Does The SSB System Need Overhaul? In Conversation with Col. Pradeep Dalvi (Retd)

Col. Pradeep Dalvi (Retd), a DIPR/SSB qualified IO & GTO spoke to MVI in part-2 of this ongoing interview series on the Shekatkar Committee recommendations calling for a closure of the DIPR & its SSB system.


Does The SSB System Need Overhaul? In Conversation with Col. Pradeep Dalvi (Retd)

The Shekatkar Committee report has recommended the closure of several Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) labs, one of them being the Delhi based, Defence institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) which is the lab responsible for the development of the Indian Armed Forces officer selection.

The DIPR created Services Selection Board (SSB) has not been reviewed for over seven decades. This is despite the rapid pace of military growth and evolving trends in warfare that have taken place and also the recent news of unfortunate happenings that have brought our officer selection system under the scanner of CBI and also public awareness.

All these have resulted in the following questions being raised by analysts and journalists keen to know all the facts from qualified and experienced selectors to draw their own conclusions through the following questions.

Colonel Pradeep Dalvi (Retd), a DIPR/SSB qualified Interviewing Officer (IO) and Group Testing Officer (GTO) spoke to Mission Victory India in part-2 of this ongoing interview series on the Shekatkar Committee recommendations calling for a closure of the DIPR and its SSB system.

Also Read (Part-1)  “SSBs Have Totally Failed!” Says Shekatkar Committee, Chairman; Marked for Closure in Report

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Excerpts from the Interview…

Q. At the outset, do you feel that the DIPR has by and large lived up to its mission? If yes, how? If not, why?

Ans: As per their own website their vision is to be the center of excellence in military psychology and their mission is to provide psychological support to the Armed Forces in selection, training, man machine interface, motivation to enhance mental health and operational efficiency of the forces.

Over the past 70 years they have failed in their main objective of the mission enumerated above and have been just bystanders and mere spectators in the field of military psychology and modern trends.

Since its establishment somewhere in the sixties they have been carrying on with whatever was handed over to them by the British and they conveniently ignored the socio-economic changes that were rapidly urbanising the Indian youth and nation as whole. One of the glaring examples was lack of interface with troops on ground and combat situational analysis and its implications.

Q. The Shekatkar Committee report had recommended the closure of several DRDO labs, one of them being the DIPR. Would you agree with the committee’s recommendation? If so, why, and what alternatives would you propose to replace the over seven-decade old SSB system?

Ans: I agree with the proposal of closure of DIPR as recommended by Shekatkar committee. Let me enumerate the issue of DIPR and recommendation for its closure.

Problem Areas

The DIPR is located in Delhi from wherein in bulk of its scientists operate and carry out their research activity. Few scientists are located at the SSBs. The research community is permanently located at Delhi in their comfort zone with all facilities and hardly venture out to field, operational areas and are far removed from the environment in which forces operate like counter insurgency, high altitude areas of Ladakh and the far east.

The result of the above shortcoming has been conducting of theoretical research and advise rendered which has yawning gap between perception and reality on ground.  Case in point is the De Novo system for selection of officers at the SSBs recommended by DIPR.

Research papers published are far and few and hardly original. Most of the papers are copied and lacking originality and are related to pleasing their bosses and advancement of their careers.

There is hardly any data available on research papers published by scientists on their website or national and international magazines, may be under the garb of confidentiality and hence their performance can not be measured on the work they carry out and are not accountable to the major stake holders that is the armed forces.

Reasons for DIPR Closure

The mission objectives by DIPR are theoretical in nature and remains only on paper. They have not provided any worthwhile advice on military psychology and modern trends. They work in isolation and have never been effective in areas of man-machine interface, terrain effects, operational and peace time environment, motivation and enhancing mental health of our troops.

A recently published article of more than 800 plus cases of suicide in last seven years within the armed forces can surely pinpoint their inefficiency and lack of awareness towards the environments in which our troops operate.

A failure to identify combat and field conditions of troops by DIPR has left entire onus on the Commanding Officers (CO) and Company Commanders (Coy Cdr) to handle psychological aspect of human state of their soldiers.

Some of the glaring aspects are suicides, depression, substance disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Behavioral psychology in combat and training. Furthermore, an inability to identify Revolutionary changes in psychology of troops in combat and extreme environments.

Mediocre, senior officers and junior scientist and staff (with reservation quotas) at DIPR has not helped them in enhancing their reputation and strive towards their touted vision of being a center of excellence in military psychology. Lastly, you cannot heal if you keep pretending you aren’t hurt!

Restructuring DIPR

Proposed structure given below is broad guide line to reorganise DIPR and side step man power of civilian scientists as per requirement by the armed forces into their fold and hire the short fall if required essential.

Infographic by Col. Pradeep Dalvi (Retd)

Q. The DIPR had announced a De Novo Selection System, as an upgrade to the present selection; Do you feel that the proposed system would have been a functional upgrade to the existing system, or should the status quo continue to be maintained, or scrapped entirely?

Ans: A Lot has been commented upon by serving fraternity, staff, and scientist on the proposed De Novo system in an attempt to project revolutionary changes in assessment and selection procedure at SSBs by DIPR. These are nothing but cosmetic changes which even scientist at SSBs resisted as it was found to be impractical and against the main principle of group dynamics.

There is no change in the psychological and interviewing technique, but an attempt was made to change only GTO techniques without giving any full proof reasoning and impact on group dynamics. Status quo to be maintained till new system be put in place keeping in the latest trends of all three techniques and requirement of users (SSB, training academes, units for follow up)

De Novo Recommendations

Some of the recommendations in De Novo selection system by DIPR are the reduction of SSB testing to three days. This proposition seems to be exceedingly difficult and nerve racking for GTOs. It is believed that recommendation for GTO testing has been reduced from 2 days to 1 day. It is humanly impossible for GTOs to complete the testing in one day.

The new prototype tests prepared by the DRDO/DIPR are not known and are silent over the issue. Furthermore, there have been a reduction in Officer Like Qualities (OLQ) from 15 to 9? what are new OLQs introduced? Are a few OLQs adequate to test the candidates? We need answer to these questions as OLQs are back bone of the testing process.

Drawbacks with the Recommendations

Some of the drawbacks of the new recommendations in my view are the reduction of GTO testing from two to one day will have adverse effect on quality of intake at the SSB. No group dynamics (Leader, Situation and Group) will be affected clearly in such short time with reduced tasks.

It will be exceedingly difficult and stressful for the GTO to correctly assess candidates based on their performance. Candidates will not get opportunity to assess his performance of day one and take corrective course for day two tasks.

The entire concept of group Dynamics needs to be clearly defined and modified based on new changes recommended Any tampering with the concept of Group dynamics needs to be authenticated by DIPR. As of now NO clear written direction have been issued to SSB from DIPR and NO batches have been put through on trial basis either at Bangalore or other SSBs.

Changes in the existing selection system is requirement of the day however we should not tamper it without extensive research and analysis. Hope DIPR is listening and making suitable changes that meet today’s aspiration of candidates and existing environment and not following the concept of  an old wine in a new bottle?

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Q. Do you feel that the SSB system in its present form continues to remain relevant, considering the present times? Is it truly effective to meet future tri-service officer requirements?

Ans: It is time for the armed forces to look at technological interface that is going to play big role in future wars starting from Infantry soldier to full-fledged weapon system.

New types of warfare and futuristic trends like unrestricted warfare, cyber and space attacks by our adversaries in crippling our war efforts is going to play big role and therefore we must put in place these parameters while selecting suitable candidates for their aptitude and leadership qualities in such environment.

A case in point is Technical entries (TES) are performing far better than their counter parts in NDA due to better futuristic warfare awareness and technological trends. The Indian Navy long back upgraded to having BTech officers.

Q. Is the present SSB system functionally linked with the diverse tri-service training requirements? Do you feel it realistically meets both the broad and distinct end user requirements of all the three services?

The Indian Army for instance has various ‘arms’ and ‘services’ which require varying temperaments, aptitude levels and training requirements based on the operational profile.

Keeping that in mind, how can the diverse human resource needs of a modern military organisation be effectively catered towards?

Ans: The requirement of three services is extremely diverse yet basic requirement of selection of candidates in officers stream remains the same at SSB level. For instance, the requirement of combat pilot and technical manpower dealing with maintenance of aircrafts, missiles and armament in the Indian Air Force are extremely diverse.

We therefore must identify suitable candidates at the SSB level who have common basic competency and identify specialised competency framework during their training at the respective academies.

For this suitable competency frame work model needs to be identified so that efforts are not repeated and correct man power is identified at  an early stage of their  training. To conclude, future warfare will require highly motivated, technically aware  and innovative leadership to handle extreme combat environment.

Q. What should the tri-services do at both an intra-service level and inter-service level in order to review, revise, refine and re-establish their officer selection systems without the involvement or interference of the DIPR?

How would you propose they meet their selection needs in a way that is sync with their actual training needs and service requirements?

Ans: Notwithstanding the roles identified in their mission statement, let us perceive what are the jobs actually performed by DIPR. Firstly, there is the training of psychologists, GTOs and IOs in the theoretical aspects of each technique before the conduct of ground training at SSB.

Secondly, the posting or providing civilian scientist (Psychologist) at the SSBs. Thirdly, to carry out technical inspection of SSBs including standardization and fourthly to carry out research on military psychology and man machine interface.

What options are available to the armed forces in event of disbandment of DIPR. Can a reorganised structure perform all above mentioned jobs and also carry out additional responsibilities of providing clinical and counseling care to military persons and their families. Towards that military psychologist must advise Commanders and COs on unit wellness and its performance in difficult areas and combat situations.

Reorganisation of DIPR after Disbandment

There is a need to create a Military Psychology Directorate under the aegis of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Moving on, selective high potential civilian junior scientists could be side stepped from the DIPR to the new organisation so that they are accountable for the work they perform to the major stakeholder.

Alternatively, services of civilian psychologists could be hired to assist as stop gap measure till we train our own cadre of such officers. Furthermore, psychologists and clinical counselors need to be treated as special assets which assists the armed forces in maintaining its high morale and motivation.

Trained officers in fields of Psychology be reemployed or hired to make up the initial short fall. The creation of Military Psychology Cells to be located   with formations starting from Division level to all the way to the Battalion level in field and counter insurgency areas. This will provide firsthand experience in assessing the problem areas and issues faced by troops who are operating in harsh environment.  

IOs and GTOs should be selectively absorbed after enhanced studies in Psychology and not fritter away trained resources in mundane duties once their tenure at SSBs is over. Indian National Defence University (INDU) will have greater role to play once established.

The SSBs must adopt new trends and scientific instruments to assess candidates online before they report to the SSB. For instance, the Meyers-Brigs Type Indicator test be administered online. This test measures four dimensions and 23 facets of personality type in an individual in a time bound manner.

Many such instruments are available to measure common competencies like measurement of OLQ and specialised competency framework required for certain assignments in combat like fighter pilots, special forces, submariners etc.

Some of the instruments which may help assessors/psychologist are, the Personality Attribute Questionnaire (PAQ). This instrument reflects and measures candidate on ten different factors; primary among them are energy, stability, assertiveness, and collaboration. These factors are very well related to the following OLQs: Liveliness, social adaptability, self-confidence, and cooperation.

The Motivational Analysis of Behavior (MAO-B). This instrument assesses the candidate’s level of motivation on various factors; viz, achievement, affiliation, control, influence, dependence, and extension. These factors are very well related to the following OLQs: Ability to influence group, courage, and initiative.

Test of reasoning. This case study-based questionnaire is customised after in-depth study of the OLQs and new trends like ethics, moral character etc. This instrument intends to measure the following OLQs: Effective Intelligence, reasoning ability, speed of decision, organising ability

Q: Recent media reports highlight that the is SSB far from infallible. In context to that, what are your observations on the degree of objectivity and level of transparency in the SSB procedure?

Is the system fair to prospective candidates aspiring to the join the defence services as officers or doing passionate and capable young aspirant a disservice?

Ans: Overall the SSBs have performed quite admirably since its conception barring few aberrations. However, all candidates who go through the grind of five days of selection process have the right to know their short coming and area of improvement. This entire process should be transparent and the candidate should be briefed accordingly to give an overall impression of fairness, transparency and objectivity which is sadly lacking.

About the Interviewee

Colonel Pradeep Dalvi (Retd)

Colonel Pradeep Dalvi (Retd), was commissioned into the Mechanised Infantry and has served in the Army for 29 years. During his vast military career, he has held several prestigious appointments. He is an alumnus of Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington and has served with the United Nations.

He has been an instructor at Army War College (AWC) and in faculty of the Senior Command Wing. Post retirement, he went on to start his second inning with the prestigious Tata Group. He is presently a consultant with a corporate firm and a core member of the 'Victory India' campaign.

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