(Army’s proposal of ‘Tour of Duty’ (ToD), a short stint of three-year service for civilians, as both Officers & Other Ranks (ORs), aims to reduce financial burden on the Army and make free funds for Modernisation)
On the face of it, the proposal seems to be very innovative, creative, and purpose-oriented. It may save money, but at what cost? It is often said: machine doesn’t matter but the man behind the machine that matters. While the corporate world is focussing on improving HR quality dimensions, the Indian Army is focussing on modernization at the cost of the very man-behind the gun. It is apparent that the quality of man is side-lined in preference to a machine.
An in-depth analysis reveals that the ToD proposal lacks depth and substance in it, besides being detrimental to Army values and ethos and counterproductive to National Security at large. Instead of Army saving for modernization, the proposal may compel it to spend more on its new prototype, the ToD.
Let me ask a key question? Is fund management and allotment for the modernization of its Armed Forces a responsibility of the Army? This needs a separate discussion. Army’s role is to ensure National Security and keep its force fighting fit. Fund management is the Government’s responsibility. Planning by Army to generate funds from within is a sign of deviation from professionalism. A fair amount of Officers and their professional time has been diverted into doing ministerial jobs. Even Army Commanders are going to discuss this feasibility. Discussion on the combat effectiveness of ToD is acceptable as it falls in the ambit of Stratagem; but the discussion to save funds for modernization is an utter waste of time and deviation from its primary role.
Men and all expenditure related to men in Army are not comparable to OH (overhead) cost in business. Here man is raw material. Hence men cannot be squared around or outsourced for management of funds. It is the Government duty and responsibility to equip Army and allot exclusive fund for Force modernization; compromise on raw material results in poor product output; spending on men in Army is as essential as spending on raw material and any dent attempted therein will have a telling effect in its output, i-e the National Security.
Trial with Limited Vacancies: Proposal of ToD suggests a ‘trial basis for a limited number of vacancies’. In Army, all equipment and weaponry are put through trials in different terrain and climate for its performance prior to induction. No of pieces for trials doesn’t matter ; be it one gun or a tank or a Battery or Regiment or be it even a Brigade of it, performance of it will not change and will remain the same as was in trials. But human beings are different: they behave differently under different circumstances; men are dynamic in nature and no two human beings are alike. When recruited in limited numbers for trials, one will attract the best and the result of that trial may also be encouraging to implement in full. In actual, it may not be true, rather trial result will certainly not hold good when recruited in large numbers.
India is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-religious. Indian Army draws its men from this plural society and cultural milieu. Recruitment is based on scales of RMP (Recruitable Male Population). Under such nuances, trial result of limited numbers cannot be taken as the yardstick for implementation of ToD across the Army. Men are not guns or tanks and no two men are the same. Hence it may be prudent to reconsider the trial of ToD in “full-scale but one-time intake trials” with conditions as applied. Let it be known, when it comes to assessment of performance of men facing fire and death, even three years may be too less to make a realistic finding or form an opinion. By then soldiers of ToD will complete their terms of engagement and get released from Army. Even at the time of release after three years, they would still be ‘Green Soldiers’ (not yet battle inoculated), implying their poor utility. More of its effect discussed later.
Internship as Concept: ToD spells its concept as ‘internship experience’. It is rather surprising to see that Army is opening out to ‘internship’. On the contrary, many Corporate companies are winding up ‘internship’ concept. They feel interns spoil their Organisational Culture (OC) and cause negative influence in Organisational Behaviour (OB). Army s an organization where every single order or act is focussed or related to ‘life and death of humans’, whether of enemy or of own, be it in peacetime locations or in military operational areas. Such is the hypersensitivity of Army environment. It is callous to allow internship in such an environment. Can life and death be allowed to happen by interns? What level of accountability and responsibility can be expected from an intern? Is National Security a subject of interns? It is time that Army should stop using interns in its rank and file, at least not in front line fighting arms.
Green Soldier– a time tested practice: In front line fighting arms like Infantry, a soldier is classified as Green upto three years, after completion of his basic training. Old Regiments of Indian Army do not allow and encourage Green soldiers to be launched into fierce battle; he is not detailed on stand-alone operational tasks because of him being a novice in practical application of knowledge on ground. He is given sheltered duties in rear and in safer areas; he is slowly put through into battle like situations or active battle inoculations; he remains with his senior colleagues during active military operations. The Sepoy from ToD has a total of three years, implying that he remains Green till he leaves Army. Now a dichotomy arises: On one hand Green Soldiers are parented and sheltered for three years and on the other, the total service of ToD is only three years.
So, the value and utility of ToD to Army are questionable. Launching them early in battle without sufficient battle inoculation and regimentation, is unkind. In process, the regular soldier will not get adequate relief from battle because Green soldier will be replaced by another Green in turn. Hence, ToD is not suitable for fighting Arms and may be implemented with Support Services, of course after full-scale trials as suggested earlier. But it is also true that the requirement of Officers and ORs are more in fighting Arms.
Regimentation suffers: Regimentation is the unique fighting strength of Indian Army in general and fighting arms in particular like Infantry or Armoured or Artillery or Engineers. It plays a vital role in Army’s effectiveness and it is a key element of competitiveness in the Army. Regimentation is not a overnight process, but built by bonhomie and brotherhood over a period of time. War cries are the manifestation of Regimentation: For Madras Regiment it is Veera Madrassi Adi Kollu Adi Kollu ( Brave Madras man Strike & Kill – Strike & Kill) OR for Sikh Regiment it is Bole so nihal Sat Sri Akaal (one is blessed who says God is Ultimate). To build a battle worthy human bond, it requires a terrific human effort and considerable time which cannot be explained in a few lines here. Suffice to say, launching men into battle without bonding of regimentation and brotherhood, is as good as having lost the battle even before it commenced. ToD does not fit in the required time frame for the development of regimentation and esprit de corps. Even the effort put in to develop regimentation is futile at the end because, by the time he gets knitted he is due to be released from Army. This leads to another problem of quick turnover every three years which is a great hindrance in building up morale of the Battalion.
Very Quick Turnover: Under normal course, a Regular Sepoy serves for 15 years and in ToD he will serve for 3 Years: implies five turnover of ToD sepoy as against one turnover of a regular. Relief of a regular soldier from hard tasks by Green soldier of ToD can never happen because ToD will turnover men every three years. Thus a Regular sepoy will not get a relief from ToD till his retirement. Besides getting overtired, all his parenting efforts will also go waste every three years. He will lose interest in establishing bonhomie with the new arrivals. Battalion will also have a permanent burden of Green Soldiers on them at all times. Turnover causes other serious administrative problems like recruitment and training.
CTC Increase in Recruitment and Training: ToD has purpose of saving funds for modernization. Regular Sepoy does basic training once in 15 years, his service limit. For the same period of 15 years, Sepoy of ToD will do five times the basic training because of turn over being once in three years. Imagine the loss in CTC: Five times to one time? Similarly logistic loss in personal clothing and other items also gets fivefold increase. At the face of it, Recruitment is also to be done every three years; a tedious process across the vast Indian landscape and is very expensive too: advertising, conduct of rallies, simultaneous conduct of exam across India, evaluation, education verification and a host of other activities gets a fivefold increase. Concertina effect of turnover every three years manifests in additional staffing for recruitment, training, admin & logistics, clerical staff etc. Even equipment maintenance will suffer and loss in equipment will increase. These are only the tip of the iceberg of additional spending required on ToD force which is otherwise also not combat effective and battle-worthy to Army.
Attracting the Best: Proposal for ToD aims to ‘attract the best individuals from best colleges including IITs’. Currently, it is often discussed as to why the Army is not getting the right men for intake, despite enhanced existing pay & perks. If this is true as of today, is it correct to assume that Army will attract the best individuals just by limiting the service to three years? And that too with limited perks?. If Army is hopeful of attracting the best for ToD is true, then the current regular intake would have been more than the best individuals because of enhanced pay scales and guaranteed job till retirement. But it is not so. Today’s youth are looking at two things: job-security and lump sum pay with a cozy environment. This is reality. ToD aiming to get the best men, just by reducing the service as well as perks, is a mismatch of logic and desires.
Voluntary with dilution of criteria: Currently under better conditions of employment and better pay, the turnout for intake is rather low. If Army proposes to recruit ToD with reduced service period and lesser perks but with same criteria means, the ToD is a nonstarter. If criteria is laid different or lowered, then the very fabric of Army will be broken.
Corporate and ToD: Army visualizes a bright future for those who get released after ToD tenure. To quote the highlights:
a) ‘corporate favors individuals aged 26-27 who have been trained by military b) the individual has ‘an edge over others’ after leaving ToD, and c) Corporate world is benefitted by ‘getting trained, disciplined, confident, diligent and committed men’ from Army. The proposal itself says 60% of SSC (Short Service Commission) Officers get permanent commission. Majority of the balance of 40% seek extension till 10 years which is generally sanctioned too, unless he/she is a black sheep. This implies major chunk of SSC Officers get released from Army around the age of 32-35 only. The no of people joining corporate at the age of 26-27 after serving in the Army is very insignificant. While the SSC entry age itself is 23-27, how can he/she be available to corporate at 26-27 after military experience? It is a misnomer.
Secondly, gone are the days when an ESM (Ex ServiceMen) is said to have an edge over others. Corporate work culture is fast-changing and they have developed and honed their Training and Development (T&D): training on Induction, On Job, Refresher, Orientation, etc. On matters of exposure, they have planned many cross attachments within corporate sector. In fact, ESM will be found lacking in specific training as against his peers who joined corporate earlier. And finally on the various adjectives used for discipline and character of ToD Force, it is clearly inflated. In three years, he is not even matured into a full soldier but crediting him or equating him with all the attributes of a seasoned 15-20 years soldier is unfair.
Desire to be in Uniform but not as career: Proposal aims to target those adventurists who ‘want to wear Uniform for a while but not as a career’. Non-acceptance of Army as a career implies, not willing to risk throughout his life. Why does he need the pride of Uniform? May be to boast later. In any case the glamour will wean away in six months or a year’s time and not sustainable for three good years. Then what is he? Why should the Army accept him?
Discipline and Motivation: Assuming that ToD takes off, the ill effects on the Army also need to be seen. First and foremost casualty is Discipline. Tendency will set-in to overlook certain acts of casual negligence and indiscipline by ToD because they are passers-by or short stinted. All practical soldiers will standby this statement. On the other, one cannot have two yardsticks, softer approach for ToD and harsher for Regular; the end result is, all defaulters get a lukewarm punishment, which means a start-up of indiscipline. Obviously 3 year and 13-year Sepoy are not on level playing ground to play see-saw.
The level of tolerance due to regimentation is high with Regular as against a ToD sepoy who has a limited years to ward-off. On matters of morale and commitment, the outlook of ToD will differ from the seasoned regimental regular outfit. The seeds of indiscipline sown by ToD will be a malignant cancer; cure will become ‘very costly and time-consuming’.
Legal Backup: Is ToD legally backed up? It is not far off for one to knock doors of justice on violation of equality and on principles of natural justice, when two individuals had faced identical battle situations together but followup actions meted to ToD is different from Regular. So, ToD should have an Act or Section enabled and passed by Parliament on legal issues. Defense Service Regulations alone cannot cover the life of an individual in legal perspective.
Is ToD equals a labor contract?
Overall, the proposed ToD has more negative pointers starting from its concept to its purpose of saving funds. I am with heavy heart to say that it is closer to ‘labour contracting of men’ for Army:
• ‘Internship’ concept can just not be allowed in matters involving of life-and-death and National Security.
• On assessing the performance of men, ‘trials in limited numbers’ does not yield true picture in Indian context to apply ‘en masse implementation’.
• ‘Saving of funds’ by ‘three-year service limit’ may save pensionary benefits: but incurs five times more expenditure in its process of quick turn over in every three years as against one turnover in 15 years. Inherent problems in mustering, training, and administering also increases five folded.
• Regimentation, Discipline, Morale and Motivation are hallmarks of any good fighting Unit and ToD causes a setback in all.
• ‘Permanent drag on Unit battle ineffectiveness’ will be caused. Each unit will have a fixed percentage of ‘Green Soldiers’ always sticking to it due to the three years cycle and thus posing a challenge to its battle effectiveness’ besides causing strain on old soldiers. Any dent in the fabric of the combat unit is not advisable.
• Legal back up by legislature is a must.
I recommend, Army should impress upon Government for funds for modernization and should not play with funds allotted for other purposes. Can a student-son be asked by his father to invest money in real estate? And if the son does, then it can only be at the cost of his books or his tuition fees. Let the father budget for real estate because it is his duty. Yes, the son can stop extravaganza to assist his father. The quality of men is not an extravaganza in the Army. Saving funds by compromising quality of fighting fiber is suicidal.
Surprisingly, the CDS, instead of being the lead torchbearer asking for additional funds, seems he is seconding the proposal. Recent advice of him in making SSC more incentive-driven to reduce burden of pension is indicative of his nod for ToD. Taking a clue from the precedence of ToD, the day is not far off for someone from outside Army to suggest few appointments of Generals or all Second in Command appointments, from Unit to Vice Chief, as redundant and save funds to pay additional men and material required then.
I recommend the Army should not step out of its basic role of planning for National Security. Funds for equipping are the Government’s responsibility and Army should ensure and force to get it allotted.
Current stand-offs at China border may even be deliberately escalated by China as a diplomatic tool to increase its trading and economic interest. With such a possibility on the card, can we be happy with trading off our internal funds? Onus of responsibility lies with Government to step-in and allot additional funds for force modernization on a war footing.
(Brigadier JM Devadoss, Sena Medal, retired from Indian army after commanding an Amphibious Brigade in the Bay of Bengal. He has been Deputy Director General (Recruiting) and currently CEO of the Madurai School of Management)