• 05 December, 2022
Geopolitics & National Security.
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Tour of Duty – A Regressive Reform

Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd) Sat, 28 May 2022   |  Reading Time: 5 minutes

“The Indian soldier costs the minimum and delivers the maximum”

It is often said that the only recipe for a certain victory in the war would be American military hardware, British doctrines, German generals, INDIAN SOLDIERS and an Italian enemy.  The commitment, dedication, zeal and professionalism of the Indian soldier are unmatched, he fights for the izzat of his unit – ‘Naam, Namak, Nishan’. As India celebrates Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, the 75th anniversary of independence, it is the soldiers, sailors and air warriors of the Indian Armed Forces who have contributed to our national security, making unparalleled sacrifices.

While all major organisations the world over including those with high technology, struggle to recruit and retain quality manpower, the Indian Armed Forces are being instructed to roll out the ‘Agneepath’ or the ‘Tour of Duty (ToD) hitting at the core strength of the military – the finest soldiers, sailors and air warriors.

As reported, the ToD named ‘Agneepath’ is likely to be rolled out in early June. The scheme envisages a four-year service including a six-month training period.  “All recruitment in the three services will be through the ToD route only.”  Purportedly on account of COVID 19, there has been no recruitment in the armed forces for over two years, leading to a deficiency of 10% of the authorised strength amounting to over 100,000 troops. This deficiency is now likely to be made up by recruiting Agniveers under the Agneepath Pravesh Yojna or the Agneepath Entry Scheme.  (Soldiers recruited for a ToD).

Agniveers may now comprise 50% of the armed forces as henceforth the recruitment will be only for a ToD. To attract the youth under ToD the government plans to give salaries and other benefits at par with the regular soldiers as also a severance package of 10 to 12 Lakh Rupees after four years. The Government also plans to incentivise the scheme by giving post ToD opportunities for a second career, as those relieved from service will be in the age bracket of 22 to 23 years.

The recruitment is planned to be pan India, and, on recruitment, the ‘Agniveers’ will be required to serve in any regiment irrespective of the existing cast composition of the regiment. In the existing structure all combat and combat support arms – Infantry, Armoured, Mechanised Infantry, Artillery and Engineers are based on a regimental system with a fixed class composition. The regimental system has been the battle-winning factor for the Indian Army where every soldier takes the ownership of fighting for the ‘Naam, Namak, and Nishan’ of his unit and regiment.

The driver for this radical plan is the burden of the pension budget on defence expenditure. For the year 2022, the allocation for pensions is Rupees 1.2 Lakh Crores out of the Rupees 5.25 Lakh Crores defence budget, both for the defence and civil employees.  This is approximately 25 % of the total defence budget and undoubtedly more than the capital expenditure earmarked for modernisation. This supposedly ‘Out of the box’ solution to rebalance the defence budget is based on a cost-benefit analysis without factoring in the adverse impact on combat effectiveness, operational readiness and defence preparedness.

It is a given that on account of competing priorities at the national level, the defence budget will remain limited and stressed. However, as a responsible, resurgent, and a regional power aspiring to lead the world, India will need to be a military power. As is evident from the just-concluded meeting of the QUAD leaders, India is a key player in the emerging world order.

Coming back to the drivers of this hair-brained scheme, possibly being propagated and pushed by powers who do not comprehend the intangibles that contribute to the Indian Armed forces being one of the most battle-hardened and combat-effective force in the world. The unproductive defence budget and the perception of a bloated salary and pension bill especially for the Army are often considered a burden that the nation can ill afford, however, security, peace and stability are imperative for the economic development and well-being of the 1.4 billion Indians.

National security comes at a cost. Bharat Karnad writes, “It may be recalled that based on the projected economic growth rate, and assumption of annualised 10 per cent increase, the defence budget was expected to reach the 3 per cent GDP level recommended by the 11th Finance Commission by 2004. In reality, the defence budget has stagnated at the 2-plus per cent of GDP level, and budgetary increases have barely kept pace with inflation. The result: No buck, no bang! Still, the armed services have managed somehow to be contended to live with disputed borders with China and Pakistan. How? Don’t ask.” An apt summation of the (in) adequacy of the defence budget given our present and future security challenges.

The uneasy ceasefire along the LC and a changed modus operandi by Pakistan backed terrorists in J&K, reinforce the relevance of the ‘Man behind the Machine’.  The two-year-old standoff at the LAC wherein China’s aggressive behaviour is more evident with the construction of the second bridge over the Panging Tso, a major security concern violating our territorial integrity. The fact that there has been no escalation along the LAC post-Galwan can be attributed to an effective retaliation by Colonel Santosh Babu and his soldiers, as also an effective and proportional deployment by the Indian Armed forces in quick time demonstrating a strategic resolve and resilience.

On the other hand, the PLA is known to have faced major issues in high altitude deployment despite the advantage of a multi-modal state of the art infrastructure, as the soldiers who are 40% conscripts ie on a two-year tour of duty are not motivated and experienced enough to face the hardships. The PLA soldiers lack the dedication and commitment as they look over their shoulders for an easy life and benefits after being disembodied. Rather than learning the correct lessons from the ongoing standoff along the LAC and the Russia-Ukraine war, wherein the importance of experienced and dedicated manpower stands reiterated. The soldier continues to be the ‘Cutting Edge’ even in a high technology networked battlefield scenario.

The Agniveers recruited under the Agneepath Pravesh Yojna (ToD), will lack the motivation, dedication, commitment, experience and ownership to complete missions at all costs. There is bound to be risk aversion, which is normal when a man/woman sees it as a tour to jump-start his chosen career later. It takes four to five years for a recruit to become an effective member of a team gaining experience and self-confidence. Soldiering is all about ‘high risk-high returns’, teamwork, a sense of belonging and trust leading to mission accomplishment. The Agniveers will mostly be risk-averse as they look over their shoulders for a comfortable life beyond the tour. The ToD recruits may fill the numbers and tick some boxes but in a combat situation it could be a disaster, as every member of the team in a section to a submarine has to function in complete sync and harmony.

There are other more pragmatic doable options to optimise the limited defence budget. Even after the corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board, there are still over 500,000 civilian employees in 27 Organisations under the Ministry of Defence paid out of the defence budget. A major optimisation exercise was carried out by the Shekatkar Committee in 2016 to ‘Enhance the Combat Effectiveness by Optimising the Defence Budget’. Though some of these recommendations have been implemented like the OFB, there are others which need to be implemented to optimise the manpower.

The Modi government has demonstrated a will to take and implement hard decisions and the remaining recommendations could be implemented. However, The ToD concept needs to be shelved as this will degrade the very fibre of the armed forces and is detrimental to national security, especially given our varied challenges along the Northern and Western Borders. The strength of the army is the regimental system which should not be tampered with, at any cost.

Soldiering is not a profession, it is a passion. The spirit of soldiering is epitomised by the eternal words of Captain Vikram Batra “Yeh Dil Mange More”. Will the Agniveers relate to these words, most doubt?

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Image reference – Indian Army – Bing images


Author
Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, PVSM, AVSM, SM, (Retd), is a former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), Indian Army.  He writes on wide ranging subjects such as Regional and National Security, International Relations, Special Operations, Human Resource Development, Operational Philosophy, and Multi Domain warfare.

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POST COMMENTS (5)

Col R N Singh

Jun 01, 2022
It takes couple of years for a Jawan to become a soldier. Three years is too less a period. The minimum period a soldier must serve is upto 15 years. Thereafter this highly trained and battle hardened soldier will become an asset to the Govt and gets absorbed in other Govt sectors like Police, CRPF, RPF, BSF, BRO, Fire Brigade, RRF, COAST GUARD, Hospitals, Primary Health Care Centres and even offices where they can serve for another 25 years and earn their pension from the department they retire from. This will enhance battle efficiency of defence and also reduce pension burden on defence budget.

Kalidan Singh

May 31, 2022
Indian army is trained to fight WWII. Indian soldiers are very brave, they obey orders. Today's army is the army of one. Each person must handle data-processing, handle AI enabled weaponry, think innovatively and creatively. Today's army rests on intelligence, data, AI, logistics. Ukraine is telling us this in capital letters. Innovation, creativity, initiative, logistics, intelligence - are not our strong suites. We should worry, we are not likely to fight WWII again; we are dealing with a new reality.

V JAGADESAN

May 31, 2022
TOD IS NOT PRACTICAL IN ANY COUNTRY BECAUSE IT CANNOT NOT PRODUCE THE BEST OUT OF A MAN/WOMEN. THE DEDICATION, THE ZEAL, MOTIVATION, WILLINGNESS TO SACRIFICE THE SPIRIT TO FIGHT, WILL TO RESIST AND STAY IN DIFFICULT TERRAIN AND THE TENDENCY TO GIVE UP WITH OUT FIRING A SHOT. INDIA IS THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD WHERE THE TROOPS ARE TRAINED TO FIGHT AT DIFFERENT TYPES OF TERRAIN AND SOLDIERS OF TOD WILL BE ONLY MARKING TIME FOR DISCHARGE RATHER THAN STAY TO FIGHT. IN ANY WAR THE INITIAL 7 TO 10 DAYS ARE VERY CRUCIAL BECAUSE FROM A BARACK LIFE TO AN EXTREMELY VOLATILE AND A LIFE AND DEATH CONDITION IT WILL BE AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK FOR PART TIME SOLDIERS TO STAY AND FIGHT. ONLY SEASONED AND BATTLE INOCULATED SOLDIERS ALONE CAN STAY AND FIGHT. THE MAIN REASON IS THE FUTURE WARS ARE NOT GOING TO BE A PROLONGED WAR TO FIGHT BUT ONLY A SHORT AND A FIERCE INTENSE BATTLES LASTING FOR FEW DAYS OR FEW MONTHS. TOD WITH NO ATTACHMENT TO THE SERVICE WILL NOT BE WILLING TO SACRIFICE HIS OR HER LIFE. LATE GEN CHAUDRY THE EX COAS USED TO SAY AN OFFICER IS CONSIDERED FIT TO BE AN OFFICER ONLY AFTER 10 YEARS OF SERVICE. AN OFFICER TO BECOME A REAL LEADER IT TAKES THAT MUCH TIME AND SIMILARLY A SOLDIER CANNOT BE AN EXCEPTION. WE REQUEST OUR GOVERNMENT NOT TO VENTURE ON SUCH EXPERIMENTS WHICH MAY RESULT IN A DISASTER, AND IT WILL BE PENNY WISE POUND FOOLISH. WE HAVE UNLIKE OTHER COUNTRIES ENEMIES ON ALL THE 4 SIDES (EAST, WEST, NORTH AND SOUTH) INCLUDING LIKE WHAT OUR CDS LATE GEN BIPIN RAWAT USED TO SAY THAT WE WILL BE FORCED TO FIGHT SIMULTANEOUSLY THE TRAITORS WITH IN OUR COUNTRY. JAI HIND AND JAI JAWAN.

Raj Jagga

May 29, 2022
Shekatkar commitee recommended closure of ordinance depots. Depots closed but Civilian employees refuse to move to their new place of transfer. Government is giving salaries to these non working employees. Per chinta not..Fear of strong unions ..vote bank etc etc. DRDO sinking money..koi chinta nahi.. Ordnance factories not profitable ..koi chinta nahin.. Bank frauds ..koi chinta nahi.. The Armed Forces pension bahut chinta. Nehru still must be turning in his grave because he listened to Krishna Menon and we suffered defeat. The present leadership which has taken many a swipe at Nehru are doing the similar damage. Hope we don't suffer again! God help our country.

Jack

May 29, 2022
The most complex thing in this ToD would be fixing the medical liability. Its a catch 22..do these temporary soldiers get any medical benefit post their service for attributable medical issues. If its not given or the scale is reduced then they would not be motivated like normal entry soldiers to put their life or limb at risk, as also brought out in the article. If medical compensation is given at same rate as for all, then we would find the fauji medical fraternity and the units bombarded with their medical issues at the end of their ToD. No one would leave without a piece of the cheese.. and yes a fair share of litigations... Meanwhile, the HR transition in the armed forces is taking a hit due to the gap being generated by no intake for last 2 years. Its will be another issue for the future Tigers..i mean the unit commanders

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