Military & Aerospace

Making of a Defence Officer
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Men govern with words.” — Disraeli


For the survival and progress of the country, strong muscular defence and vibrant economy are two basic pre-requisites. Both are interdependent and will have to be catered for growth simultaneously. For ensuring that, the country will have to have an enlightened defence counsel, who understands the problems of maintaining and equipping of the country’s armed forces and all issues connected with the security. Same way a specialist on economic issues is too required who advises the country about the sound economic policy vis-a-vis the defence services. In our case, the country has started asserting herself very lately. Due to the hostile posture recently taken by our northern neighbour, it has been necessitated for having a well defined National Defence Strategy along with sound and implementable defence doctrine based on practical threat perceptions and preparations of the adversaries on both fronts.

Experts through Rajya Sabha. There is an acute thinking doing the rounds in the country as to why cannot we have a defence expert through Rajya Sabha, who has the proper knowledge of defence requirements of the country. The framers of the Constitution of the country, were very clear about such issues and Rajya Sabha was given to the ruling dispensation as a route for such necessary appointments of subject experts in all fields. To the bad luck of the country, Rajya Sabha, presently, is being used to settle the defeated and failed politicians and that is why there are some voices and noises for even having Rajya Sabha at all, as such, when the desired use of the qualified experts is not being made through it. And that is not without any meat. If the postulated demands of the country are not met by Rajya Sabha, then why to have it. At least the country can be relieved of huge financial and administrative burden of having Rajya Sabha.

Defence and Security Matters. Half hearted and casual approach to defence and security matters can be very, very and very costly. In the past, the same sense of negligence has caused four wars on the country by the hostile adversaries. In this context, the story of the Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru, once thwarting the suggestions of Gen Sir Claude Auchinleck for retaining the battle hardened, excellently trained and well organised army of World War II and later in 1962 after getting severe knocking from China, begging President John F. Kennedy of USA for immediately sending 12 squadrons of fighter jets and bombers etc. etc., needs no retelling. Stronger will prevail and that is the nature’s law. Those who ignore the realities today will pay heavily tomorrow. Even the survival can be in jeopardy, if no heed is paid. The nation has to remain active, alert and vigilant on the matters of defence, econometrics and diplomatic matters.

Officer Corps and Country

For running any organisation, maintaining a corps of officers is a must, be it a civil or military outfit. To give directions for achieving the desired goals, various rules and regulations and policies are framed by good and talented officers and got implemented accordingly. In the civil, the main concern is only with the system and one is concerned generally with his personal desk duties, whereas in the armed forces it is directly connected with human element which is very huge and most important. One as an officer has to work in concert with other human beings and is not alone. The officer therefore has to organise, train and fight for the accomplishment of mission with his men. Based on the same philosophy, the wars are fought, where an officer is the symbol of servitude to his men, armed forces and the nation.

Wars are the constants of history and have not diminished with modern and enlightened civilisation and advance of democracy. War, thus has to be carried on systematically and to do that, the country must have good military officers. There are no other means to obtain them but by establishing the army on permanent basis and give the officers good pay, respect and status. That will induce gentlemen and men of character to engage for armed forces and till the bulk of our officers are composed of such persons who are actuated by principle of honour and spirit of enterprise, the country will have little to expect from them.

Officers and the Indian Armed Forces

Defence services are the major sinews of the nation and no country can progress without proper upkeep of the defence forces, as mentioned earlier. Defence services on their part, must select the right type of officers and men and train them, the hardest way. They should be equipped with the latest technological weaponry, at whatever cost that is available. Educated, mature and qualified officers and men are the requirements for fighting the future hybrid wars. Arming of the adversaries with new gadgetry is dictating us for that. The introduction of drones and other latest weapons has already changed the face of the war as seen recently in wars between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Israel and Palestine (Hamas). Consequent to all this, significant changes in organisation as well as rethought on national strategy and defence doctrine are over due.

Archaic Practices. Time has come for the country to give the defence its due importance and come out of dictates of colonial policies based on archaism and Indianise the system of the working of defence services. We should understand that the method used by the British for employing British Indian Army, in war was of slaughter and massacre, while fighting against the Indian princes and other rulers. They were only interested in the spoils of war and not bothered about casualties on either side, as it did not affect them, because all killed were only Indians. Now we are a democratic country and interest of every soldier is our own concern. We would like to win, accept casualties but not the huge and unreasonable slaughter and massacre of our trained men, without the reciprocal gains.

Our officers lot are the men of men and not cruel like colonialists. In view of this, to be an officer is not the solemn right of a city based English speaking lad but of all Indians, who are mentally robust, physically stout and agile and morally very high. The present system of selecting officers, using English language, as a mandatory requirement, is hugely discriminatory, in respect of ruralites who are treated unfairly.

Other World Armies. We should get out of this British pattern practice, which still takes the rural India as “village fools” It straightway discards the eighty percent population. We should do as the other nations of the world do. Development and growth of the strongest land forces of Russia, highly technologically advanced and powerful air forces of America and France and powerful naval forces of China and rest of all others too, follow indigenous processes of selecting and training their respective officer corps making hundred percent usage of mother tongue/national language. Germans and Japanese produced wonderful armies during World War II and progressed and mastered methods of warfare by following national narratives through national languages and local folklores as important stimulant. Here I wish to clarify that English has become a global language today and we must be proficient in it. The aim of my writing is that selection should not be discriminatory and against the spirits of Constitution of India by which we keep swearing day and night. For such an important job as that of an army officer, level playing field is a fundamental necessity. English has got us where we are in the IT field. English or ‘Hinglish’ has truely  become an Indian language, spoken in different ways with different accents all over the country but mainly in towns and cities. In some ways it unites, not divides our nation. Countryside is however definitely bereft of good English learning facilities.

Democracy and Armed Forces. Defence services with extraordinary requirements and being under the pressure of awesome responsibilities, need robust, iron willed, intelligent and men of high morals as officers, who can steer the organisation to victory against heavy odds. Such an element is first to be selected and then trained and guided to lead the men in battle. They should come from all sections of the democratic society and cannot be the prerogative of few public school pass outs. Every one of general public though cannot become an officer and as such system of selection and training has to develop one’s qualities, abilities and capabilities which help to deal with the enemy four square. The fact is that the material, say clay, should be good. Any toy can be made of it. Nothing can be constructed out of sandy and brittle soil. Officers besides in academies are made in the units, their institutions like officer messes, clubs, training institutions, in practical exercises and while dealing with live enemy. It is a continuous process. One learns continually and there is always one more thing to learn, for the man who wants to learn.

Officers and Army Ethos. Officer corps in defence services is a different caste, race or class. We may call it so, because when the time for the reckoning comes, he has to be at the right place. He would be constantly checking the conduct of the battle, stationing himself, where he is in the best position to influence the action, to commit his reserves, to call for additional fire when and where needed and finally goes all out to accomplish the mission at all costs, may be his own life. As such officer is the backbone of the system and ethos, traditions, convictions and standards etc. are created and passed from one generation of officers to the other through such practices. These dedicated souls working with such narratives, coax one to take the flag to the end, where death and destruction stalk around constantly. For selection and training of such a class, the following points deserve due consideration:–

    • Enrollment in the Defence Services. War is neither understood nor fought by babies but by fully developed, rugged and grown up individuals. It is not a simple affair and we must not learn only by sacrificing the ‘teenagers’. The day one goes for training for defence services, he should be robust, stout, mentally matured and tough man. Geneva conventions are clear about it. As per their directions no one below 18 years of age is to be recruited as a soldier. The time is gone when there used to be “Boys recruitments”, “Boys Regiments” etc. for feeding the units. The country has advanced a lot in education and to get the graduates for recruitment in the armed forces for other ranks is not at all a problem. You give a call and see the fun. You will get all sorts of candidates. If adopted, it will change the whole canvas. It is suggested that for every entry in the armed services, be that of other ranks or cadets for training in academics for officer’s corps  one should be minimum a graduate except for entry into NDA, which is like a refined college but prepares and trains the cadets for commissioning in officer’s rank. This single step of taking graduates can prove to be a panacea for smoothening all the edges of recruitment in the organisation, be that technical, technological or otherwise. Then taking maximum percentage of officers through ranks will be easy and advantageous.
    • Also, it is to be known that next war will be a technological war as well as a two front war, as far as India is concerned. As its nature is, it will be fought by small groups of educated and mentally developed and tough individuals, engaged in form of independent operations. It therefore becomes important to ensure that our junior leaders are highly educated and their minimum qualification should be graduation to understand and face the complicated technological combinations.
    • Services Selection Board and Academic Standard. At the outset, let us be clear about one thing that civil government is supreme in democracy and bureaucracy has got it own role in the corridors of power. They not only deal with the internal issues, but also they are all masters of diplomatic wrangling and cankering while dealing with all the countries of the world. The use of English language is more important for them than the Indian Army for obvious reasons. They however select their candidates using mother tongue as the medium of examination and who are later trained in English and other languages at the academies and while in service. How come that defence services are not budging an inch and have made an issue of having English as mandatory medium of expression for selection for officer rank. It is sheer fallacy rather a mischief perpetuated upon the fortune’s lesser darlings – the ruralites, by the hegemonic educated society of towns and cities.
    • Training and Commissioning in Defence Services. The training for officer’s rank should be carried out in IMA, OTA and other academies of the other two services. Anyone coming through NDA, CDS, ACC or any other speculated entry should only be through these academics and the training should be organised on permanent basis. To run some other academies here and there for commissioning of few specific cadets will be harmful for the growth of culture of defence services. The established academics are the centres of learning and treasure houses of values, heritage, convictions, beliefs, faiths and traditions. These institutions are the life blood for developing leadership traits in officers. NDA is not just like any other colleges conferring BA and BSc degrees. It imparts the training on personality development and inculcates the traits required for leadership. It is meant to produce high quality future warriors, who would do as nodal officers for Services. It is an important feeder to IMA and other equivalent institutions of other defence services.
    • Young Leaders Training Schools. A point to note at the outset is that a student by the time he reaches the stage of graduation will have imagination, clear cut ambitions and firm resolve for his problems, and can make fine officer. This scheme highlights the big change in our system. Indian Army has already started programmes, say on experimental basis, at OTA Chennai to identify, select, train and provide seasoned soldiers a chance to become  officers which was not possible till now on proper scale. Sizeable strength of the officers, then can be made up through Young Leaders Training Schools. Such candidates will have the advantage of age, education and military training having already got at various regimental training centres. However NDA and CDS entries will be core entries of the system of selection and training of officers. New entry through ranks will solve lot of other problems. Probable cadets, be selected within first five years of their service and should spend about a year at IMA and other equivalent institutions of other two services. At the SSB they can be selected for regular commission, short service commission and even for JCOs rank depending upon their abilities, capabilities and potentialities. There is no dearth of the suitably educated youth in the country. India in fact is providing youths for various other countries of the world including the best destinations like USA, UK, Germany and France etc. for various other fields and as such there is no dearth of qualified youths, who by this time, would have developed ideas, temperament and discernable attitude towards life.
    • The candidates appearing before the Services Selection Centre should be permitted to express in their mother tongue, Hindi, or Hindustani which is a mixture of simple words of all Indian languages. The most successful industry of the country – the Bollywood, uses this combination by including English words/phrases. One cannot fully express and show his potentialities in foreign language. Yes, we can have separate written test for English language for assessing vocabulary, grammar and general standard but perfect the candidates in English in the academics. No Indian should be discriminated, on such ground for getting commission in the armed forces. Battles are a matter of life and death, costing flesh and blood. It is fought by rugged, die hard, dedicated and patriotic persons who are motivated by a passionate sense, pledge of duty and acute sense of responsibility. History of Indian wars, fought by Indians, for India’s integrity and sovereignty are testimony to it. English has got no role to play in such ventures. Yes, it does serve to procure a chair in devastating circumstances of war for the ‘experts’ and ‘bureaucrats’ of defence services.

Training of NDA

National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla, Pune is an esteemed institution of the country. Best facilities are available and its contribution to the Indian defence services has been phenomenal. Some of the ex-NDA officers have done well in wars and have been the role models for others. Standard of the training and developing officer like qualities have been worthy of emulation. However lately, certain activities conducted in the academy, are anathema to the mind of elders. Ragging of cadets beyond a limit, punishing, snubbing and cutting the very enthusiasm of spirited youth is being followed without any remorse and that is neither in the interest of the cadets nor of the academy. The first critique is that killing the spirit of creativity, sensitivity and reflexivity is bad in any form or manifestation. Second critique is that even under normal circumstances this sort of activities, kill originality, authentic expression and unique and independent analysis. If we teach them to ‘keep quiet’, ‘observe silence’ and ‘speak only when you must’ and use other such expletives, it is simply killing the talent and interest. Purposeful training is not filling the pail, but lighting the fire. He, who becomes or made to feel afraid of asking, will be ashamed of learning. They are to be inspired and taught self discipline, which is, when one’s own conscience guides him. Love them and make them self respecting individuals. When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. Develop them to be mature, having pride in themselves and imbibing manners. A kind welcome is better than a good dinner and it is applicable to all of us.

Aims and Objective

National Defence Academy is a premier institution of the country, which prepares the selected youths for its defence services, for the officer’s rank. Here the cadets are made to learn the core values of life, needed for development and growth to be the future key military leaders. The honour code of the academy is – “A cadet will never lie, cheat and steal, nor he will mislead or deceive any one.” The values of these words is very demanding and important and these will not be learnt automatically by joining the academy nor by keeping the cadets in cocoons under horrifying control and snubbing and punishing on each and every mistake or lapse. These will be learnt under the guidance of highly educated and enlightened instructors, educators and educational psychologists and not under the hard nosed commanders, hard taskmasters, fire eating warriors and frightening contemptuous instructors. They would have to be developed and made into gentlemen by educating, encouraging and helping to correct mistakes. This rare raw material is to be made into a finished good but by a qualified artisan only.

Developing Personal Qualities. There are two aspects of the life of a defence services officer. One is the personal qualities and the other is the professional capabilities. NDA is responsible for inculcating personel qualities. For developing professional capabilities, Indian Military Academy and Officer Training Academy are very suitably staffed and equipped. NDA is responsible to develop character qualities like uprightness, confidence, courage and sense of duty and responsibility ultimately crystallising into integrity. Integrity is the rigid adherence to the code of behavior probity, which is constant, complete and unwavering. It brooks no deviation from honourable conduct. It requires total honesty in all things at all times. And it is the instructor’s duty to ensure all this.

In no other profession integrity is more important than the defences services, because no other profession carries the weight of the security of the country. No other profession calls upon the men to make supreme sacrifice of their lives for the cause of nation, because integrity, honesty and probity are the by-words here. If the instructors and educators can develop the above given specialties, they would be worth the posting at National Defence Academy.

Postings at NDA. Very positive minded persons should form part of Instructors teams in such institutions. He who gives but does not smile, holds back half of the gift. Disciplining the group or class via mass punishment is certainly counter-productive. Matured approach will pay rich dividends. See how the youth in Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are engaged in cutting edge research in technical and technological pursuits. Same way at the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), the scholars are devising new models of business management and administrative machinery for the country. Youths at the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) academy at Mussoorie, selected through the medium of mother tongue, perfect themselves in English, in the academy and while in service are busy strengthening the ‘steel frame’ for country’s advancement. With about six years of service, one takes over as a Deputy Commissioner of a district. We do not produce officers of the slave army but the enlightened defence officers, who can fit in any circle in a democratic society, if so needed.

Reflections of Head’s Personality. Agreed, best of the “middle ranks” officers serve in units, on staff in higher formations and instructors in academies and various training establishments. Same way, the up and coming senior officers should be posted as commandants. Most of them, who are at present, posted in the academics, are generally on their last legs. They are busy in planning and managing for retired life and the institution suffers. Hardly there will be any one who ignores the old saying “The Institution will be the direct reflection of Head’s personality.” In view of the above observation, immediate and pragmatic view be taken for doing the needful. I do not see any reason for not considering the qualified and aspiring officers of ASC, Ord, EME, Engrs and Signals etc. for posting to the academics like NDA. Lethargy and enthusiasm both are contagious diseases, which affect the cadets in academies in equal measures. Commandants at such academies should be role model for the youths. Superseded and last posting seekers should not be obliged by posting in such an institution, where foundations for future warriors are laid.

Military Training at IMA

The aim of teaching and training at IMA and other sister military academies is to make the fighting men, out of boys. Their creative power is harnessed and vocational guidance given so that they are suitably placed in defence services as per their aptitude. At that stage they are almost grown up and need not be wet-nursed. Direct entries are to be disciplined to be able to take the training properly. Discipline is based on pride in profession of arms, on meticulous attention to details and on mutual respect and confidence. Discipline is a habit, so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death. Discipline can only be obtained when all officers are so imbued with the sense of their awesome obligation to their colleagues, seniors and juniors and the country, that they cannot tolerate negligence and this mantra is to be drilled in them. Develop them to be mature to have pride in themselves and perfecting a combination of skill, will and teamwork, basic need of a fighting man.

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IMA and other such academies of other two Services, should be, in fact a seminary not only for imparting knowledge of those subjects that have specific application to the career in the armed forces but also changing their entire psyche to the service of the country in an honourable and duty bound manner. Academics should stress on mathematics, physical sciences, military history, English, and some other foreign language, military law, geography and political science. The social sciences and psychology are important percepts of leadership like command and social adjustment, personal conduct and other values that last them throughout a life-time of service. The life of a cadet in Indian military academy should be spartan, disciplined and total military, coupled with self control, consideration and thoughtfulness. All training in IMA has a duel object – to develop all as leaders of men and followers of leaders. Here, thus one learns to follow a vocation of serving the nation, as an officer.

Standard of a Military Officer

In every examination, conducted by military, the pass percentage is 40%. Same applies in Services Selection Board. This percentage gives an acceptable standard of abilities to work on, capabilities to be harnessed and potentialities to be developed in the candidates during training. Practical training to an extent and experience in actual fighting will glare these all. Officer is thus taken as an axil of military machine where whole system revolves around him. If the standard during selection is lowered, it could be catastrophic. There is a parable doing rounds in security circles. One Capt George Blikit was selected for temporary commission with 30% marks in services selection board of his country. After training he was posted to his unit while the same was on foreign mission. During course of service, his unit happened to be posted in insurgency area of that country. One day his convoy while passing by a village was ambushed and suffered heavy casualties, however the Capt came out unhurt. For teaching a lesson to the villagers, he made his men to surround the village, putting it on fire, killing all, who came in front including women and children. For this crime, he was tried in an international court and was awarded death punishment. His lawyer carried out the deep study of the whole case and filed an appeal in the higher court stating that, the officer was not fit for commanding troops in such situation due to his limited capabilities, as he was selected on below standard criteria and thus he was not at fault but his selectors and the connected system. He got saved from the gallows. To select candidate for commission in the armed forces is a very challenging job. It should be based on his sterling qualities, dominating will and sound principles and not on any superfluous and outdated criteria. It could prove to be very costly. Frailty and disability of character must be dug out and individuals suffering from, should be detected and dealt with accordingly. An officer has to command the men in battle which is a matter of flesh and blood, shrieks and groans and life and death. Select the right man using searching methods. A good commander will have glamour, youth, energy, power, charm, courage, easy confidence, style, fortitude, dignity and decency as his prides possessions. A good leader’s presence resonates and inspires his men.


    • The profession of soldiers has dignity of danger on constant basis. As such wars are fought by iron-willed, highly dedicated, die hard rugged individuals and not the wool clad, lily livered and fragile bodied youngsters. Intelligent, mentally developed and stout hearted men face the battle scene boldly and in a constructive and positive way. Therefore we should relax the age of all ranks for joining as well as for retirement to 2-4 years and every entrant should be graduate. Maturity comes with age and tricks of the trade are learnt by grown up men who need no wet nursing. Similarly no one should retire before 45 years of age or 25 years of service, as at this age, one is in highest of his maturity and spirits.
    • Establish JCO’s and NCO’s Academies. Every individual graduating for leadership role should pass out from that after training, like IMA for officers. Such a large strength of JCOs, without any tactical training for command in operations is really baffling. So far, barring exceptions, JCO’s contribution in various wars, we fought, has been negligible. For that Army itself is to blame. Leaders are generally made not borne and aspirant JCOs can also definitely foot the bill, if properly trained and given responsibilities. After all we all belong to the same stock.
    • Use the Young Leaders Training Wing, established at OTA Chennai to its maximum capacity. Graduates so recruited and trained at regimental centres as said earlier, should be assessed for granting commission in the first five years of service. After selection at SSB they be sent to IMA and other such institutions of IAF and Indian Navy. This entry will easily make up the strength of the officers and they will be well-trained, experienced and already molded to army ethos. Out of them if felt so, we can easily take candidates for regular commission, short service commission and as junior commissioned officers in a regular pattern. Later on short service commissioned officers and JCOs can be considered for regular commission depending upon their progress, growth and capabilities.
    • The parallel induction, stagnation and resettlement of all defence persons should be taken up at a proper level by the government which so far has been floundering the issue. The ministry of defence should be helped to grow schools, colleges, universities, engineering colleges, medical colleges, transport companies, construction companies, banks and other institutions, where serving and retired persons of all ranks can be posted, sent on deputation and absorbed on permanent basis, as the case may be. It is criminal to waste such qualified, disciplined and experienced manpower. If the suggestion is implemented, it will solve the problem of stagnation and resettlement in a very effective manner. All developed and some of the developing countries are using such well organised manpower for their national reconstruction. Even Pakistan is doing much better than us on this issue.
    • Ex-serviceman should the one, who has come on superannuation or as a battle casualty and he only should be considered by government for resettlement purposes. It is unfortunate that maximum vacancies are grabbed by those, who join the Services and come out after 4-5 years of service, on one pretext or the other, as a part of well thought out plan. This way the real aspirants are left high and dry. It is a very big lacuna and is required to be corrected immediately.
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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 Col (Dr) Sube Singh Ahlawat

Lt Col (Dr) Sube Singh Ahlawat, author of the book An Infantry Battalion in Combat.

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