- Cadet intake into IMA and NDA is at an all-time high
- Experts say shortage of 11,000 officers is of the army's own making
- It has created a top-heavy structure with superseded and aging Lt colonels and colonels stagnating in peace stations
- 3,000 officers are looking for premature retirement. The army has no exit policy.
- The Air Force has 3,050 pilots when it only requires 1,700 of them.
- Yet it claims a shortage of 1,528 officers.
But on April 16, Antony threw up a surprise. He told Parliament the Indian Military Academy (IMA), which trains officers for the Indian army, was actually running beyond its full capacity. While it can train 1,650 cadets, the IMA is currently training 1,683 cadets. Similarly, the National Defence Academy (NDA) "has also been functioning at full capacity except for the first batch of 2008,” said Antony. The subtext of his statement was that there are enough aspirants to join the forces. So if the training academies are running to full capacity, is the "officer shortfall" real?
Lt General H.S. Bagga, ex-director-general of personnel who spent eight years studying the problem and wrote the seminal Bagga Commission report, feels it "isn't real.” "Look at it this way," says Bagga. "Every year, I am taking in nearly 1,600 officers. Most of them are permanent commission officers while some are short service. If I could reverse this and make the majority of them short service and a core group permanent, then my shortages disappear."
Most of the perceived shortage, says Bagga, is at the 'combat level', from lieutenants, majors and lieutenant colonels. "With a large number of officers stagnating at the higher ranks, my force is getting older and the young ones don't have avenues to grow. This is the problem. Give them an honourable exit policy after 8-10 years of service and you'll see this problem disappear." Bagga's study was amalgamated into the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee report that gave faster promotions to officers. But many feel had Bagga's original recommendations been implemented in toto, there would not have been this so-called shortage.
One aspect of being permanently commissioned is that an officer cannot quit even if he is superseded. Army HQ sources say there are nearly 3,000 officers at the levels of lieutenant colonels and colonels waiting to quit as they have been superseded. But the army is reluctant to release them. It's worried that a revamp of manpower policy would mean trimming its top-heavy hierarchy too.
Defence analysts like K. Subrahmanyam have been calling for a smaller army with better teeth-to-tail ratio (more fighting men as compared to logistic support). Agrees former director general, military operations (DGMO), Lieutenant General V. Raghavan. He feels the army's lopsided manpower policies have created this "artificial" shortage. "Let's have a core group of permanent commissioned officers and a larger group of short service commission officers. These younger officers will lead the platoons, conduct operations, grow in service. And you can dilute the standards of intake for short service commission officers to improve intake. You don't have to train every one of them to become a field marshal!"
Raghavan also points out the danger of creating a situation similar to what happened after the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 when a sudden influx of officers led to severe anomalies in subsequent years. "As these officers were promoted, we ended up having so many senior officers ready to command battalions, which simply weren't there."
The army says its 'operational' shortfall hovers around 11,000 (in an overall requirement of 46,616). This, say experts, is of its own making—a situation has been created where there is a glut at the Lt Colonel rank and above. At this level, if an officer does not get promoted, he stagnates for 12 years. He becomes ineligible to serve in a battalion and the army, facing a crunch where it matters, is stuck with redundancy higher up.
Bagga's report listed five exit policies. This, he says, would ensure that more men join the army, serve 10 years and leave, while a core group continues to grow to occupy the senior ranks. Points out Bagga: "I listed out five exit slabs — (1) study leave without any clause to serve further, (2) an opportunity to take up a university course at the army's cost; (3) a golden handshake or (4) allowing them to appear for any civil service exam in their 13th year of service; or (5) tie up with corporates to absorb those superseded."
Like the army, the IAF too claims it has a shortage of 1,528 officers. Asks former air chief S. Krishnaswamy: "Where is the shortage if your squadron strength is steadily falling and your number of pilots are going up?" A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation by him shows "one of the worst pilot-to-cockpit ratios in the world.” Air Force documents say the number of fighter squadrons comprising 14 aircraft each will go down from the present 30 to 28 by 2015. Points out Krishnaswamy: "The best thing to do is to let people go after 10 years of service. It's the only way we can make things work. By holding back officers forcibly we are creating an artificial shortage at the cost of operational preparedness."
The air force has a pilot strength of 3,050 pilots. This is way above the 1,700 pilots the force requires. "We need to seriously consider options to run our forces in the most economical manner. Otherwise, subsequent budgets will not be able to support our manpower," says Krishnaswamy. Presently, pilots are being sent on deputation to fly state government aircraft. Jammu & Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu are among the states which are served by IAF pilots.
The world over, modern militaries are going in for a leaner and meaner force. But the Indian army is still dependent on conservative World War II templates, especially when it comes to manpower recruitment and deployment. With a fat midriff and a heavy top, the army and the air force has flab which it owes to itself to get rid off immediately.
- Have a small core of permanent commissioned officers while having a large support base of short service commissioned officers or SSCOs. The SSCOs will be given an easy exit policy with the option of two years study leave at government expense. They will also be given assured admission to a post graduate college on release and also made members of the Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS).
- Make in service intakes such as Special Commission Officers (SCOs) and Special List Officers (PC SL), more attractive by refining the schemes and also provide promotions up to the rank of Col for SCOs and Maj Gen for PC SL officers.
- Improve the 10+2 Entry Scheme by carrying out SSB for students while they are still in class XI, and their medical when they are in class XII. Thereafter their graduation will be sponsored by the government and they will join as short service commissioned officers both for the technical and non-technical streams. He added that while there would be non-UPSC entrance exam for technical streams, a UPSC entrance exam would still be held for non-technical streams.
- The status of Army officers has steadily declined over the years.
- The Army Officers poor career progression opportunities, which are coupled with early retirement age.
- Frequent postings, low emoluments, attractiveness of the corporate world and an unsettled life coupled with higher risks make the service more unpopular.
- An archaic exit policy that gives a feeling akin to being bonded labour has become a barrier for fresh entries.
- SSCO entry continues to be unattractive as there are no incentives for those leaving after completion of their short service commissions.
- Exponential increase in force levels that has been coupled with large number of officers seeking pre-mature retirement.
- Better pay and perks.
- Improve intake into training institutions.
- Carry out in-house measures to make service in the army more attractive by reviewing policies and refining incentives.
- Lumpsum grant of Rs 10/14 lacs on release.
- Two years professional enhancement leave after eight years of service.
- Concessions for appearing in Civil Services entrance exams.
- Lateral absorption in PSUs/CPMFs/CPOs.
is now very high. He also brought out the disparity with civil services where only 0.43% officers make it to Maj Gen in the army and 21.4% make it to joint secretary in the civil services. He highlighted the major recommendations of the AV Singh committee report:
- Early promotion of battalion and brigade commanders to maintain a young profile in command.
- Time based promotion to rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
- Time scale Colonel at 26 years of service.
- Minimum of Brigadier’s pay to all officers in the last year of service.
- Creation of an additional rank of Colonel General.
- In service training of officers for second career.
- VRS to officers overlooked for promotion.
- Increase In select rank vacancies as under :
- Colonel General 88
- Lieutenant General 20
- Major General 75
- Brigadier 222
- Colonel 1484
- There is a need for generating awareness programmes indicating the Army’s strength at a national level.
- There should be a campaign for image building through National Cadet Corps, Branch Recruiting Organisations and media.
- Intake in Sainik Schools/Military Schools should be improved.
- States should be encouraged to run schools for preparing young people for Armed Forces.
- Advertisements for the Armed Forces should show the “cost to company” and not merely the salary and allowances.
- The Ministry of Defence must establish a separate cell to manage manpower related issues.
- At the national level, the Army should be considered as a special service which is controlled by the MoD and not by the Department of Personnel and training (DoPT).
- Salaries and allowances of Armed Forces should not be governed by a pay commission but by a permanent Pay Review Body that is established only for the armed forces.
Maj Gen Surjit Singh: - Having been associated with the 4th and 5th Central Pay Commissions (CPC), Maj Gen Surjit Singh said that even after a review of the 6th CPC recommendations there are several anomalies. He highlighted that all scales have been created for civil services and the military has been inserted in as a ‘force fit’. The creation of the Pay Band 3 and Pay Band 4 is an apparent ploy to divide the officer cadre into two classes. The other anomalies that were brought out are:
Army Commander’s salary has been pegged below that of a Director General of Police for the first time.
- A benign fear of getting superseded at each rank after the rank of Colonel.
- Retirement ages being early an officer retires at a time when his children are either at a marriageable age or pursuing higher studies.
- Resettlement avenues are limited and hence detrimental to young blood joining the Army.
- Turbulence and separation from family is a common feature.
- The service routine is repetitive and hence lacks growth. This is further stunted by mediocre leadership that snubs initiative.
- To make matters worse, premature retirement applications are rejected on petty grounds amounting to ‘reverse conscription’, making the military a veritable mouse trap.
- Every officer must be imparted at least one skill or specialisation at service expense.
- Industry should be motivated to employ Army officers.
- Lateral movement of officers to Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs)/Central Police Organisations (CPOs)/Central Para Military Forces (CPMFs) must be implemented as recommended by the 6th CPC.
- One rank one pension which is a long standing anomaly must be resolved at the earliest.
- Most politicians and bureaucrats in other countries undergo basic military training before they get into government. Even is India there should a provision for all IAS officers and those of attired central services to undergo training at NDA/IMA and serve an attachment of about five years in army units. This would give them a better understanding of what the Army is all about when they are in various ministries and at decision making levels.
- Even if there is disparity in rank structure of the military and civil servants there should be parity of salaries at par with the number of years of service.
- The proposal of carrying out SSB for students of class XI and medical in class XII for those who are selected coupled with a stipend for the entire duration of the students graduation will not be successful. This is due to the fact that there will be a big gap between the selection and joining and a number of students will fall prey to the lure of the corporate world in this duration.
- The biggest advertisers for attracting talent in the Army are those who are already in service. Yet the percentage of sons of Army officers joining the Army is abysmal. There is a need for introspection with regard to this.
- A number of self-imposed restrictions such as signing of five year bonds after long courses/UN assignments and three year residual service after study leave must be done away with. In any case it is seldom that officers ever get to do assignments post study leave commensurate with their specialisation.