Military & Aerospace

Cutting Army Flab
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 14 May , 2016

The irony of India is that government after government has asked the Army to downsize without telling them what is the ‘Right Size’ of the Army the nation should have? To arrive at the ‘right size’, you need a national security strategy (NSS) and a comprehensive defence review (CDR). Unfortunately, the present government has also not initiated such process despite completing two years in office. The Army raised HQ 14 Corps as a consequence to the Kargil intrusions and HQ South Western Command in response to Op ‘Parakram’. The Long Term Integrated Procurement Plans (LTIPPs) are chalked out in absence of a NSS and CDR. Are anymore examples needed for adhocism in our defence?

As per media, the Army Chief has ordered a study to determine how the force, battling a fund squeeze, can be right-sized. The study is to be completed by end August for initiating targeted reductions to improve the force’s tooth-to-tail ratio — the number of personnel (tail) required to support a combat soldier (tooth). The report says that the Army Chief’s order have come barely five months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that “modernization and expansion of forces at the same time is a difficult and unnecessary goal”. So one may surmise that this is study is in-line with similar studies that the Army periodically conducts. If it was direct consequences of the statement by the Prime Minister, as the media suggests, why should the Army Chief wait five months to order it?

…in response to the CJI sobbing that the judiciary is short of 70,000 judges, a Twitter blogger wrote, “There is shortage of 52,000 officers and soldiers in the Indian Army, Don’t hear them saying we can’t defend Siachen”.

On the other hand, it appears because of MoD’s faux pas of the Defence Minister publicly stating that the defence budget allocation for the current year is adequate, while the Defence Secretary Mohan G Kumar has admitted before the Standing Committee of Parliament for Defence has that India’s military spending for 2016-17 “is not as per the requirements of the Services”.

But when the Prime Minister said “modernization and expansion of forces at the same time is a difficult and unnecessary goal”, what does it imply? There is a need first to examine what is the ‘expansion’ that the Army is seeking. It is difficult to comment on the manpower needed because not being in public domain, only the Army would know the figures.

However, in response to the CJI sobbing that the judiciary is short of 70,000 judges, a Twitter blogger wrote, “There is shortage of 52,000 officers and soldiers in the Indian Army, Don’t hear them saying we can’t defend Siachen”.

Shortage of 9,106 officers in the Army is already in public domain. Whether Army is also short of 42,894 in addition to officers is again something that the Army would know. But whether the overall shortages are 52,000 or whatever, the simple interpretation is that this figure is indeed available to the Army for ‘expansion’.

Here again, ‘expansion’ should not be misconstrued as expanding an empire, but ‘reorganization’. One fact that a whole cross-section including media misses out completely is that digitization, technology, introduction of operational information and management systems etc (full fielding of which are 10-15 years away) will initially need a ‘surge’ in manpower till the required technical expertise is built across the board pan-Army.

The officer shortages are likely to only increase with the civil control of the military remaining with the bureaucracy, instead of the political authority (as it should be) and more significantly 7th CPC recommendations downgrading the military to lowest ever levels.

What figures were actually proposed for cut would be known to the Army HQ but going by news reports, Army has cut more than 14,000 jobs between 2005 and 2013.

IDSA has recently revealed that the inputs given by them to the 7th CPC were not considered as a whole but picked up selectively; the aim being to deflect blame of downgrading military on IDSA.

MK Dhar, former Joint Director IB wrote in his book ‘Open Secrets – India’s intelligence unveiled’ that based on Congress directive, all BJP and RSS meetings were audio-video taped for two years (some 123 tapes in IB archives) but when the Babri Masjid demolition was inquired into, only those 26 odd tapes with element of doubt were produced that put the entire blame on BJP. The Mathur headed 7th CPC followed same crafty tactics, consequences for security of the nation not being of any concern to them.

Studies to downsize, right-size, call it what you want, have been undertaken periodically by the Army. If media reports of a decade back are looked up, you would find headlines of then Army Chief ordering Central Command to undertake a study for cutting down 50,000 manpower. Obviously, the study must have been thorough, looking at every possible avenue.

Why cutting ‘flab’ only (whatever that means), a member of the study disclosed discussions went down to levels of considering reducing number of barbers in an infantry battalion from four to two. One wondered whether the companies minus barber would allow going the mercenary’s way with free flowing hair and beards. To cut the story short, the media finally reported the study had concluded it was not possible to cut 50,000 manpower of the Army. What figures were actually proposed for cut would be known to the Army HQ but going by news reports, Army has cut more than 14,000 jobs between 2005 and 2013.

Media finds this number miniscule compared to 3,00,000 cut in PLA not realizing the vastly different threats, environment and army deployments in the two countries. Besides, how many know PLA cadres are deployed globally in Chinese development projects in garb of civilians? Can anyone guess how many PLA officers are posted in the Chinese Embassy at New Delhi, with even Counselor level officers having served as Brigadiers in the PLA?

…where was the need to establish a second OTA when the first one was under-subscribed. Adding a second one for political appeasement implied that many major-captain level instructors less in the battalions.

Officer shortages in Indian Army have aggravated at cutting edge by extraneous factors, for example, where was the need to establish a second OTA when the first one was under-subscribed. Adding a second one for political appeasement implied that many major-captain level instructors less in the battalions.

Coming to the Teeth to Tail ratio, this has been examined in-depth through all such previous studies. Even the above mentioned study targeting 50,000 cut in manpower examined pruning maintenance and support echelons but arrived at the conclusion that while in peacetime some of the requirements may be transferred to private agencies (like servicing and maintenance of certain category vehicles), requisite maintenance and support would not be feasible during mobilization (Op ‘Alert’) even in affluent regions of Punjab, leave aside sustaining combat across the borders. Such problems would naturally aggravate during prolonged deployments like Op ‘Parakram’.

Additionally, even in metros like Delhi, seeing the size of our population, can the civil infrastructure take on say servicing, maintenance and repair, that too in the required time-frame? Having said that, it needs to be remembered that any army marches on its stomach, where stomach does not signify only food but the complete gamut of back up. Even if a little out of context, it is significant to note that the cutting edge in the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is only one-third of the overall force, balance two-thirds being support elements.

One of the major problems faced by the CRPF (designated as the main CI force) deployed in Maoists areas is that CRPF units do not have the type of administrative backing that the Army, the RR and even the AR have, which has a direct bearing on morale and efficiency of the fighting force. Pruning Army manpower has been ongoing over past years as fallout of numerous studies – by now this should have reached bone level. However, more such studies should take into account following:

Nations big and small have resorted to replacing ‘boots on ground’ with ‘boots by proxy’. In India, we have failed to grasp the strategic significance of irregular forces…

•   CI commitments of Army have not reduced despite hundreds of Police and CAPF battalions added and more being raised.

•   Sub-conventional conflict will increase pan-India with the China-Pak nexus going stronger. This will include our northeast – where there is already upsurge of violence in Arunachal. Future CI deployments of Army will likely increase.

•   China already has a Brigade worth PLA deployed in Gilgit-Baltistan to guard the motorway with PLA troops doing road opening in civilian trucks. Three additional PLA Divisions are being raised for deployment along the CPEC (parallel to the IB) right down to Gwadar. These will back up Pakistan’s Army Reserve (North) and Army Reserve (South). Remember warning by China to the US some years back that if Pakistan is attacked, China will defend Pakistani territory.

•   Reduction in our offensive formations should be examined in the above context. Besides, subordinate formations in some Strike Corps are dual tasked. Strike formations are also threats in being, value of which may not be understood by many.

•   Reduction of manpower in logistics units should be examined in the context that part of them will also have to guard their own posts-camps-installations against irregular forces, least we land up in a situation where infantry has to be rushed to their SOS signals.

•   Technology can help reduce manpower but as mentioned above, infusion of technology will require ‘surge’ in manpower initially till the required technical expertise is built across the board pan-Army. This has been the experience in all modern armies, which can be studied. A major consideration also should be that the technology first must arrive and applied before we start implementing manpower cuts. Look at the drastic cuts in manpower operating merchant ships globally. Such cuts were affected after applying technology, not in anticipation.

•   Nations big and small have resorted to replacing ‘boots on ground’ with ‘boots by proxy’. In India, we have failed to grasp the strategic significance of irregular forces. Therefore, we continue our inward looking policy barricading our house, requiring more manpower and resources but bleeding in the process.

The irony of India is that government after government has asked the Army to downsize without telling them what is the ‘Right Size’ of the Army the nation should have?

A favourite target of the media is sahayaks in the Army, quoting the IAF and IN who do not have such system. The sahayak is actually a ‘buddy’ in field and in conflict situations. The conditions of service in the Army are very different from the IAF and IN. Sahayak is not authorized to ‘every’ officer and JCO. If there is instance of misuse then due action should be taken but removing them altogether is not recognizing ground realities.

Interestingly, a DIG level ITBP officer in mid 1970’a staying in civil area was ‘authorized’ 11 people; 4 x for his security, 2 x sahayaks, 1 x runner, 1 x cook, 1 x masalchi, 1 x gardner, 1 x dhobi. What is the status of such ‘authorized’ strengths in Police and CAPF today may be of interest to the media. Some views have been aired in media about scope of cutting down manpower in organizations like the Military Engineer Services, Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA), Directorate General of Defence Estates and the Ordnance Factory Board etc, but here you are largely talking of civilians that under MoD, and therefore holy cows. It is for this very reason that while The Kargil Review Committee recommended the DGQA and the Directorate General of Armed Forces Medical Services (DG AFMS) be placed under HQ IDS, they have remained under MoD. Would the present government place the DGQA and DGAFMS under HQ IDS?

The irony of India is that government after government has asked the Army to downsize without telling them what is the ‘Right Size’ of the Army the nation should have? To arrive at the ‘right size’, you need a national security strategy (NSS) and a comprehensive defence review (CDR). Unfortunately, the present government has also not initiated such process despite completing two years in office. The Army raised HQ 14 Corps as a consequence to the Kargil intrusions and HQ South Western Command in response to Op ‘Parakram’. The Long Term Integrated Procurement Plans (LTIPPs) are chalked out in absence of a NSS and CDR. Are anymore examples needed for adhocism in our defence?

If manpower and money savings are indeed the aim, why only an Army study, why not a military study?

The Defence Acquisition Council approved the current LTIPP 2012-2027 and the 12th Five Year Plan, which were based on defence allocation at 3% of GDP but defence budgets have always been way below. Yes, we need more funds for modernization.

A delegation from our National Defence College visiting China was surprised to see PLA officials in uniform wearing coloured socks; red, green, blue, black, even yellow. PLA had taken a conscious decision not to issue socks for five years in order to save money.

In our case, the OFB produced rucksacks are so useless, troops buy their own or regimental funds are used to supply troops. However, this is on the lighter side. If manpower and money savings are indeed the aim, why only an Army study, why not a military study?

Appoint a CDS and give him primary tasks of: producing the draft NSS and initiate the CDR; recommend reorganization of military to include Integrated Theatre Commands and Integrated Functional Commands; oversee the revolution in military affairs under the political authority. Reorganization to save manpower should include organizations under the MoD to include the DRDO-DPSUs-OF and other entities of the governmental defence-industrial complex. This would not only give savings in manpower but colossal savings in expenditure, making adequate funds available for modernization. Isn’t there a mismatch in our reducing manpower in Army while increasing those of above civilian heavy organizations?

Don’t we notice that civilian defence employees are eating up 45% of the defence pension budget – which will get worse with 7th CPC?

Don’t we notice that civilian defence employees are eating up 45% of the defence pension budget – which will get worse with 7th CPC?

The DPP-2016 has just been announced but what has been issued is still incomplete. The DPP should define structures and organizations outside the MoD to implement the defence production and procurement policies. On balance, the need of the hour is to have not just a DPP but a DPPP – a composite Defence Production and Procurement Policy. It would be good for the Standing Committee of Parliament for Defence to oversee execution of the DPPP in institutionalized manner. This would also prevent sub-standard equipment by DRDO dumped on the military at exorbitant costs – ushering in accountability in the governmental defence industrial complex.

As to the Defence Budget allocations, a good model we could adopt is that in the US where Theatre Commanders and SOCOM Commander giving pre-budget presentation to a congressional committee stating what the current combat capabilities of the force are, what budget they demand, and what will be the rise in combat capability of the force if the budget demand is allotted. In our case, such presentation to by Service Chiefs / Theatre Commanders (when established) could be institutionalized to the Standing Committee of Parliament for Defence in presence officials of MoD, MoF and the CDS once appointed.

Many would not know that to work out the establishment of HQ IDS, 10 days were allotted. So, it has taken more than 10 years for the organization to stabilize somewhat. Hurried studies prove adverse to capacity building done over years. Yes Army has become top heavy whereas more cutting edge level officers are needed.

One example is Military Operations Directorate had five sections when we liberated Bangladesh and took 93,000 Pakistani prisoners. Today it has 12 sections. If there is a case to merge Military Operations with Perspective Planning, this is something for Army HQ to decide. But yes, the Army has become top heavy because of upgradations, forced upon from the top by giving the same rank badges to Police and CAPF besides lowering the military pays and pensions while raising those of the Police and CAPF. Finally, reorganization within the Army and the Military are must and should be ongoing.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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8 thoughts on “Cutting Army Flab

  1. Sir,
    Certain systems like sevak or orderly of the colonial army has survived, we must think whether such system are in tune with modern Democratic system to which India belongs. Also, why should there be non-combatants like orderly and why should officers have people to do their jobs? Our army needs to think of this system and how to deal with it.

    God save India.

    Deepak Ghanvatkar

  2. Dictionary defines ad hocism as, “The tendency to establish temporary, chiefly improvisational policies and procedures to deal with specific problems and task”. Without spelling the aim of this exercise are we not weakening an established organisation in the name of cutting the ‘flab?’ Winning a war requires synergy not only among the three services but full support of the government and the people. Defence preparedness, in simple terms, means readiness to meet an attack from an adversary or to attack the adversary and win a war. This is a function of strength and intention of the adversary, own strength in manpower and quality of equipment, doctrines and training and, national will. The strength of own Armed Forces also depends upon by the quality of their leadership, levels of training, ability to absorb and high technology weapon systems and use them effectively. As you qualified yourself, the top brass in the military is too heavy and that requires correction by reversing the rank structure and bettering their pay and perks. The rank badges of all other forces too must be different from that of the Armed Forces to avoid seniority/physical identity confusions.

  3. A Strategic thought is inevitably highly pragmatic.It is dependent on the realities of geography,society,economics, and politics,as well as on other,often fleeting factors that create conditions to the issues & conflicts war is meant to resolve.It is thus imperative that a Nation State spells out its National Strategy first & documents it . In India,it is unfortunate that we do not have a documented National Strategy.The National Security Strategy is but a part of the overall National Strategy.It is derived out of the former.India in the past 69 years has not as yet been able to tell the outside world her Vision,Aims & Objectives – & after all what does she want to do & what place is she seeking in the comity of Nations.It is because of this fundamental lack of assertion that all our policies are half baked & knee jerk reactions.In International Relationship,there are no permanent friends or foes but only permanent interests(fluctuating) that matter. These are supreme always & every time.We have seen reflections of this weakness in all our National Policies.China & Pakistan Policies are cases in point.To illustrate further,our relations with all our neighbours are other glaring indicators.It is high time that the three Chiefs sit together & project this issue with the RM & PM,& thereafter,an Apex Body be instituted by the PMO to formulate & draft a National Strategy in consultation with other Ministries & representatives of other Core Sectors.Consequent to documentation of the National strategy, all Ministries shall then work together under national guidelines to maintain National Interests that remain supreme -always & every time.Unfortunately,our policies at various Ministry levels work in isolation & in water tight compartments.In view of the aforesaid,the Chief cannot work in isolation & order the Study to cut flab & downsize the Army.Our Def Budget is just about 1.7 percent of our GDP.The meaningful exercise should be to increase it to at least 2.5 percent

  4. This is a wonderful article-straight hard hitting and a no nonsense approach to very specific questions our politicians have avoided so far! Why should our Defence Ministers be politicians who have to learn warfare from scratch? We should have senior defence officers duly whetted-no boot lickers allowed!
    I think falling in line, whenever an iresponsible Mod sneezes is now absolete!

  5. A well researched article which has rightly brought out that the first step is th appointment of a CDS who should then lay down the NSS & CDR. The Ministry of Defence & Defence Civilians should be included in the study, since the Defence Civilians account for 45% of the Defence budget. Before imposing cuts, the growing China-Pakistan nexus against India must be seriously considered in detail , lest we regret later, as we did in 1962. This time, the Chinese may not withdraw unilaterally!

  6. Before reducing the army personnel, India should study the army of say Germany, France, USA, UK etc. First one should see how many assistants an officer is allocated in those countries. If an officer is allocated one assistant, then in India an officer with similar rank should be allocated only one assistant.
    It is very important to have a detailed study stariting from assistants. But it should be in line with the prominent countries I have suggested. If you follow this pattern right number of personnel needed for the army will be derived and right budget will be approximately figured out and then refined for accuracy.

  7. This has been going on since 1962.Not much seems to have been achieved. There is no long term national plan.Every Chief of the Army Staff orders such studies and by the time the study is completed ,he is no longer in service.It is for the National Defence Council to spell out the likely threats and lay down the terms of reference.Not the job of Chief of the Army Staff to carry out such studies in isolation.The study should be comprehensive and cover the Ministry of Defence,Ministry of Home Affairs ,Ministry of Information and other departments of the Government which are involed in matters of defence against external threats and internal security.

  8. The purpose of the study should be to turn flab into muscle. In my opinion India has a teeth to to tail ratio of 10:1 in 1947. In the spitting image of the Neta-Babu overlords, it is now 1:10.

    The Army chief should be careful not to fall prey to jealous elements and do away with things like the “Sahayak” to pander to the jealousy of the Neta-Babus who misue many number f peons and constables for their personal work leaving the citizen without Government services for which he is taxed, and turn the Army into a further socially engineered reflection of India’s unfit for purpose Courts, Bureaucracy and Police.

    Rather the focus should be on doing away with the camp-in-uniform. For example, there are any neumber of redundant generals who do no genralin outside the golf course. Some fifteen years ago I ran into a twenty five year old “Subehdar” who had been recruited into the Army catering service. He was from a batch recruited to provide a U.P. Politician’s mistresses son.

    To do this, the Army needs to ask the Neta-Babus to spell out clear mission and objectives for the Army and engineer itself to meet these. Implicit will be the Army’s inability to deal with emergent tasks that Neta-Babus invent for it as they are unable to cope, all too frequently, with monsters that arise from their own incompetence and unfitness for purpose

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