Military & Aerospace

What Ails the Army's Officer Class?
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Issue Book Excerpt: War & Soldiering | Date : 08 Nov , 2018

Of late one increasingly hears and reads about the weaknesses in the Army’s Officer class: Law suits in the Court, statutory complaints, representations, sexual aberrations and so on. If a disciplined, motivated and specifically groomed part of our society is so affected then it is a cause for society’s and nation’s concern. Treating it as a holy cow, an exclusivist organisation not to be touched will only exacerbate the malaise.

Obedience is the sine qua non of the philosphy of soldiering. Brought up in the environment of taking every and any order ‘as a challenge and a task to be successfully tackled officers find it difficult to say no even to an unjust order. Psychologically the soldier’s pleasure of doing his superior’s bidding is great and materially equally lucrative. It satisfied his sense of duty and holds promises of advancement. Habituated to being led or ordered, and inured to that undying dictum “set example”, the officer waits throughout his service for orders and for someone to set example.

In his ethos charity never begins at home! As he grows in age and weight of senior rank, he sinks into no committing remoteness or studied unwillingness because the onus of interpreting orders and setting example inexorably descend on him. Whichever army has broken this chain has prospered. And history shows that more often than not those who break this chain are the middle-piece ofl1cers colonels and brigadiers.

This class in our army apparently insists on remaining dormant; unwilling to catch the bull by the horn. More pertinently it has neither been groomed to do so nor realised that it has a far greater stake in the act and possesses matching dynamism to turn in that type of performance. Obedience and uprightness have a high moral dimension to their mutual relationship.

Camaraderie in the army is a much-quoted word, albeit a great strength and part of every professional’s pontificial repertoire. But in actuality it loses steam and virtually stops at the rank of brigadier. The general officer becomes more self-centred, remote, callous and indifferent to practising it, his interest in. concern for. interaction with and committal to his colleagues friends and mates, juniors and the system (to keep it responsive) are markedly on the wane, almost desiccated as he progressively identifies himself with the organisation and status quo, which is all so convenient, easy and untaxing. As he becomes old and tired, and resigns to the environment and the system he naturally mutates into a piece of furniture losing touch with ground feeling but getting into the fashionable “macro view”, “higher perception” etc. at the cost of human insight. Fellow-feeling and comradeship take back-seat, are even dispensed with if it conflicts with his pro-organisation transformation. Recently the group of senior army generals in Delhi took more than a year to decide the status of IPKF HQ in Madras, and over two years to solve the entirely avoidable adversity and abominable hardship caused to the personnel as a result of that decision.

Promotion system continues to be a bugbear. While for peacetime it can be said to be as fair as fair can be, it has unfortunately been proving to be too rigid and unresponsive to warlike environment. Good war performance both in Sri Lanka and Siachen have gone unrewarded or grossly under-recognised.

The reason, according to the organisation, is that there were luke-warm reports and minor weaknesses noticed earlier long ago in peace-time. Little allowance seems to be made for war reports, which should absolve and erase all that hair-splitting. There is a certain figurative assessment layed down for various personal qualities and demonstrated performance.

The reporting officer cannot inflate them just because the reportee is earning the report in war. But when the war report of X and peace-time report of Y are juxtaposed at the Army HQ should not there be a yardstick to measure the performance and potential of the two officers? Undoubtedly the war reportee must stand higher than the peace-timer. But this does not happen. There lies the rub.

It needs elaboration. Thanks to cadre review our Army has as unit commanders either lieutenant colonels or colonels. A number of COs in the IPKF were lieutenant colonels. Most of them commanded their units successfully in OP Pawan in Sri Lanka for two years and more. Some were also decorated for gallantry. When the time for their promotion to the rank of colonel came many of them were superseded. but were yet made to continue in command in the same rank; One wonders how a lieutenant colonel CO was fit to command the unit in war but not considered fit to do the same job in the next rank! What then are the’ criteria for promotion? Why should anyone come out and fight? What would the men think? What would be the self-confidence of the officer after all the fighting he did? Why was not the superseded lieutenant colonel replaced by another one who had made the grade for the next rank sitting in peace station? One of the Divisional Commanders represented directly to the then Army Chief and sought redress of grievance on behalf of half a dozen COs of his Division, but it made no impression on the powers that be.

The fall-out of such a morbid system manifests in the following: ­

A confusion in the minds of all ranks as to what is required for success: War performance or peace-time pandering? A satisfactory war report or a good peace-time chit?

A disincentive to personnel to volunteer for war, field or risky service; and indirect encouragement to dodge such service and thrive in peace environment. It was a well­-known fact in the IPKF that usually officers posted to Sri Lanka delayed joining duty or got the order cancelled or got themselves downgraded to low medical category to escape the agony of getting bogged down there a “professional grave-yard” as one worthy peace-timer put it.

A doubt regarding the relevance utility and credibility of the much trumpeted “career profile” of officers. There is no dearth of instances where officers worsted in field area after field area from one end of the country to the other and from one risk factor to another continue to “lose out” to the clever and percipient ones who manage to remain in soft areas congenial appointments keep their nose clean and serve under benevolent superiors.

That brings us to Annual Confidential Report (ACR) ­consciousness Officers even young majors and captains plan their careers courses, appointments to serve in superiors to serve under time to be spent in appointments and so on quite meticulously so that they get the necessary stamp and right reports. Fascinating are these lucky children who choose their professional parents wisely! Even so there is a sharp increase in the number of representations and complaints not only from officers against ACRs but far more surprisingly also from JCOs. Most superseded brigadiers, general officers and subedars resort to this practice. Some do so in anticipation as a just-­in-case kind of precautionary measure.

In all this then where is the time for head-doing seriuous soldiering? Dissatisfaction callousness fawning and playing safe Have gradually strangulated straight-forwardness uprightness moral courage to take a stand and sincere action. The few who stand up are highly prone to be eased out or superseded. That further degrades moral fibre, encourages acquiescence and enlarges yes men and furniture population. In Sri Lanka one of the Divisional Commanders held fast to what he thought was morally and ethically wrong and remonstrated with the IPKF as well as overall Force Commanders even with the then Army Chief himself.

Those superiors who differed radically with the subordinate could do nothing to the latter for his views and the way he handled his command as well as the tricky operational situation. In our Army it becomes difficult to handle simple sincere, upright honest and professionally competent officers, who adhere to values and conviction. So, the only way out is to get rid of him or supersede him. That is what happened!

Then there is that latest pious act of the Army’s top echelon: Discovery of sexual aberration in some senior officers and the process of cleansing the stables. Many of those so discovered had been known to have had and maintained the tendency towards sexual exploition from their rather early days. Why then were they permitted to rise to high rank? Why was the tendency not curbed early enough? Why this hullabaloo now?

In any case what does the Army require: dynamic, go ­getting fighters, even if a bit sexually indiscreet, or drooling, do-nothing, disturb-nothing, virginal virtue? These senior officers exploited their juniors because the latter were equally prominent for being spineless, cringing, fawning providers of gratification, bred by a rotting system where questioning of a wrong is interpreted as rebellion, uprightness becomes intolerable and attempt towards fulfillment of moral obligation becomes difficult to deal with.

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Years ago, a young lieutenant colonel said in an article in “Combat Journal” that there are two types of officers in our Army: good and successful. A winning army has to have a larger number of good officers. But our system is producing larger number of successful ones. Successful officers only contribute to increasing efficiency but do not “deliver”. It is the good officers who do that.

The system is progressively losing the ability to absorb dissent, withstand honest criticism, tolerate uprightness even if inconvenient, and to promote greater comaraderie and sense of moral obligation. It is both unable and unwilling to adapt to warlike conditions and their particular requirements, leave aside respond spontaneously and positively to its topical contemporary challenges in the vital sphere of man­-management. Worse, it is increasingly confirming itself as a peace, time army, with peace-time procedures and ethos predominating even in warlike environment under that cussed cliche –”time tested”. At this rate the next time over the Army will not fight as well as is expected of it, not withstanding its “glorious traditions”, posthumous heroes and the smug facade of the holy cow dished out by the complacent government and lapped up by the gullible public.

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16 thoughts on “What Ails the Army’s Officer Class?

  1. Senior retd generals writing critical articles without introspection of their times is unfair. Nothing much has changed – like yesteryears we have officers and men of all hues. It is just that the social media has become more active and information is available. If the offrs were not good it would have shown in their performance.
    The ACR system has flaws and all system has aberrations. People are going to court because aspirations and materialism has increased manifold. Moreover the quantification system has compounded some of the flaws. But it is still good. In a pyrammidical structure supersession is a reality. But who is ready to accept it in today’s materialistic world. Since Armed forces are huge it gets pronounced.
    Ours is a great Army and every one is doing his bit to improve. We may agree to disagree but largely all generals and people in decision making chain take decisions based on org interests (some black sheep will always be there).
    So let us not deride our organisation.

  2. Well the General strikes the right chord here with issues related to the Officers in the Army. We have built in faults within the system. The first one is Staff College – which somebody said sifts the grain from the Chaff. Well rightly so but in doing so damages the system because there after begins the rat race. After Staff College one sees an open field to play the game and the system. The alternate view was that it labels even donkeys as race horses. The MS Branch in its own myopic way favours a PSC officer – a non PSC will not get a staff appointment no matter how good his reports are. He maybe have better report and profile than his batch mates but since he doesn’t get good staff appointments he looses out. Where the Army looses out is that inexperienced officers who have moved from one chair to another now begin to rise and shine. Those with experience are left out. I have seen many a Col GS lording over the COs on matters he doesn’t know a damn about. Most Col GS of a division are happy sitting on their chairs and not know the ground realities of their area of operations. Like someone said before you know the enemy – Know your Boss and the language he speaks. Qualitatively the Army is loosing a lot of soldier material amongst officers when it comes to promoting Colonels to Brigadiers. The Army loses a lot of experience when it starts employing superseded Cols as MCOs and COs of transit camps. By doing that you have dumped years of experience in the dustbin. The service is a straight jacket don’t ruffle feathers and just keep moving up – if you do nothing ten the scope of making a mistake reduces. There is a malaise in the system that needs to be looked into seriously.

  3. The General has brought out some very relevant issues as far as officer class is concerned within the Service Matrix. However, we find a gradual, sustained and deliberate attempt since last four decades to snub, malign and purposefully put down the Defence Services by one wing of the Government, namely the Bureaucracy. If excerpts from an interview given by Mr Vivek Rae IAS, who was a Bureaucrat on the 7th Pay Commission as the Government’s representative, to the Economic Times and which has been widely circulated in emails and on the internet is correct, it MUST RING IMMEDIATE ALARM BELLS within the higher echelons of The Defence Services. Actually some reaction should have already come from Defence Hqs by now. But this total silence proves the General’s point that the Services leadership is emasculated at all levels, particularly the top. The officer class is losing credibility within the service and is also showing no sign of fight and confrontation to safeguard the interest of the Service and the men as far as onslaught from out siders, namely bureaucracy is concerned. The OROP issue and the Veterans agitation has put the Services on the Centre Table. The whole country now has a fair knowledge of unfair and lop sided relationship between civil-military relationship. To be fair to Veterans, this is all that they could have done to bring issues Centre Stage. The rest is now on the Serving leadership as to where they want to go from here. There are already greater rumblings of further injustice in the 7th pay Commission. It is no use crying “INJUSTICE” ad infinitum. The Leadership should fight for their rightful place in the scheme of Governance. Civil supremacy is one thing but Bureaucratic supremacy is quite another. The top leader ship should shed timidity, take the bull by the horns and get on with restoring the rightful place for the Forces. They can be rest assured they will have full backing from the entire rank and file.

  4. A very well written and actual happening in the Army.If this is happening in the Sr most service like Army,where tradition and professionalism is the key word,no comments on junior services ,where the two virtues mentioned above has no rrelevance.

  5. My comment was not complete as posted from Gmail id as, so here is the llast part of it wit my other mailid

    4. I do wonder as to how does this change does augur well for our army is a big question.

    5. Here I am not representing my case but trying to high light what has been substantially written in this article and I do appreciate and pray that this does some good to the org in the coming days.

  6. Sir,
    1. A Well thought out and practical and what is the reality on ground article without any bias.
    2. Many Offr who stood up to senior Offr has lost out most of the times. I am one of that victim. I had served most of my tenure (about 80% of my service) in Fd/HA and op areas, posted from one HA to another. I have no regret about it. I have hardly seen / stayed with my family. I was not able to be father fig to my only son. I have seen that someone who refused to go for an op got reward as decoration rather being punished. On the other hand one who did a good job in op did not get anything. I had lost faith in the system, not because I did not get recognition for my work, but to high light and support this article so well brought out. I am satisfied man and took premature retirement after about 30 yrs of service. Since I stood up to wrong thing in my posting under other service senior offr as my IO my ACR was fudged after I had signed, which came back for my comments from MS branch. Why the MS branch should have sent it in the first placed. They should have seen my past record and it would have been easier to set aside that particular ACR as an aberration. If I had represented to compare my previous record and narrated the incidence, probably it would have gone in my favour after lots of paper work and battle but I did not represent knowing the system and how it worked. There was no application of mind at MS Branch to compare the previous record and reports, but just doing a job like any other “babu”. So I took PMR.
    3. I have seen many Offrs serving in one station for eight to 10 years and also many who have never been separated from their families during their entire service. Another anomaly is that an Inf Offr who serves in difficult areas and Offrs (and also JCOs and NCOs) of other services staying most of his tenure in peace station with his family gets the same pay and pensions and without putting his life in risk like and Inf man.

  7. Well written article! It has hit the nail on the head! Glad to see a Lt Gen writing about this malice in the Army. 5 star culture & peace time soldiering has eroded the fighting capability of the Army. Regimental soldier is considered no good. However, peace time soldiers acting as intellectuals are considered to be great warriors. The officer commanding a brigade in Counter Insurgency area has no chance to match the ACR earned by the officer commanding a brigade in New Delhi or any other peace area. The reasons are obvious and hence I am not highlighting them. It is high time the ACRs earned during war/counter insurgency are given more weightage than those earned in peace areas. It will be ideal to consider only those officers who have commanded units/brigades in field/ CI areas for the next rank. The brigades in peace areas may be given to those who have been overlooked for promotion. In nutshell, commanding units/brigades in field / CI areas must be a QR for being considered for next rank.

    Drastic actions like the one recommended above may change the Army for the better.

  8. Dear sir you have hit the nail on the head. A very close to truth article, bringing out the cause of gradual degradation of the last line of defences. U missed out on the effects of the gradual degradation of the rk vis a vis his counterparts further compounded by the time and percentage of those getting promoted versus those of his civilian and cpmf counterparts. Pay commission’s since 4 CPC have furthermore downgraded by decreased edge in pay and allces every time. It looks almost like a time where the defence force officer will also start treating it as a job and not a vocation. The day is not faroff where he may well ask why he stands for 24×7 without any overtime.the adage he joined the army not for money is true but for how long is the million dollar question

  9. sir a true article this is an article by a a true gen who has understood the nerves of his good soldiers things are not going to change even the institution may suffer as responsible for change are generally successful officers god bless all of us

  10. A very good and researched article.

    The malaise afflicting our officers in the army is the parochial and cynical attitude of our commanding officers at all levels. The urge to differentiate themselves from peers, is making them indulge in one upmanship. It is driving them to curry favour with their superiors and expect the same from their subordinates. Sterling leadership qualities of professional competence, courage of conviction and loyalty for the men they command are steadily getting diluted – especially in peace time locations. A top down approach to remedy this situation is the crying need of the hour.

  11. I fully agree with the above comments. Indian Navy is no different. Don’t know about the Air Force much but the so called professionalism is waning away. Those wanting to bring about the change are being superseded. Mediocrity has been creeping for many many years now. What the General has brought out now is what I would question the visiting personnel Branch Officers way back in 1998 when I was a Lieutenant Commander waiting for my first Command. Armed Forces saw its worst period recently when the Army Chief went to court on the Date of Birth issue. No sooner was he on his way out, if I am not wrong the General who followed him got his Medical Category upgraded as he was to be the next Chief. Thr muck that was floating around in the Navy when the War Room leak happened & the question was being raised on then Navy Chief because a sitting Vice Admiral would have benefited had he moved on. Recently when the Navy Chief quit, none other than the CinC in whose Command 90%of the accidents happened was trying to set claim to the coveted post? No one is even asking as to what is the primary cause of all these accidents? But naturally the mediocrity that has set in? Those who have happened to be in plum posts of Flag Lieutenant, Staff Officers, etc. Get into commands. Those fighters who want to do good to the service are sidelined.

  12. While it is common for people to become holier than thou after retirement, why the practice of Sahayak has not been brought out as a bane is not understood…..The author should bring out how many Saha yaks he had in his service career and even now? No need to justify the Sahayak system please since we already understand the compulsions!!!

  13. A very honest and hard hitting article by the General. The malice described is very well known to the environment. Unfortunately this kind of trend suits the organization even if it suffers at the hands of mediocres. Probably time has come to revisit the ethos that we have set for the organization, time to do a revamp of our reporting and promotion policies. It’s not easy because the decision makers are not keen on that. May be a major event like Kargil is required to wake up the org to carry out the necessary changes. Till then mediocres with Apple polishing capabilities will rule the roost and the great org will suffer.

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