Military & Aerospace

Military Service through a “Tour of Duty”
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 18 Jun , 2022


On 29th of July 2020 a brief write up by me was published in the Indian Defense Review (IDR), it was titled ‘Indian Army: A Nation Builder through Character, Leadership and Industry’. In this article the objective was to draw on the strength of our Armed Forces to highlight how they could be gainfully utilize as a National Resources  to the advantage of the Nation and in so doing also add to the respect and pride of the Armed Forces as such. The article  also hinted at how the ‘so called financial crunch’ or burden of funds which was supposedly telling on the country’s exchequer could be rectified by gainful engagement of the Armed Forces.

The model being adopted in the Western Countries with specific reference to the salutary efforts by Israel (Three Years) and America( Four years Service) too were briefly touched upon as examples to illustrate both aspects; how Armies and persons from defense forces were respected and sought after by Governments and Corporates and how these individuals have contributed to revolutionize the Defense Industry, or Corporations. Respect, Skills and Opportunities were the three important aspects with National Character and Pride being the bedrock.

The Tour Of Duty

The concept renamed as ‘Agnipath’ was ceremoniously announced by the Raksha Mantri in the presence of media and military brass.  A spontaneous debate erupted in social media , mostly critical . Apparently and to the best of my knowledge feedback from Commanding Officers since it is they who form the cutting edge was somehow missed out.A former Army Chief, now a Minister of State in the government, is reported to have said that he was not aware of the details of the scheme since he was not part of the team which was formulating it. That reveals a lot about the government’s intention.

The relevance of small unit operations at section and platoon levels would indicate the path to follow in order to retain and build on the regimental spirit, culture and customs , command and control as well as discipline, not to forget the importance of Skills, Technical Ability , in the absence of which, operational responsibilities would suffer. Integration of all ranks as a cohesive team had to be given due thought.

The Tour of Duty as announced leaves much to be desired. It could be refined further to make it acceptable to both , the recruits and operational requirements. Some issues ,positive and negative are given below.

The Good:

    • It offers to make up the shortfall in manpower through a competitive system.
    • The Armed forces get to weed out Non Performers at an early stage ( assuming that at least 25% of them would like to be retained ).
    • The Armed Forces are expected to get more literate and technically savvy recruits.
    • The financial aspects appear appealing although when compared to other services like Police and other government jobs it does fall short of expectations. Not much of a cost cutting can be expected though.
    • The financial package being offered is such that a large majority of our youth cannot think of earning in a four year time span. An amount of 11 to 12 lac, the opportunity of doing a graduation and a promise albeit veiled to be laterally adjusted in CAPFs, I say veiled because there is no firm commitment in terms of percentages reserved for such individuals.(recently announced that there would be 10 percent reservation in CAPF’s).
    • It is of course voluntary, therefore, those who wish to may opt for it others ought to avoid criticism since they chose not to opt for it.
    • As per official sources at the highest levels, the Government and the Armed Forces are open to suggestions and modification . As an indication of the above, two things have happened , the age limit raised to accommodate those who had been waiting over the past two years, one of the biggest fears amongst the serving and veteran community was the destruction of the regimental system, as per latest announcements this shall remain as it is( Reference Tribune of 17 June).

The Weak Areas:

    • Issues of command and control, integration and trust or dependability on such ‘Agniveers’ remain questionable. And this is most important at the Unit, Subunit levels. Thus it poses a challenge to Commander at all levels, Commanding officer downwards. Therefore the need for a feedback from them becomes all the more important. Generals don’t fight battles, soldiers under competent Junior Leaders Do.
    • The recruitment areas in our case are rural based, given the large population and levels of unemployment, the youth from these areas can be expected to lose out. The relatively simple minded rural youth will be replaced by a more aware urbanindividual , aware of his rights , yes , but what about responsibilities? Are we in for more cases of indiscipline? Rural unemployment will remain unaddressed!!
    • As compared to the West; America and Israel in particular, technology is driven more from the lack of numbers in population, in addition, they fight no wars on their own soil, thus loss of ground is not an issue. Israel on the other hand has generals from the IDF participating in National Policy making and Strategizing quite unlike the environment in India where they are not even part of the relevant Cabinet Committee.
    • Levels of population and unemployment being so large as they are , such a scheme can never be a’ win win ‘for most. 
    • A promise of jobs with an eye on the next elections and induction of an additional burden of 2.5 lac employees in the MOD is hardly indicative of Budget constraints ! To all eyes it appears to be more of a political gimmick.
    • Employment through lateral shift remains a question mark and has been stymied over several decades. As a knee jerk response, one can read about how various ministers have been unleashed as wild fire damage control to seek or give assurances of re –employment to those who are not absorbed.
    • Four years is too short for any concrete training and can be expected to back fire.To expect the ‘Agniveer’ to be trained in soldering as well as acquire diploma in a particular skill or even a degree is too ambitious an agenda. The Army cannot be another ITI.
    • Re-mustering  after four years and the loss of seniority  is not likely to go down well, it will invariably have an adverse effect on command and control.
    • The biggest challenge for a Unit commander will remain ‘Integration, Team Building , Dependability and Trust with life’ under battle conditions.
    • Thus the Unit Commander is in a most unenviable situation with operations on one hand and managing a ‘Semi Trained, untested’ individual who may be responsible for lives as well as National Pride /embarrassment . Given today’s transparent environment and Human rights Activism( Nagaland as an Example), this would be most unfair.
    • Credibility and acceptance of degree certificates cannot be taken for granted for jobs in Corporates or elsewhere. One must keep in mind the quality of such ‘education or skills’ in today’s market, jobs in industry are dependent on markets forces and growth.
    • The laudatory high flying expectations of training the Agniveer to levels of such great highs where they will be entrusted to handle sensitive and intricate technological equipment like Radars, Aircraft and so forth leaves much doubt and brings to mind the false promises made in the past .

Possible issues for consideration:

    • Increase the tenure from 4 to 10 years. This is considered the optimum time taken for a soldier to be battle ready/trained and integrated.
    • Give a lump sum amount for pursuing higher studies.
    • Give an assured ‘Lateral Induction’ into CAPFs, Railway Protection Force and State Armed Police Forces with seniority retained at the end of the tenure as an option.
    • Reduce recruitment in CAPFs proportionately , this will save on Pensions, OROP, NFFU as well as costs of recruitment.
    • Retain the Regimental System, the experiment post 1984 of mixed class Units failed and all of them were reverted back to the original fixed class.Infantry comprises one fourth the strength of the Army which is based on the regimental system. Thus three-fourth Army and Air Force and Navy is ‘All India All Class’ based. Therefore there is no need to tamper with the Infantry Regimental System.
    • Recruit technical talent as a separate pool of talent for the IAF, IN and certain Services of the IA. For these a different set of terms & conditions could be worked out.
    • Cut the unproductive flab of Civilians in the MOD.


The difference between Western Countries and the requirement of our Nation needs to be understood. Strategy for National Security is not a ‘One Template Fits All’ and cut paste solutions be avoided. Other than Israel all other countries have their armies battle ready to fight in ‘Out of Area’ operations. Just imagine what it takes to motivate a boy or girl to lay down their lives in another country for a cause unknown and often criticized later.

The IDF in Israel  has been made so strong that hostile neighbors have not dared an attack on Israeli territory for more than decades.

The Tour of Duty in the form of Agnipath –Angniveers  has failed to retain focus on the impact on operational efficiency. Having been announced the Government is now going full throttle to project it as the best thing ever. The fact is   that in America and Israel the Governments have made policies to ensure that not only the serving but also the Veterans are respected throughout the Nation whilst in India the converse is true. Should anyone want evidence , take a look at  the litigation in progress  in various courts.

Today the trust deficit in Politicians and Government Officials is apparently so high that Senior Officers both serving, Veterans and political leaders being called upon to promote the Agniveer Scheme is being looked at with suspicion and mistrust. The focus has been on the good it will do for the youth while ignoring all aspects of how it will affect the National effort at ensuring an Army Capable and Enabled to fight through all given spectrums of warfare. This in the wake of the Russian Experience in Ukraine.

An unenviable task , all public statements need to be left to the Government of the day to address and amend. Any statement by those in uniform or veterans is not likely to go down well with the masses and environment.  Unless suitable changes are addressed and quickly too, this may well turn out into a Political Battle like the ‘Farm Laws’ or ‘CAA’ therefore best that it be left to Politicians to handle. The Agnipath scheme designed to solve the problems of an aging army and ballooning defence pensions could end up, at best, only compounding them.

As with all such schemes, the manner in which this scheme has been  used for political mileage with the promise of ‘Employment ’to youth as against the need for a Strong National Approach  on Security and strengthening the Armed Forces leaves one wondering? Is the eye on the forth coming lokSabha elections in 2024 by then the Agniveer process would have just about begun its recruitment . Is it aimed at becoming a game changer for political victory leaving tax payers holding the ‘Can’ or a game changer for the country’s armed forces?

The final word; if the costs of Pension Bills is hurting so much, why single out the Defense Forces alone? If the additional 2.5 civilian employees can be paid from the Defense Budget and every other Government  Service including CAPFs can get OROP and NFFU does it not warrant an overall review in entirety? The focus needs to be on building a Strong Defense Force, take steps to generate a sense of National Character and Pride amongst them and in the hearts and minds of citizens by treating them with respect , that’s what they are willing to give their lives for.

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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 Pradeep Sharma

a regularly contributes defence related columns to news dailies.

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