Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A manifesto for General Suhag


by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Aug 14

General Dalbir Singh Suhag, India’s 26th army chief, takes over at a time of change and challenge. As the Chief of Army Staff, Suhag will oversee warfighting and peacetime operations by 12 lakh soldiers, while also supervising the staff work (or coordination) that keeps this force running. Additionally, he will guide long-term force and equipment structuring and, due to the regrettable absence of a tri-service commander, coordinate with the navy and air force chiefs. Like many of his predecessors, Suhag could find himself mired in the sheer vastness of his responsibilities; in the pageantry that is an essential, but time consuming, part of military life; and in the heady intoxication of command.

Alternatively, Suhag could create a tangible legacy by focusing, laser like, on just three critical issues, leaving routine matters to his subordinates. So far, the new chief’s utterances do not promise a new direction. While assuming command, Suhag identified his priority as “operational preparedness”, especially “force modernization, infrastructure development, optimization of human resources (and) welfare of serving personnel and ex-servicemen.” Most chiefs before him espoused similar intentions, to little avail. Tired jargon does not portend transformative change. The new chief needs to focus.

Suhag’s first priority should be two crucial relationships that show worrying signs of stress. The first is the increasingly antagonistic relationship between the army and the defence ministry. The ministry’s sanction is vital for procuring new equipment; logistically sustaining the field force; and sanctioning senior officers’ promotions. Yet, military-ministry friction causes endless logjams as questions and answers move back and forth leisurely on file, wasting months on issues that could be settled in a five-minute conversation. In a well-practised blame-game, the military complains bitterly that the generalist bureaucrats lack expertise and understanding. The ministry, with equal justification, accuses the military of being unable to initiate a proposal in comprehensive and simple terms.

This has been going on for years. The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) in 1999 and a Group of Ministers (GoM) in 2001 concluded that the defence ministry needs some military officers, partly to help bureaucrats grasp military-technical issues. At the same time, bureaucrats need to be posted to army headquarters, to help frame proposals. With the ministry stonewalling cross posting, the army has withdrawn sullenly into its cave, forgetting that it needs the ministry but it’s not so the other way around.

The chief must bypass this impasse. Smoothening communications with the ministry is fundamental to resolving the army’s most serious problems --- such as its debilitating shortfall of junior officers; flattening the unacceptably steep promotion pyramid; enhancing foreign cooperation and military diplomacy, and indigenising defence equipment.

Suhag, must display the heart to walk across to the defence secretary (technically his junior) and, perhaps over a cup of tea, talk about a new way of doing business where ministry officials regularly sit with their functional counterparts from army headquarters and resolve issues quickly and cordially. Getting soldiers and bureaucrats into the habit of working together might even whittle away resistance to the integrated defence ministry visualised by the KRC and GoM.

The other relationship that Suhag must fix is the vital bond between officers and soldiers. That there is discontent in the rank and file is evident from recent uprisings and fratricides. Elaborate theories about the cause --- failure of local leadership, soldiers’ changing sociological profiles and expectations --- may all have a germ of truth. Yet perceptive commanders agree that the fundamental cause of discontent is the devaluation of military training.

Training is central to morale and professional pride; a well-trained soldier is almost invariably a happy one. Unfortunately, the army has disrespected this aspiration, misusing soldiers for duties unconnected with soldiering. When a havildar (sergeant) who has wasted his three-year peace tenure tending a golf course, suddenly finds himself leading a patrol 300 metres from the Line of Control, trouble is inevitable. By refocusing on training, Suhag will not just raise moral but also strengthen the operational foundations of the army.

The chief’s second thrust area should involve pushing the procurement of three weapons platforms that he deems crucial for battlefield power. True, the army already has procurement mechanisms. Yet, particularly serious equipment voids demand the chief’s personal oversight. The first of these is artillery guns, a battle-winning weapon that has been delayed by decades. The chief must ensure that guns are inducted through import as well as indigenous production. The second major equipment void is night vision devices, without which the infantry soldier --- the army’s fundamental warfighter --- is hamstrung both in counter-insurgency and in war. The enormous numbers required can only be afforded through technology import and indigenous production, preferably through the private sector. Third, the chief must personally drive ammunition purchase to make up the army’s wartime stock. With current stocks enough for barely two weeks of fighting, the cabinet has sanctioned the import of Rs 19,000 crore worth of ammunition. Without this, as the chief knows, the army is unfit for war.

Finally, the chief must drive the building of public awareness about the army. Although survey after survey names the army as India’s most admired institution, people have only hazy notions about what these superheroes do! The result --- the army seldom features in the career options of youngsters who could well make excellent soldiers. Suhag must despatch specially selected officers and soldiers to deliver motivational talks and presentations at schools and colleges in areas the army would like to draw from. Ironically, few organisations realise the value of human resources as instinctively as the army; and none do so little to consciously attract these.

(Tailpiece: I am giving a talk on life in the military to Class XII students at one of Delhi’s most reputed schools this month. If even one boy or girl in the audience decides to don the uniform, it would be a day well spent.)

11 comments:

Kris said...

Wonderful article Colonel.

Well explained.

captainjohann said...

I am happy you have included Training in your priority list. The training is not focussed and also it lacks the vision to inculcate workculture which under a chain of command(it may look illogical to a new well educated traineee) is all about discipline.Restoring link between JCOs and Army officer class is another area.

Abid said...

Dear Sir,
None of the top ranking officers in the pic ( except chief) seems fit, and wear a very sloppy body language. Its seems either they are into splurging and enjoying cozy life more. Even most defense officers look lacking basic fitness, and looks more unhappy. Such faces cant be motivators. Wish this new chief gives a directive to immediate subordinates and colleauges to get back in shape ... fast, which they had quit after their NDA days.

Anonymous said...

P1: End the 'Sahayak' culture
P2: Upgrade artillery and infantry stock
P3: Intelligence holes fill
P4: IT infrastructure
P5: Healthcare infrastructure for families
P6: Don't forget the fallen, take care of their families.
P7: Get Fit or get Demoted - No exceptions.
P8: Indigenize. If 20% today, aim for 30% in next 5 years.

Par yeh sab home wala thodi hai...ek bhi nahin hoga... power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Anonymous said...

Gen Suhag must stop all bhaiyas from doing free of cost service at peace stations.this will give the army the much needed manpower

Anonymous said...

Jerry says....
Well the Chief needs to focus on - 1. Discipline of Serving. As of now the state is such that if a senior is not within the ambit of concern then he does not even get saluted.
2. ACR driven officers. Why dont we do away with parochial system of appraisals. Assess all on daily work and compile the summarised output to identify the deserving and genuine promotes. Enough of roses & wine trends.
3. Fight for fair share of budget to Army and do not compromise the Ist class status of profession with respect to pay commissions.
4. Either indegenize or shut DRDO. Enough of poodle faking.
5. Terminate the AWWA activities. Let the same concept be run by Ex-servicemen NGO body.
6. Gifts, five-star cultures, theme parties and wedding like raising day celebrations- be closed.
7. Increase foreign postings, exposures and courses to maximum countries. Enough of carrying on with Englishised Army.
8. Train, train and train Indian Army so much that they become highly professional - maximum on ground and minimum in class or office should be the dictum to ensure.
9. Provide incentive to soldiering instead of biased acquaintances
only.
10. Punish corrupt to make specimen to the hilt.

Jean Luc Picard said...

All is OK. With the exception of Why must the COAS or CONS OR COAFS knock on Defence Secretary's door.

Chiefs must unite to take advantage of the PMs hard task master attitude towards Bureaucrats.

If the Def Sec acts funny all, service chiefs in Unanimity must escalate with the Def Min. The Chiefs today are almost a Media celebrity power house.

If the Govt tries to remove one of them the other two must threaten resignation. Such a news will not be something that the newly elected government would be able to afford.

Dismissal of three service chiefs is something no govt today can afford. As a result , what the govt will be able to afford is to make the Def Sec and MOD Babus a scapegoat and a whipping boy (much to the benefit of the national security).

Its basic primary school tactics.

Anonymous said...

nothing more than an arm chair expert article and series or arm chair expert comments. Lets stick to journalism of reporting facts rather than airing opnions

Pawan Seth said...

Enjoyed reading this article.

Broadsword said...

@ Anonymous 10:17 says: "Lets stick to journalism of reporting facts rather than airing opinions"

Mr Anonymous, I hesitate to tell this to such a genius as yourself, but this is an opinion piece. I'm sure you know what that means?

No? Wow! Okay, let me tell you.

The media pays some people, just a handful, like your unworthy blogger (whose blog I note that you visit, notwithstanding your contempt), for their opinions in print.

I'm sure you too can make big money this way. Why don't you go and talk to some editors? I'll be happy to introduce you. Get your CV in place.

Anonymous said...

LET, GEN SUHAG ELIMINATE THE FEUDAL CULTURE OF THE ARMY .
2)HAVE MAXIMUM OFFICERS FOR 15 YRS .RETIRE THEM WITH A BRIG PENSIONS. THOSE BEYOND 20 YRS PROMOTE THEM TO LT GEN RANK AND PENSIONS .
3) INTRODUCE COL GEN RANK FOR PSOS AND ARMY CDRS PLUS 33% OF LT GENS
4) FIGHTING ARMS TO BE ONLY NCOS CADRES . REDUCE THE NOS OF JCOS
5)REWRITE PENSION , INJURY , INVALIDATION COMPENSATION AS PER MARKET VALUE FOR LIFE .
6) LATERAL INDUCTION OF SOLDERS AND OFFICERS INTO POLICE PARAMILTARY TO SERVE TILL 60YRS .
7) SHIFT ARMY HQ TO GURGOAN , GREATERNOIDA or north of DELHI WHERE PT PARADE , GOLF RIDING , SWIMMING ,GAMES IS REGULAR ROUTINE AND NO FILE OR PAPERWORK.
8)OPEN VOCATIONAL , ACADEMIC SCHOOLS FOR WIVES SO THAT SKILLS CAN BE BUILT UP AND A WIDOW IS NOT HELPLESS. REDUCE AWWA AND STUPID SHOWS .
9)TIME BOUND INDUCTION OF LEVEL 4BPJS , NVDS 3GEN NEW RIFLES , PISTOLS AND MACHINE GUNS , INDUCTION OF ALL ARTILLARY TYPES OF GUNS . THE TOWED SYTEMS BE REPLACED WITH MOUNTED OR WHEELED ONES .
10) INDUCTION OF UAVS AT PLATOON , SECTION , COMPANY , BATTALLION LEVEL ,
11)DIV AND CORPS UAVS WITH ARMED
VERSIONS.
12) COMBAT CLOTHING , SHOES , GLOVES AND PROTECTION EQUIPMENT LIKE AMERICAN /GERMAN TROOPS
13) ARMOURED HUMVEES TYPE TROOPCARRIERS SO THAT TROOPS ARE SAFE FROM TERRORISTS DURING MOVEMENT.
14) LIBERAL DISCHARGE FROM SERVICE AFTER 3,6,9 AND 15 YRS FOR OFFICERS AND SOLDERS ,
15) SALARIES OF SOLDERS AND OFFICERS FROM 10TH YEAR ONWARDS TO BE QUADRUPLED AND DOUBLED THEREAFETR WITH EACH PROMOTION .
16 ) MISUSE OF REGIMENTAL FUNDS , FREE LIQUOR FOOD , TRAVEL BY SENIOR OFFICERS TO BE A SERIOUS PUNISHABLE OFFENCE