The Kargil Review Committee highlighted the need for reducing the average age of units. However, the focus got shifted to unit commanders and the age profile of troops remained unaddressed. The Agnipath scheme addresses this challenge efficiently. With this entry system, the average age of the unit will be lowered from the current 32 years to 26. Since both our land-based adversaries have mountainous terrain, younger units will perform exceptionally well on the high-altitude battleground

by Maj Gen Ashok Kumar (Retd)

I t is a statement of fact that the 21st century will belong to Asia unless China initiates a conflict due to its expansionist agenda. Comprehensive national power will dictate India’s role, more so in the emerging world order due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The shaping of the Indian forces will therefore play a very important role in developing national capacities. The manning, equipping, restructuring and people’s support still are and will continue to play important roles in building capacities of defence forces.

While attempts at doctrinal adaptation and optimisation of the fighting potential of the armed forces have commenced in the form of joint theatre commands, though delayed, substantial efforts are also being put in the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ to address the equipping issues to not only reduce the dependence on imports but also save the financial outgo. Import-based equipping results in multiple challenges including sustenance as is being faced now as our equipment to the extent of 60 per cent is of Russian origin. How we ‘man’ the equipment is also a very crucial part. The soldiers face an ongoing challenge related to handling of the modern and sophisticated equipment besides adjustment to the future war-fighting going beyond the kinetic domain and capability to handle small team operations independently. The organisation, therefore, remains officer-led in majority of the tasks both during war and peace.

The government has announced the Agnipath scheme as a new mode of recruitment. The scheme though transformative in nature is drawing criticism as only 25% of the recruited lot will be retained after a four-year tenure. Worry is being expressed about 75% being out of the job either due to not opting for being part of 25% or not being selected. Obviously, these 75% will be more capable as compared to a raw candidate competing for selection in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF)/state police force/other government or corporate jobs and they should succeed to get the jobs on merit. Not only this, the Home Ministry has announced to give them priority in induction into the CAPF and challenges as emerging will also be addressed. The severance package close to Rs 11 lakh (tax-free), loan facilities, educational qualifications and skill-set development will open multiple employment options.

Let us see as to what effect the Agniveers will have on the defence forces as it is the organisational aim which must be supreme. The Agnipath scheme will have the following impact: i) This category will be sourced from the All India All Class (AIAC) basis, thus reflecting the real India. The AIAC-based units post-Independence have performed exceptionally well, both during war and peace. With the AIAC, merit will be the sole criteria for selection in the forces. Close to 80% of the Army is already AIAC and with Agniveers, the entire forces will be reflective of an India purely based on merit, reaching 100% AIAC in times to come. Having based purely on merit, the defence forces will continue to remain committed for the defence of the motherland as hitherto fore; ii) Since only 25% are to be re-inducted after four years, there will be a competitive environment wherein all Agniveers will try to become part of top 25% thus enhancing the qualitative profile of the unit substantially even in the duration of four years with the defence forces. The main qualitative shift will take place once those top 25% are retained. This incremental ability will be able to handle modern weapons more professionally as modern and sophisticated equipment is now not only limited to specialised units but is proliferating even to the smallest sub-units of the frontline units as well. With enhanced ability, these soldiers will be able to mould themselves better for making the defence forces ready for future wars, to be fought at multiple levels Not only this, the Indian defence forces require junior leadership in a big way. The current method of enhancing those skills fall short of making junior leaders capable of leading small teams. The enhanced skill-set and intellect in the top 25% retained will make these personnel more trainable as and when they become NCOs.

The current average age profile of the units is in the range of 32 years. Increased age and age-related physical ability in the mountainous terrain are interlinked and it has adverse effects in certain cases. The Kargil Review Committee highlighted the need for reducing the age. However, the focus got shifted to unit commanders and the age profile of the troops remained unaddressed. The Agnipath scheme addresses this challenge efficiently. With this entry system, the average age profile of the unit will be lowered from the current 32 to 26 in the coming years. Since both of our land-based adversaries, China and Pakistan, have mountainous terrain, units with a lower age profile will perform exceptionally well in the high altitude/other mountainous/ harsh terrain and this will be touted as one of the most important battle-winning factor in the future.

And the advantages continue. What is most important as to what this scheme does for the nation? Majority of our youth are currently unemployed and lack discipline, which can be seen from the large number of protests and demonstrations on various counts which don’t remain peaceful and result in large-scale destruction of national assets. The ‘youth bulge’ of India, an asset at this juncture, can remain an asset only if the youth are skilled, employed and disciplined. Who can do it better than the armed forces?

The Agnipath scheme, while being advantageous to the defence forces, also gives an excellent opportunity for nation-building. When the National Cadet Corps was raised, multiple options were discussed as to which organisation should nurture the young and energetic children and the armed forces were considered the best to do that. It is a success story for the nation that enhances the discipline and national fervour quotient in the youth joining the NCC. Nothing could be better than adopting the scheme which changes the youthful profile of the units, enhances technological threshold, enhances trainability for junior leadership and in the end, gives the desired qualitative edge across the entire spectrum to all the units of the defence forces, but in the process also transforms the nation to a different level of ability and commitment.