Military & Aerospace

Rightsizing the Military: The Need for a Comprehensive Examination
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 24 May , 2016

The Defence Minister has recently announced the formation of an eleven member committee led by Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar (Retd) tasked to look into areas of “overlap” and convergence within the three forces – Indian Army, Navy and Air Force – allowing for a reduction of manpower It will also identify areas to “rationalize manpower”, examine possible areas of multi-tasking by troops and also suggest ways to “optimize” the combat potential by induction of more technology as against more boots on the ground.

…the MOD spends more than Rs.1000 Crores annually on pay, allowances and establishment of Ministry of Finance personnel who are attached with it.

This is being undertaken to primarily ensure that the burgeoning revenue expenditure, the monies spent on pay and allowances and on pensions among other things, is brought under control and to ensure more funds are available for capital expenditure, especially acquisition of modern weapon systems. As Mr. Bhartendu Kumar Singh, of the Indian Defence Accounts Service, in a recent article in the Eurasia Review points out “the Accounts Branch of the Indian Air Force, for example, has 492 commissioned officers and 7,000 men catering to the pay matters of 1,60,000 officers and men in the Air Force. On a competitive note, the same can be provided by 300 people on the civilian side very easily.”

There can be no two opinions that such a detailed examination is necessary and must be undertaken periodically, except to suggest that the period of three months given to the Committee to complete its task seems grossly insufficient, if they are to do justice to this critical issue. In fact, one can go further and suggest that the Defence Minister has not gone far enough by restricting this examination only to the military and the reasons for this are not far to seek.

The MOD, for example, has sanctioned posts of 5,85,000 civilians, which is more than the active strength of the Pakistan Army. It doesn’t end there, as the MOD spends more than Rs1000 Crores annually on pay, allowances and establishment of Ministry of Finance personnel who are attached with it. The civilian manned Military Engineering Services spends nearly double the amount of the work it does on its own establishment costs, as is the situation with the Defence Research and Development Organization which only utilizes 39% of its budget on research and development and the remainder on establishment costs.

…the per capita expenditure on 25 Lakh military veterans or their kin amounts to approximately Rs. 1.5 Lakhs annually, while the 4 Lakh civilians paid from the defence pension budget receive an average of Rs. 5.38 Lakhs a year…

In a similar vein, the other critical issue is that of the burgeoning pension bill, which in the current year is expected to touch Rs 60,000 Crores after having taken into account the sanctioning of OROP, though it still falls short of expectations of the veteran community. While reduction of manpower will certainly go some way in controlling this issue, the fact is that the per capita expenditure on 25 Lakh military veterans or their kin amounts to approximately Rs. 1.5 Lakhs annually, while the 4 Lakh civilians paid from the defence pension budget receive an average of Rs. 5.38 Lakhs a year, which will shoot up astronomically as and when the 7th CPC is implemented.

These examples, if taken to their logical conclusion, clearly show that priority needs to be given to reducing civilian manpower paid from Defence Estimates, before we even look at reducing non-combat manpower of the services. The fact is that civilian pensions, despite catering to one fifth the number of military pensioners, utilizes approximately 36% of defence pensions, and given our difficulties in ensuring employment, even populism suggests it is better to reduce civilians who cost five times more than to reduce the military.

Finally, on the question of ensuring that capital expenditure is given pride of place in our defence budget so as to ensure our forces are adequately equipped to deal with any contingency. The truth is there is much more to this issue than just the question of adequate budgeting. If we were to look at the capital expenditure portion of our defence budget for the past few years, it is striking that on an average, between 8 to 13% of the amount allotted remains unutilized. In fact for the FY 2015-16, it was as high as 13.4%, amounting to returning Rs.11505 Crores. This should count as criminal negligence, given the poor state of our weapons and equipment, on the part of those within the military responsible for procurement.

…instead of setting up new committees, the Defence Minister would do well to implement the report of the Naresh Chandra Committee…

This, however, is where the issue gets complicated. Over decades the Government in power has always shown its “firm commitment” to protecting our national security by allotting adequate funds to the MOD, despite whatever may be the financial challenges that the government may be facing. As is the wont of any smart home-maker, the Finance Minister too, manipulates the budget to cater for unforeseen or unexpected situations. While he cannot touch revenue allotments as that is fully committed, he does take full advantage of the capital allotment to meet unexpected expenses. With the active connivance of the MOD (Finance) all bureaucratic measures are put to good use to delay or derail the procurement process, resulting in vast amounts remaining unspent. As an added bonus these are then attributed to either failure on the part of the Services to follow laid down procedures or lack to of clarity on their part.

Mr. Parrikar is well known for his remarkable intelligence and clarity of thought, like one of his earlier predecessors, Mr. Krishna Menon. Like him, he too may find his own reputation dented somewhat, if he too, continues to look at issues through blinkers and acts in haste. It makes little sense to cut off your nose to spite your face as not just the military but the complete Ministry of Defence needs to undergo extensive surgery.

To start with, instead of setting up new committees, he would do well to implement the report of the Naresh Chandra Committee and the recommendations of the Group of Ministers of the earlier NDA Government under Prime Minister Vajpayee. By just ensuring this he would have done yeoman service to this Nation.

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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

Brig Deepak Sinha

is a Military Veteran. He is a Visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation and a Senior Visiting Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation, Chennai.

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9 thoughts on “Rightsizing the Military: The Need for a Comprehensive Examination

  1. Brig Sinha
    A timely article if not late. One way of tackling this teeth to tail ratio is to change the induction/ recruitment criteria of AF&HQ cadre. Any one applying for this cadre should agree to be posted to active units for a minimum of 2 years during his service. Thus you may be able to replace the PRI staff of the units and also get the babus to become more aware and understanding about defense matters. Secondly, lateral absorption of officers and men should be instituted. This will take care of reducing recruitment of the AF&HQ cadre.
    But basically, political masters have to take hard decisions.
    Best wishes

    “At a time when major powers are reducing their forces and rely more on technology, we are still constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces. Modernisation and expansion of forces at the same time is a difficult and unnecessary goal.”- Prime Minister NarendraModi during address at the Combined Commanders’ Conference in December 2015.( POINT TO BE NOTED COMBINED COMMANDERS CONFERENCE AND NOT ARMY COMMANDERS/ AIR FORCE/NAVY COMMANDERS CONFERENCE AND THUS THE ONUS IS ON THE MOD AND ALL THE THREE SERVICES AND NOT ANY SINGLE ONE).Articulating global, regional and national strategic environment and politico-military concerns, the Prime Minister exhorted the Defence Minister and the Military Commanders to promote “JOINTNESS” across every level, shorten the tooth-to-tail ratio, and re-examine assumptions that keep massive funds locked up in inventories.
    Defence Minister ManoharParrikar has set up a 12-member committee headed by LtGen DB Shekatkar (Retd) to suggest structural changes in the Army, the IAF and the Navy on cutting down flab and reducing revenue (maintenance) expenditure (THE MANDATE REMAINS FOR THREE SERVICES ONLY AND NOT FOR THE CIVIL MILITARY ORGANISATIONS BEING PAID OUT OF DEFENCE BUDGET). Its recommendations will entail doing away with posts that may have become redundant due to technology, and to ensure that addition of new equipment (modernisation) does not mean a corresponding rise in the personnel strength of the forces.
    Major problem is the ever-increasing revenue expenditure on manpower which leaves less than 20 per cent of the defence budget for weapons and equipment modernisation. The Indian army today is the third largest in the world with over 38,000 officers (sanctioned strength is 49,631 officers) and 11.38 lakh soldiers. Cadre reviews and implementation of the A V Singh Committee report has m

  3. I civilan cadre of the MOD should be compulsorily attached to Field Units of the Army/Navy & Airforce for a stipulated four year period. This shall ensure that they have a front seat at understanding the hot seat they personify, It may surprise some MOD Civilians, that they actually form the expansive Tail of the Teeeth to tail ratio. Which they eagerly consider redundant.

    I guess, a tour of active duty should knock sense into these arm chair employees in the MOD.
    Atul Prakash

  4. Low Capital expenditure, surrender of unutilized funds is a common phenomenon. Slow, cumbersome procedures and red-tapism are standard features one is accustomed to it. The real challenge is to speed up the decision making process. Will Mr Parrikar be successful to cut the Gordian Knot? One is not very optimistic about it, as several well meaning Ministers in past have just failed to change the system. Let us hope that at least some recommendations of Shekatkar committee actually get implemented. Implementation of recommendations of most of the committee / commission reports has always been tardy. Some inconsequential, minor recommendations do get implemented, otherwise reports gather dust because on examination by bureaucrats, they are found to be un-implementable and status quo of file pushing with no decision is maintained. Past precedence of committee reports implementation does not inspire any confidence.
    A critical issue is that 45% of defence pension’s outlay is consumed by22% of defence civilians of MOD needs to be addressed on priority. Let us hope Defence Minister pays equal attention to prune heavily bloated Defence civilian employees paid out of defence service estimate. Why does Govt not consider induction of retired Service personnel on re-employment with requisite skill as in Group B, C and D cat jobs in MES, MOD, Ordnance factories and DRDO etc. It will enable personnel from three services another stint as civilians and reduce pension burden. Reorientation of retired personnel will not be an issue in new environment

  5. An excellent article which calls a spade a spade!!! My compliments to the author. However, if past trends are to be considered, the reports and recommendations of committees and commissions which strive to tell the truth are never implimented! It doesnt make a difference if 1962 is repeated or Siachen is lost- so long Delhi is not threatened directly it really doesnt mattr for the system that is strangulated by babudom.

  6. A very well written article. It goes to prove that poor Gen Shekatkar will be looking at the less important aspects instead of catching the bull by the horn.

    The terms of reference of the Shekatkar committee will be interesting to read to see if the crucial aspects have been covered. As you have said Naresh Chandra committee report and the Group of Ministers recommendations should be gone into so that the good work done then is not wasted.

    The composition of the 11 members will also give a clue as to the teeth the committee has.

    Ram Naidu

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