreational training (including sports and games) in military training academies and regimental training centres.

The largest strength of officers is with AIPT/ASPT, followed by Army HQ (MT-8/ASCB), NDA, IMA, OTAs, and Regimental training centres (of all Arms and Services). Discontinuation and low priority for OPTC courses at AIPT/ASPT for 15-20 years has resulted in the availability of willing and qualified high grade officers for transfer into the APTC.

Every Military Academy and Regiment Centre always demands capable and proficient officers of APTC as PTO/APTO. Where will these officers come from and how will they come is the big question? Hence there is a need to enable and facilitate this by improving the culture for PT, Sports and Games in the Army, with a holistic approach to the problem. If there is a will there are many ways and means to fulfill this will!

The Indian Army is indeed fortunate at this juncture to have a supremely fit officer as their COAS, even at this age and service! There is no reason why the rest of the Army cannot learn a lesson, now at least, and take remedial and corrective steps to improve these glaring shortcomings that have dangerously crept into the very roots of our foundation.

APTC JCO & NCO INSTRUCTORS

The APTC presently has adequate number of instructors who are mainly posted to ASPT/AIPT, military academies, regimental centres, military schools, etc. and rendering valuable service. However, for many years now there is has been a great demand for enhancement of their theoretical and practical knowledge of sports, games, sports medicine and other allied subjects. Traditionally the focus of APTC/ASPT has been mainly on PT and Gymnastics especially in the practical/performance aspect.

This must be seriously reviewed as there is little utility of the higher ‘Instructors  Physical Efficiency Tests’ (IPET) beyond 1ST Class, as  in later service, other than just demonstration or PT display or Gymnastics participation, these tests (basically  13 tests of Special Class) are of little use. A meaningful comparison with other professional Armies will prove this point and enable us to modify our needs as per the actual requirements of trainees and   for overall better and beneficial conduct of training and imparting education in this field.

CONCLUSION

The importance of physical fitness and sports in the Armed Forces, especially the Army, is of paramount importance. The befitting conduct of physical training at all levels in the Army is a professional necessity. All ranks must be kept physically fit at all times with regular PT sessions and healthy sports or recreational activities. Necessary facilities for these activities must be provided and a favourable environment created to enable and facilitate this.

Ample or adequate knowledge of PT, Sports and their allied subjects including Sports Medicine must be imparted to all officer cadets in all military academies. Maximum OPTC course vacancies must be made available for Army officers of all Arms and Services to revive and boost PT and Sports activities at the critical unit grassroots level.

The current Army Sports Policy must be reviewed and the focus shifted to the unit level to nurture and cultivate the healthy sports culture of yesteryears. All the Commands must have a PT and Sports School with an effective SOP&RT for supervising and conducting all such activities in their Commands as per earlier charter of duties and the allotment of SAG funds delegated to some other suitable authority.

Response No.1

Air Mshl P P Rajkumar, PVSM, AVSM, Ex  AOC-in-C CAC, C-in-C ANC, Comdt NDC, & Dy Comdt & CI NDA.

It is nice to see you totally involved in activities that you are best at. I remember your dedication from the time I was the Deputy Comdt at the NDA. I have gone through the paper that you had sent to Air Mshl Nana Menon, which he had kindly forwarded to me. Since the issue is mostly Army-centric, my comments may be out of place. Still, I will pen a few points in the order they strike me.

AIPT alumni hold a special place in Officers Training Academies in India. Even though each Service has their own version of PT Instructors, AIPT Instructors are certainly a class apart. I was surprised to learn that OPTC has been closed down for a long time. I am aware of a few AF Officers who attended that course, when I was a YO.

The Army had always done well in all the operational tasks that they had undertaken throughout my career in the IAF, and also after my retirement. The recent disaster relief operations in Nepal are a case in point. So, in spite of the perceived decline in physical standards, the Army officers have been doing well consistently. That means, whether the PT courses are conducted or not, it has not made a material difference to the performance of the officers/soldiers. So, the training imparted to them with the reduced PT courses, has been adequate.

Your observation on teaching some theory on sports and sports medicine is valid. We need to include that in our training. But that has to be done without increasing the number of periods allotted for PT. There is absolutely no spare periods available in training now.

Any inclusion of additional subjects has to be compensated by appropriate removal/downgrading of some other subjects/activities. At the same time, it will be difficult to justify a post-commission course/cadre on this subject.

Your suggestion that we need to learn from the practices followed by armed forces of other countries is also valid. From what I had gathered from the various international competitions that NDA had taken part is that our cadets are good at endurance events like long marches etc. The American cadets on the other hand were good at upper body strength which was not a strong point with us.

The Japanese equivalent of NDA has a test where their cadets are expected to swim at sea for a distance of eight kms. This is the kind of training our naval cadets should be trained at in NDA.

I do appreciate the efforts you are putting in to improve the system. Keep up the good work.

Response No.2

Lt Gen Ashok Joshi, PVSM, AVSM, Ex DGMT

Here are some of my thoughts on the subject:

For the Army, ‘hardihood’ is as important as physical fitness. Physical fitness, if it were to end only in ‘athletic’ excellence would not suffice for the Army.

Call it what you will, ability to endure extremes of temperature and deprivation without adverse impact on the performance needs to be instilled by gradually raising the threshold level. Some aspects of hardihood training are covered in commando course, but it could also be looked upon as an aspect of physical training.

In the hands of the immature, hardihood training can easily turn into an exercise in sadism, or masochism. Care needs to be taken that this does not happen. Hardihood training is best imparted by setting an example, and gradually, until it is internalized by the individual, and becomes a matter of pride.

Hardihood should be more prized than athleticism. The former can get news headlines but the latter is most likely to improve unit performance in war. This training too needs to be carried out gradually so that injuries are avoided.

Hardihood training also calls for a scientific approach and experimentation.

Author’s Response & Elaboration:

Physical toughness encompassing high demands of   strength, cardio-muscular and mental endurance involving hard, rigorous and physically challenging exercises, tests and tasks are all a part of Commando course for officers. The course which starts with the BPET as the basic take off level, which is the screening test, and thereafter includes long endurance runs, obstacle courses, confidence training, long and timed speed marches, in scale A with rifle and 5kg additional sand bag, long day and night navigations, unarmed combat etc. The Commando Course is mandatory for all Infantry officers which must be cleared till the age of 28 years.

For other Arms & Services this course is voluntary or by detailment. APTC staff is always posted in Commando Wing for imparting training and presently a Sub Maj and some instructors are posted there. This course became compulsory for Infantry officers from late 60s and early 70s and became integral part of Infantry YOs. I did it in 1972 after 1971 operations and OPTC in 1973. The aim of the former is to make a Commando Platoon Commander for Infantry Battalions, whereas that of OPTC is to make a unit PT & SPORTS Officer.

Having done both Commando and OPTC, I can safely say that long term utility of OPTC for officers and units is far more than Commando course which is just physical buggery, due to which officers hate physical training and such toughening activities and avoid them as much as possible.

In any case the physical fitness standard attained cannot be maintained by most officers and like the long and sustained  3 to 4 yrs NDA type training, the physical performance mostly declines steeply with no long term consequential benefits accruing to officers other than ‘so called’ mental toughness!

The failure, RTU cases and Medical cases for Officers for Commando course is 20-25%. I have recently visited JLW CDO wing for my study and analysis and still in touch with CDO Wing/JLW, their officers and APTC staff. Hence, there is a serious need to take into account all these factors while deciding the training content and syllabus for officers to meet actual unit needs.

Whatever is decided must serve the end user need and ultimately produce better quality officers and also enhance the officer-men relationship, which has declined and taking a severe beating. The revival of this  and reversal of negative trends is possible mainly through sports, games and well org PT and recreational activities, which is most desirable with many positive gains on several  fronts.

Response No.3

Col CM Chavan, ex AAD

This is an article giving in depth analysis of physical fitness and functioning of APTC. There can be no two views on importance of physical fitness of defence personnel. A physically unfit officer does not have the same respect that a fit officer enjoys from the troops he is serving with in the unit. This further manifests in decisive leadership from that officer in the battlefield or in times of need.

It is a fact that in the absence of officer participating in games played by troops, a very distinct divide has emerged between them over a period (of neglect) resulting in scuffles amongst them which was never heard hither to fore and has also got highlighted in the press. It is therefore essential that necessary steps should be taken to correct this situation before it is too late.

It should be made compulsory for an officer to participate in all matches between subunits and units at formation levels. It is equally important that an officer is well trained in technicalities of all games as well as developing of continuous physical fitness of troops. Equally more important is selection of physically fit candidates before they are trained further in the academies.

Towards this end a meaningful audit is a must to ensure proper selection of officer candidates.

OPTC should be a must for an officer and required number of courses should be conducted at AIPT. Second alternative due to shortage of officers in units could be to increase the duration of YOs course to include short crash courses of OPTC for selected or volunteer officers with aptitude and interest in this field.

Response No.4

Lt Col Mrinal Kumar Gupta Ray, ex Infantry (16 Sikh)

Commando Course and PT course have different aims to achieve. Whereas, the OPTC or laid out Physical Training is done to attain sustained physical toughness. Commando Course is a task oriented course. During hot war scenario, in order to get advantage of the situation or reduce the battle capability of the enemy, undertaking of commando operations and operating behind the enemy line, is essential. The minor tactics, field crafts, explosive handling, navigation, increasing stamina under adverse situation is a part of syllabus in Commando course which is not part of the OPTC.

But to some extent I would agree that this course is out of YO syllabus. Hence, vacancies for the same are made for specific unit based need and percentage allotted for officers with aptitude, suitability and required degree of physical fitness or toughness. There is no real need to detail all young officers for this course and make it a mandatory part of the Infantry YO Course, leading to overall 20-25% wastage rate on account of failures, dropouts and medical RTU Cases.

Author’s Response & Elaboration:

Your points are both valid and pragmatic. How can every infantry officer become a Commando? Similarly how can every officer be a PT & SPORTS officer? Ridiculous to say the least. Commando course is compulsory for all Infantry YO’s even now. Whereas OPTC has been discarded for last 10-15 years.  Only some talk of revival of OPTC has taken place recently, which really means nothing.

Both the Commando and OPTC are important courses from their respective angles. However, there is a need to select the right or most suitable officers for both these specialized courses to meet specific and unit based requirements both for peace and operational exigencies.

Everything must done  selectively in this regard to derive maximum benefit, as some officers are good at staff and some in field, some are physically more robust or proficient in sports, while others may be good in imparting instructions. Hence, it is the duty of the Commanders at each level to decipher and act accordingly. This calls for effective career management of all officers to meet not only unit needs and overall organizational requirements but more importantly the real aptitude, interest, suitability, proficiency and capability of officers.

Response No.5

Air Marshal Narayan Menon,PVSM,UYSM,AVSM, ex AOP Air HQ

Permit me to respond in a slightly off-key style. My take on the deterioration of sports and games in the Services is that it is directly related to the ascendancy of Golf. Since the time Golf has become 'the game' all other sports and games have gone into a spiral nose-dive.

In my younger days in the IAF whenever there was a visit by a 'line' officer, we always organized a contact sport like Football, Hockey or Volley ball for the VIP to witness. I have taken part in such games rubbing shoulders with our men on the sports field. When you acknowledge the skill of an airman, the mutual respect goes up apart from the physical benefits that accrue from the exertion.

Over a period of time Golf became the preferred option and everyone wanted to play this game. It did not occur to  many that only an elite lot, perhaps 0.0001% of those in the Services had the means to access this new sport. The men were left completely out and the drift began.

Nowadays the visit to a unit by a 'line' officer is essentially preceded by the SO and the unit deciding as to what time the senior officer wishes to tee off. The rest of the visit or inspection is tailored to suit the Golf game.

Apart from the damage to physical well-being the comradeship and  bonding  that existed between the men and officers began to unravel and the spiral has not yet ended. During a visit to NDA a couple of years back, I was surprised to learn that Golf has become compulsory there. We are injecting a divisive potion into those we intend transforming into good and effective officers.

The Services used to be the crucible from which many national and international sportsmen have emerged. Alas it is no longer so and today we play in the second or third division in the city sports events. There was a time when Mohun Bagan and East Bengal football teams were apprehensive of playing the fit and motivated Services team.

I have written about this earlier and have attracted criticism and ridicule for my views about Golf being the villain, but I stick to my stand.

Author’s Response

Sir, Your points are very valid. Golf has pushed other games and sports especially troop games in the background. Even young officers who are fit to rub shoulders with the men opt for Golf as it is a softer option with many other personal and professional gains.

The troop games have suffered a severe setback on this account leading to widening of the gap between the officers and men. I too  have nothing against Golf but if one honestly sees the damage it has caused to the quality of our military leadership and the deterioration of the officer men relations the same has resulted in drastic changes to our past healthy and recreational routine, norms  and  ethos thus  adversely affected our lifestyles with consequent negative implications to the organization .

Hence there is a need to now clearly define military leadership and how it should be nurtured, cultivated and developed especially for the young officers. The importance of sports and games will then come at the forefront whether you like it or not.

Response No.6

Col  Melville D’Souza ,ex Infantry ( Maratha LI)

The importance of physical fitness in the present Army is largely relegated to the Training Academies and is being given less importance in day to day life. The evidence is there to see with the large percentage of failures in the unit BPET runs, failures to the level of 20% in the Infantry Commando Courses and more in the courses for other Arms.

Obesity is more visible amongst Officers, possibly more due to sedentary jobs/lifestyle. Some of the units who do maintain traditions have physical training as an important training aspect as part of  their daily regimen. These units have been found to have less problems in Officer-Men relationship as they also have their inter Coy/Squadron/Battery sports events.

The Army largely today is doing nonsensical jobs at every location including making gardens, beautifying areas, event management and more un-soldierly tasks which are Officer / JCOs oriented. The very leadership that is the backbone of the Indian Army is absent from the Physical Training or the Sports field.

The priorities are elsewhere and as commented by a reader of your article the senior visiting Officer is diverted from Unit activities to a game of Golf after a two hour inspection. My unit  Administrative inspection by the Brigade commander in 1986 took two full days and every aspect was checked by him including an exercise on capture of a vital bridge. Today it is a power point presentation with some gimmicks thrown in.

The excessive stress on physical fitness in the Academies as well as  Regimental centres takes the fun out of physical fitness and the soldier attempts to avoid any physical exertion in military life unless compelled to do it. The Young Officer today becomes a Coy commander very much early in service and in the garb of supervision avoids physical training activity. To compound the problem are late night  working hours for some task that needs to be completed the next morning.

The modern technology in weapons does not require endurance of superlative standards but physical fitness has no compromise.

Response No.7

Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh, PVSM,ex  SOC-in- C

Let us first define attributes of an officer in the Army based on warfare doctrine for the 21st century.

Yes, physical fitness is essential but let the medical specialists define details of this physical fitness. Then we work out what training, tests, etc,  are required to achieve the same.

Is BPET necessary for all Arms and Services ?!  Must every officer be able to jump over a High Horse?! Let us discuss this.

Sports - Yes, they are important also for unit spirit and to rub shoulders with all ranks.

We have to train officers for the future battles. Electronics are going to play major role in the Network Centric Warfare. True, boots on the ground will always be required but vertical and racked mobility will play important role in the battle field of the future.

Officers are required in the units and we must prune down the courses. An overall  view needs to be taken and then we can see if there is time and place for a PT Course ?

Response No. 8

Commander  Mukund  Yeolekar, IN

Regarding sports and physical training, I agree with views of Gen Harbhajan Singh. In this age of Network-Centric Warfare, the officers are overloaded with information in short time frame, and from varied sources to manage the battle-field scenario. They have to quickly grasp the info, assimilate it, process it in their minds and  take  appropriate action lest the enemy has his way.

For being an expert in this, the officer has to be sharp, receptive and   adept in his field. This can be achieved only by deep and committed self-study of his professional subject, besides training imparted. There is no alternative to this. The one who knows more and acts  earlier wins.

With all this the young officer or cadet is left with less time for rigorous physical activities. Gone are the days when cadets use to compete in doing extreme physical feats such as climbing rope 1st  class,  chin-ups etc. Till the eighties, the need for technical expertise was not so demanding. Now, with Fifth generation fighter aircraft, Laser guided munitions, Infra-red sensors, Cyber warfare, Real-time data links and Combat Management systems the scenario has changed drastically.

A Commanding Officer of a unit would rather have a weapon/missile expert in his team than a cross country runner or Hockey champion. In war we have to be Winners always and every time, but in sports we may achieve a silver/bronze medal.

I am not trying to dilute the importance of physical fitness. I want to emphasize that what is needed is minimum physical standard and endurance in every officer. To maintain that he should daily devote a reasonable time to PT/Sports. As long as he is an expert in his profession, he need not be a champion in sports.

As suggested, there may be a need to revise the physical attributes of an officer keeping in view the job specification of Armed Forces of the 21st century. True, where there are over 1800 cadets, there is a requirement of a sports medicine specialist too who can fine tune the existing system.


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