Tour of Duty: The Kindergarten Army By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

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Tour of Duty: The Kindergarten Army

In the current conditions, 100% of Army personnel go through one cycle of Recruitment, Training and Discharge for which capacities are sanctioned and exist. 

The tour of duty does not seem to be a good idea. Proceed with caution. However the government seems to be quite determined to push its way through. If that be so, it is time to see the implications of this decision at the cutting edge level.
The tour of duty does not seem to be a good idea. Proceed with caution. However the government seems to be quite determined to push its way through. If that be so, it is time to see the implications of this decision at the cutting edge level.

By Lt Gen P R Shankar ®

From what appears in the media it is now pretty clear that the government is going to implement the Tour of Duty model for recruitment of the Army. The terms of service seem to be 4 years’ service with six months training. At the end of 4 years , 25% will be retained and 75 % will be let go into the civvy street with some severance pay. There is a lot of discussion on how these part time soldiers and will get absorbed into the national fabric. That is of secondary concern. The primary concern is – what will be the effect on the army? How will it affect national security? Will the nation be able to defend itself? Many senior veterans have written with the wisdom of their experience. A common voice has emerged. The tour of duty does not seem to be a good idea. Proceed with caution. However the government seems to be quite determined to push its way through. If that be so, it is time to see the implications of this decision at the cutting edge level.

Hither to fore the implications of this model have been analysed subjectively by experienced veterans. Their voice and caution has been thrown to winds. Hence a mathematical approach has been adopted in this analysis. Figures in this analysis are from publicly available data. At a macro level, eventually, the 12 lakh strong Army will have 25 % full time regulars (3lakhs),  75% soldiers serving for 4years (9 lakhs). This has a major impact on recruitment, training and discharge – turnovers and capacities. The devil is always in the detail. For the purpose of modelling, the mandatory pensionable service is being taken as 15 years. In the current conditions, 100% of Army personnel go through one cycle of Recruitment, Training and Discharge for which capacities are sanctioned and exist. If the new Tour of Duty model is to be implemented, then one cycle is required for 25% of the army personnel who will put in 15 years full service. 3.75 cycles will be required for 75% of the Army who will serve for 4 years. Overall, on amalgamation, there will be three cycles of training required. However since the training period is being cut by half, the overall capacity will have to be increased by one and a half times the current capacities as calculated and illustrated in the model below.

The annual intake into the Army is approximately about 65 thousand soldiers per year, give or take 10%.  It will increase to about 1-1.5 lakhs per year as per this model. This will result in a skewed intake and recruitment model. Why? We do not have adequate numbers even in the current conditions from many parts of the country. Generally vacancies of states from North East, Gujrat, and Goa get undersubscribed and MP, UP, Haryana and Punjab get oversubscribed. If the recruitment goes up by 1.5-2 times, the intake will only aggravate the imbalance disproportionately. This has huge ramifications for the overall structure and social balance of the Army. The Army will be Northern States heavy. The other major problem is the capacity to carry out recruitment of the required numbers needs examination. That will be a major challenge in itself. Recruitment staff has to be multiplied manifold. That means increasing the tail at the expense of the teeth!

The next mega problem is training. Basic recruit training is carried out in training centres. These training centres have been developed over seven decades since independence, to their present capacities. Even at present, the current capacities fall far short to train recruits. The Artillery example is being highlighted. Artillery has two training centres with a capacity of 2000 each. However, each of the Centres invariably trains about 2500 recruits at normal times. This is because the Army expanded over a period of timebut the capacity of training centres were not increased. This strength goes up to about 4000 plus in peak times. This invariably leads to hygiene and sanitation problems. Outbreak of epidemics and infectious diseases occur under such conditions. The current proposal envisages a sustained training output of one and a half to two times the current capacities. Training will suffer. Administration, hygiene and sanitation will take a nose dive. At the end, units will get a soldier who is half trained. A Gunner goes through six months of basic military training and six months of training as a Gunner. Is that being proposed to be cut in half? So the output will neither be a fully trained soldier or a gunner. He will be a tourist. The same applies to someone being sent into a tank unit. Who will fire all the complicated and high tech artillery which is being inducted through Atmanirbharta? Additionally, to train, these recruits, more trainers are required. These are posted from frontline units. See the point. The proposal is adding to the tail. At the end of four years, when these soldiers go on discharge, additional staff will be needed which will be drawn from units. So more cutting of teeth and adding to the tail. So we are going to consistently get substandard soldiers at the cutting edge units after depleting the teeth! Has this been modelled or factored by the genius who thought of this?

In this ‘model’, the rostered strength of a unit is a taken as 500. It implies five hundred people are held on the unit roster.  Of these, 10% are permanently sent on Extra Regimental Employment like RR units, NCC, HQs, R&D establishments, MCOs etc. These 10% vacancies are given to units on a rotational basis. All those sent out have to be above five years’ service and are mostly JCOs/NCOs. Hence the residual War Establishment strength of the unit is 450. In this effective strength, those posted in the unit HQs and specialist sub units are taken as around 120 (27%). This is a conservative assumption.  Resultantly, the number of soldiers in  fighting sub units ie., rifle companies / gun batteries / tank squadrons is 330. That makes it about 110 soldiers per sub unit, assuming a uniform triangular pattern of three subunits per unit. The composition of these 110 soldiers is the crux of the issue.

Presently approx. 1.3 lakh vacancies (as reported)  have built up in the Army over a two year period due to lack of recruitment as a result of Covid (see box). It implies that the vacancies per year are about 65000. For an Army with a sanctioned strength of approx. 12 lakhs, it implies that a recruitment rate of around 5.41% is the normal. This is a stable figure since it is based on a two year average. Let us assume that those recruited are sent to units on an even distribution. This is the base assumption of the model.

Hence for an unit with a strength of 500 , the number of recruits per year is 27 @5.41% annual recruitment (see box) . Over a five year period, the strength of soldiers under five years is five times this ie 135. All these young soldiers are kept in the cloistered and protected environment of fighting subunits due to their relative inexperience. A backward regression indicates that the number of soldiers in subunits with more than five years’ service is195 as shown in the box. When converted into an experience ratio it is 1.44:1. It implies that currently there are three experienced soldiers for two young soldiers. To achieve this , the recruitment model works out to 73:27 (see table). From any perspective based on experience, it can be safely said that at the cutting edge of a subunit, the experience vs youth should not be diluted below 70:30. If this is breached, we will end up with an experience inversion. It means having a three man trench with all youngsters, young drivers at the wheel of a long gun train negotiating head spinning Himalayan curves at top speed or a driver who cannot jockey his tank into a firing position. All three conditions are fraught with danger of a military defeat.

However, when the current proposal is modelled, the figures are alarming. When the retention was initially aimed at 50%, the experience ratio was 1:3.12. That itself was bad. When the retention is going to be only 25%, the experience ratio will be 1:6.33. In a subunit there will only be 15 soldiers above 4 years’ service and 95 soldiers below 4 years’ service. We will not get enough NCOs to be gun detachment commanders or command post in charge or ammunition in charges or OP party communication NCOs or be capable of defending a gun area !Is that not a kindergarten Army?Most notably, like in any kindergarten, the turnover will be high. Every year 25-30 soldiers will be coming in or going out. Ever heard of team spirit in a kindergarten?

In the Gunners, everything is double checked. Not a single round can be fired from an artillery piece if a double check is not carried out at every stage – plotting the target, deriving data, communicating gun data, applying gun data, preparing ammunition, loading ammunition, laying the gun and firing it. The double check is carried out by an appointment who is as competent but slightly junior to the appointment who is responsible for a task. Invariably, the 2iC of that detachment is the check on his boss. This rare quirky and funny rule is followed rigidly since lives are at stake. How does one expect an ignorant and untrained youngster to act as a check on his boss when under enemy fire. When a gun which fires 40 km away, there is no room for error. One thing this author is sure. The performance of Kargil where our gunners blasted Tiger Hill despite being shelled by Pakistanis will not be repeated by a Tour of Duty gunner battery. The same applies to all other subunits of all other Arms and Services.

A major issue will be that who decides the 25% who are going to be retained? In a system where there is no formal assessment till a soldier becomes an NCO, we are going to exclude 75% based on 100% assessment in three and a half years?Nuts! One hopes that someone has thought through this. If one were to summarise, the Tour of Duty is an exercise being undertaken without adequate staff or capacity, in order to create which, the teeth have to be knocked off. Then the not so well trained tourist will be part of a subunit in which there is a rat race for retention with no bonding or no junior leadership. This soldier will be expected to man Brahmos/Pinaka/Vajra weapon system which he cannot handle and defend his gun position from marauding Pakistanis or Chinese. In essence, the tour of duty proposal expects a superman from a kindergarten. We might be producing an Abhimanyu but he will not get out of the Chakravyuhu. After five years of tour of duty, Arjuns will not be available in our next Mahabharata. The cutting edge units will not be able to fight. There are no runners up in war.

Lastly, when I was a brigade commander in the East, the locals wanted me to train the tribals boys so that they can get recruited in the Army. I was very enthusiastic. I chalked out a program and was about to commence the training. The Subedar Major of my Assam Rifles battalion came up to me when I went to the unit and told me ‘Sahab, do you realise that all the boys whom you train and who do not get recruited will be picked up by militant groups? You might be training future militants.” I quietly buried the program.

Is there a case for putting the whole concept on trial?

(The author is PVSM, AVSM, VSM, and a retired Director General of Artillery. He is currently a Professor in the Aerospace Department of IIT Madras. He writes extensively on defence and strategic affairs @ Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).


20 responses to “Tour of Duty: The Kindergarten Army By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Salute Lt. General Ravi Shankar. Very simple and straight forward analysis sir. The problem with this Government is that there are no debates and discussions. Everything is done clandestinely. Majority of them do not succeed but the Social media reps of the party spin the outcomes as grand success. There are no committees even inside the Parliament, except for namesake.

  2. Serving Cdrs aren't allowed to raise a voice and no veteran has supported TOD because of the expected damage it will cause to the core strength of the Indian military. I suspect a vicious deep state influence. Public debate on open forum is critical and only then a trial be carried out .

  3. The important point here is who will be retained,, will this 25% consist of groups that support the Saffron philosophy,, I feel this is the hidden motive,, to filter out थिए that support the Saffron ideology and retain them. This ensures that the, army is fully Saffronized.

  4. With technological superspecialisation needed to operate the futuristic military equipment and systems, the forces can ill afford to lose the skilled manpower. Building skill to effectively use and employ the futuristic systems and weapons takes years. But here by the time soldiers or sailors or airmen start getting proficient with their respective sophisticated systems, equipment and weapons, most of them will be ready to be shown the door. I don't think any force can afford that except probably infantry. I think this experiment is doomed to fail.

  5. A beautiful piece, must read and understand the things.

  6. Very well articulated article by an Army veteran. One more important issue will be after 4 years of job what will happen to these people. Will they be left to the mercy of the market or there is some future plan too. Let there be no immediate gain and regret in future.

  7. The proposal as published now indicates that after 4 years the discharged personnel will leave with a payout of Rs 11.71 lakhs. So, they won't be left completely high 'n' dry, especially if they have picked up some useful skills. Perhaps these recruits can be considered for non-combat/support arms thus reducing the impact on the teeth of the force ? Ideally, they should be given priority entry into the CAPFs after they complete their tours.

  8. Right💯

  9. We are working hard towards a repeat Waterloo of 1962… even the 3 Chiefs did not seem convinced of their own replies

  10. All the write up suggest foolish government and pliant seniors.The insuniation is not good for the nation's security.Time we stopped writing which create dissonance and loss of confidence in Govt ability to manage.

  11. There appears to be communication gap on all fronts . First : Military is a necessary devil so how much to invest in this is any body guess as last war was fought long time back and its only on rd parade and undependence day we remember a soldier .2. When equipment to protect becomes costly there is a need to integrate and choose wisely what can be done away with . This calls for single decision taker . Mind u it takes years to get capital equipment and a lot of tail has been attached to the teeth which has been growing over the years as employment generation is an important function. Next comes the easy way out soldiers need to be absorbed laterally in police medical and other departments as they have been trained at taxpayers cost . I can count on fingertips if at all some lateral absorption has taken place . It took years to break the shackles and get the ofb on track similar action needs to be taken for many agencies supporting defence. This will cut down expenditure and we will not have tourist soldiers

  12. Well analysed.

  13. A very well worded and analysed article Sir. It appear that indepth study has not been carried out at ground level, before conceiving such an idea to recruit youth for four years into Armed Forces. As a Naval veteran, I could not understand, as to what would be the end result and benefit of such a dictate. Firstly, the young person who knows that he is on a pay roll of armed forces, like a Daily wages labourer, why he needs to be war worthy . Secondly, there will be professional deficiency in such recruits Most of the outside population in the civil arena, thinks or perceives, that there is no much studies or think tank in the Armed Forces, that is totally ill conceived notion. Today's warfare, is very much complex/scientic orientation, be it firing a gun, missile, flying a fighter aircraft, or taking a war ship at sea and one can go on n on to describe. At the end of the day, the youth who exit the armed forces on completion of four years, will be left without any job. To put the things into right perspective, the youth at the beginning of his carrier is made skill less/jobless. These very youth, with six month training will not be of much use to armed forces, as they will lack profesionalism and dedication. As far the budgetary constraints, it has to be sorted out at the Govt level by making such provision. For that reason, we needs to understand that Which developing country in this world doesnot have army and don't incur expenditure to maintain them Lastely, we as a Nation needs to understand our groploitical compulsions and to combat any misadventures from any other country we needs to maintain a constant professional army. This is my personal views .

  14. Sir being a Gunner you are right

  15. Model seems shoehorned to facilitate the setup of a privately maintained army by the likes of Adani and Ambani…gradually the whole army could be controlled privately

  16. The IIT touch is so clearly seen.Clear head,data in support,solid work & experience to support thesis.And the courage to speak up.2. Experts of this calibre need to be consulted lest we are another 1962 ki fauj with a crying PM Modi replacing Nehru.3.Was cutting down of useless civilian govt employees ever considered? Delhi has maybe thousands of attached military men bcs the civilian is on 'tour of duty' & yet work must go on.4. Who will stand in for these soldiers in combat units.Ye yatra nahin hai mantri ji,it is war.Think of country not the next election.5. Clearly the body language of Chiefs was of uncertainty.God Save Mera Bharat Mahan.The TOD jawan will not.Jai Hind.Col Arun Mamgain,Retd.

  17. The General has summed up the issue brilliantly.Couldn't be more hard hitting than this.Hope better sense prevails!

  18. As a Rimcollian the General has as usual summed up the case succulently. But its always easy to find fault in anything and I can even find faults in Lord Rama and highlighting an administartive issue will get us nowhere. The issue is a solution to our current predicament of too high personnel costs and an overaged armed force. For new weapons we need to cut costs and reduce flab but we appear to be happy with status quo. Many veterans believe the new idea is of the political establishment and hence to be reflexively opposed. For some centuries till the 70s we had the concept of color service that was most foolishly abandoned as a welfare measure and it is now being opposed. Armys are always reluctant to change but we cant carry on without change. For the officer corp we need to introduce 'up or out' system where in the superceded retire from service as they are nether good for morale, their contribution and make for an overaged force. US and UK follow this model. We are a defence force and not a welfare service as some seem to believe. Lets give the new system, agreed to by the services headquarters a decent chance.

  19. Sir,Well put indeed. Bharat Karnad gives different perspectives but agrees with your point that this may have issues.While I cannot (and will not as this is not my core competency) take a stance & challenge your perspectives on the impact on the quality of our forces, Respectfully, I'd like to take a larger perspective on this.The key reason the current model is being revisited is because of the balooning retirement costs (and I disagree about the political/saffron perspectives). It is better we do something now rather than wait till things get much worse.The question then is what should we do? What are the choices in front of us? We can't (will not) unilaterally cut pensions. While we can trim the Armed Forces (Shetatkar Committee…) that is a one time thing and its accruing benefits will not solve this problem permanently.I assume multiple alternatives have been explored and this was the one chosen. First: Are there any better alternatives to the whole Agnipath initiatives and secondly, given that this has been chosen – how do we make it work (and if needed) morph to the better alternative?The fact that we must do something is given. If so, then the questions are WHAT and HOW.

  20. A very well articulation backed up by the fact. Sir one more important thing which I shall request if you can please highlight for the environment in your next analysis in this series as what will be impact & how numbers will speak up after 2030 when ratio will decline to 1:6. In a subunit the above 5 year strength will be 45 (which is same as the approx number of NCO in a subunit) then does it mean that in 5-6 years each individual will become an NCO & invariably all of them become JCO also (based upon present authorisation of NCO & JCO in a Battalion) ??? Does it mean this approved 25% lot for sure will become JCO ??? Challenges with this approach????

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