While the move to have people volunteer for a temporary period in the armed and paramilitary forces will help India have reserve personnel, it is too short a time to train them to acceptable standards.
By Praful Bakshi
All nations which have emerged as strong countries, both militarily or industrially, have done so due to the direct involvement of their young population. The recent statement of the government regarding citizens volunteering to serve 3-5 years in the three arms of the services and in paramilitary forces through a scheme called Tour of Duty has many facets to it.
It seems a noble and viable idea as a large number of youth wish to taste the life of the armed forces, even for a short duration, before proceeding to civilian jobs. Service in the armed forces will expose a large section to the concept of national security, understanding of the roles of these forces and the threats faced by the nation from international conflict and counter-insurgency operations.
Besides this, the armed forces are adept in the science of management, its principles and innovation in advance techniques. These have been absorbed by all major administrative fields and corporate houses. Hence, when a large chunk of youth is exposed to such field application of management activities, it automatically prepares them to take up positions in managerial cadres in government services and the corporate sector.
Also, the involvement of these people in defence would automatically lead to a reserve manpower which is at the disposal of the government for various duties in times of need. This will also lead to savings in defence pensions, which account for 30 percent of the total defence budget.
However, there are cons too. All those who have served in the forces will point to the impracticality of this demand as three years is too short a time to train a young man to acceptable standards in the military. At least a year is required to train a raw recruit to become an officer. Thereafter, the officer would require to be trained for a particular role in any fighting or a technical arm and this would need a minimum of 3-5 years’ service. Hence, it would take at least 6-7 years from selection to the end of service for a man to become a competent officer. This would also include calling the person back after every five years for a refresher course of a year to maintain continuity so as to be a useful asset in times of national requirement.
To meet this requirement regularly as a national policy, the first major step required would be selection of personnel for the Tour of Duty cadre. This can be done in a systematic manner if compulsory military training is imparted to every school and college student. The nation would then have a vast stock of citizen soldiers ready.
However, let us not forget that the Territorial Army (TA) brings in citizens to serve in various cadres of the army on a part-time basis, i.e. one three-month attachment every year. Some famous TA personalities are MS Dhoni, Kapil Dev, and former ministers KP Singh Deo and Manvendra Singh. This process can be re-evaluated to cater for a longer duration of 5-7 years as per the need of the nation.
Then there is also the National Cadet Corps (NCC). In the late sixties, NCC was compulsory for schools and colleges. These cadets contributed effectively to the nation, particularly during the 1962 and 1965 wars as escorts to military logistic trains, convoys of civil trucks carrying military equipment and escorting refugee columns as a support to the local police and administration. Why were these practices diluted?
In fact, the core centre for this should be strengthened and be an upgraded version of the NCC. It can be renamed the National Military Service Corps (NMSC). This can give a regular supply of personnel to the armed forces. It should be headed by an officer of lieutenant-general rank and be placed under the chief of defence staff.
The selection for NMSC can be done after the cadet of the senior wing has finished his graduation and obtained the C certificate as army, navy or air force cadet. Once selected, he will undergo one year of advanced training as planned for the three services.
The state-level NMSC set-up could be headed by a major-general or equivalent rank officer. Full advantage would be taken of local military formations of the three forces. Extra funds should be given to meet the demand. Officers and men who are required to train the cadets, besides being from the three services, could also be from the BSF and ITBP on deputation.
Compulsory military training would hold good if the student has a fair understanding of national security, the role of the armed forces, management of disasters and development of modern weapons systems. This special subject must be started in Class 8 till college. The syllabus can be jointly worked out by a team of service officers and personnel from the ministry of education. Physical training can be the responsibility of the service groups so that the young men are exposed to weaponry and necessary technology. In addition, no cadet of the NMSC would be allowed to be part of any political activity, as required by the armed forces.
Successful cadets, after clearing an interview, could be granted 3-5 years’ service in the officer rank, as was suggested recently by the chief of army staff and CDS. For other ranks, all candidates who could not make it to the selection of the NMSC should be given five years’ service in the ranks. The question of absorption of these personnel into the services after 3-5 years will have to be worked out, but one thing is certain this vast reservoir of capable manpower would not only become the second line of defence, but would also contribute towards nation-building, governance, law and order, regional security, protection of vital points and areas, rural development programmes, upgradation of the environment, health, cleanliness and many other tasks like flood and earthquake management.
In the long run, Home Guards could become a part of this process to give it added punch. At this juncture, they must be allowed to join the Territorial Army as per the existing TA practices and rules.
No doubt, the air force too is a choice for a large section of youth who are enamoured of fighter planes, attack helicopters and heavy transport aircraft. At this juncture, one must bring out a startling fact unknown to most of us till the early Seventies, besides the IAF, there was the Auxiliary Air Force, which as the name suggests, catered to national needs which could be met in the field of military aviation without putting extra load on the regular air force. There were fighters and helicopters in this service and the personnel were all on part-time employment of a year.
This service can also be reintroduced now, not only to meet the demands of citizens wanting to experience the air force, but to use as air power in counter-insurgency operations all over the country, extra surveillance on the border through drone operations and to aid civil and rescue operations in times of disaster such as earthquakes and floods. Besides flying, there are other activities related to ground engineering, maintenance, air traffic control and radar/missile operations where these young Indians can be employed.
However, the question of 5-6 years’ employment in the air force has to be reviewed if the person has aspirations to become a pilot. This is because the entrant will take at least 18 months to become a basic pilot in the transport and helicopter stream. He can serve as a co-pilot in a transport aircraft and get his captaincy and thereafter be absorbed in civil aviation to continue to be a national asset on the reserve list of the air force. The main advantage of this is that he gets his flying training free along with the required captaincy on twin and multi-engine aircraft/helicopters.
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Similar procedures hold true for the navy, Coast Guard and paramilitary.
Such a vast reservoir of youth power is waiting to be tapped and the sooner this is done, the better it would be for the nation which is already getting threats from neighbours.
—The writer is a military analyst and air accident investigator
Lead Picture: PIB