Army chief General Bipin Rawat is set to issue orders to reduce personnel at the Army Headquarters (AHQ) in New Delhi. The move is being viewed as an indirect attack on the lobby for postings in the capital

ThePrint asks – Indian Army reforms: Cutting administrative flab or needless downsizing?

Whims of political and military leadership have driven reforms in Indian armed forces

Major General Ashok Mehta (Retd) - Founder-member, Defence Planning Staff, Ministry of Defence and columnist, security issues

The national security establishment did not carry out any systematic strategic and defence reviews. It resorted to ad-hocism instead. The driver for its reforms has largely been the whims of political and military leadership.

Reforms have taken place earlier as well. There were the K.V.K. Rao reforms in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s came the first systematic security review by the defence planning staff. Needless to say, it wasn’t fully implemented. Then, the Kargil review committee report, the Naresh Chandra task force recommendations and most recently, the Shekatkar committee report came out. These reports have some very valuable recommendations that need to be reviewed and implemented.

Currently, a similar internal review is being carried out by Army chief, Bipin Rawat. It has two objectives: to carry out reforms and cut administrative flab. It aims to improve the tooth-to-tail ratio, in other words, downsize the army. There is a precedent for this. General Ved Prakash Malik did exactly this during his tenure as Army chief from 1997 to 2000. He cut manpower by 50,000 and saved at least Rs 5,000 crore which was supposed to be diverted towards modernising the Army, but never was.

Some internal reforms are also being attempted. These consist of a reorganisation of the Army headquarters, streamlining combat formations and removing further flab. Moreover, the chief is attempting to reduce the number of combatants being used for non-combat duties with senior serving and retired officers.

On the operational side, changes should be made after a holistic review is carried out. The two other forces, especially the Air Force, should be involved in this decision.

Counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency have now become the primary role of the Indian Army. Almost one-third of the Army is utilised for this. In addition, the Army provides up to 10,000 troops at any point in time for peacekeeping. Maybe it is time to revisit the old proposal that advocates segregating the Indian Army into an internal security force and a conventional force to deal with external threats.

Can’t afford to reduce military size, India needs boots on the ground

Air Marshal M. Matheswaran - Former deputy chief of integrated defence staff in HQ IDS, Ministry of Defence

Downsizing the military, especially the Army, seems to be the flavour of discussions in New Delhi and in academic, strategic, and financial circles. Much of it is lop-sided and without clear understanding.

The Army chief’s recent statement is more about reducing the administrative flab in the headquarters and enhancing the combat potential rather than downsizing the Army. His view on enhancing the combat potential is also about changes in ‘operational philosophy’. But, critics are likely to grab the wrong end of this statement and holler for downsizing the Army.

Organisational restructuring in militaries is an important element of revolution in Indian military affairs (RIIMA). But that cannot be the first step. RIIMA must address the changes required in the ‘operational philosophy’ – driven in part by technology, and in part by politico-strategic considerations.

It is the operational philosophy that should drive the organisational restructuring that is necessary. The Indian Army has a lot of flab, not necessarily in the HQ but due to its colonial legacies and traditions. This flab needs to be converted into a full-fledged combat force.

India cannot afford to reduce its military size, least of all its Army strength of 1.3 million. We need the effective strength of boots on the ground. The RIIMA needs to focus on this aspect of modernisation driven by operational and strategic necessities. The same logic applies to the Air Force and the Navy, wherein they need to enhance their combat potential by removing wasteful appendages and flab. They also have a case for increasing their strength, but that must come after restructuring to remove their flab.

Without proper execution, this will remain a cosmetic standalone exercise 

Lt Gen H S Panag (R) - Former GOC-in-C, Northern & Central commands

As per media reports, the Indian Army is in the process of a holistic cadre review to “restructure” and “right size” the Army to bring about a revolution in Indian military affairs (RIIMA). The study has been ordered in May 2018 and is likely to take six months to come up with concrete proposals.

Media’s focus has been on the “proposal” to do away with the division headquarters and place the restructured all-arms brigades directly under the corps headquarters. This concept was adopted by the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan post-Gulf War 2.

The proposed study must have government approval, it must be tri-service in nature and the defence minister should be the prime mover. More importantly, the government needs to first formalise a national security strategy. Only then can it formulate a force development strategy in tune with the RIIMA. The government has to finance the RIIMA, which is a very costly exercise. Thus, it has to be top-down in concept and bottom-up in execution.

Once the recommendations for RIIMA crystallise, trials would have to be carried out before the final approval. The funding and execution of such a revolution takes place over 5-10 years.

At the moment, RIIMA does not seem to be on the government’s radar. In the absence of the above prerequisites, the Indian Army’s study will remain a standalone cosmetic exercise and nothing more. It would be prudent for the three chiefs to get together and prevail upon the government to create the prerequisites for the RIIMA to begin.

In the project’s gestation period, there is ample scope for the three services to carry out an in-house organisational review to reduce the manpower flab. In view of modern weapon systems with much higher accuracy and lethality, there is no point in hanging on to the World War 2 organisations. This exercise alone can “down size” the army by 25 per cent.

Before General Bipin Rawat can downsize Army, he needs to ensure change of mindset

Sujan Dutta - Editor, Defence, ThePrint

Army chief General Bipin Rawat’s move to cut administrative flab in his headquarters, create integrated brigades and “right size” his force is in sync with global trends in modern militaries. As he sets out to push through his ideas, there are three urgent requirements.

The first is a change of culture or, as Rawat is fond of saying, a change of mindset. This would involve not just a willingness to accept a new structure in the military hierarchy that he has proposed – doing away with divisions, for example – but also mean using new signs of respect for soldiers through the ranks.

It would mean, for example, doing away with the “sahayak” system. Despite its origins – when the sahayak used to be the radio operator of the officer – the system has gotten corrupted over the years. There are occasions wherein sahayaks have been used for menial labour in officers’ family quarters.

With the rise in the standard of education and the increasing use of digital technology, soldiers today are far more informed than a decade ago. Therefore, it is not surprising that the number of soldiers who have used social media to complain about internal systems of discrimination has increased.

The second important requirement is the infusion of technology. This does not have to do only with the Army. Indeed, the Army has limited powers for acquisition of weapons although it is the biggest user.

Acquisition processes have been so tardy that most proposals usually outlast the governments that shape them. “Rightsizing” the 1.3 million-strong Army without the technology that will enhance firepower and agility runs the risk of weakening it.

A third important requirement is for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force to synergise not only operations but also systems. Turf wars are not unknown.

The services have to address administrative issues that may crop up with Rawat’s proposals, such as what happens to the equivalent ranks of the Brigadier in the Air Force and the Navy (Air Commodores and Commodores) if the rank were to be abolished in the Army.