Rightsizing is Wrong

Hard News | Jun 1, 2004

Ac expenditure on manpower accounts for over 90 per cent of the army's budget, all possible avenues need to be explored to save manpower costs without compromising the army's operational preparedness. Such a move offers a lucrative opportunity to save on manpower costs by increasing the number of Territorial Army battalions and reducing the number of regular army units.

Ever since the Pakistani army announced a cut of 50,000 non-combatant personnel, approximately 10 per cent of its bloated force of 500,000, defence analysts and editorial writers have been advising the Indian army to follow suit. But any downsizing — or rightsizing — undertaken by the Indian Army must be based on a strategic defence review (SDR) that takes into account not only the moves made across the Line of Control (LoC), but all the challenges to national security, both internal and external. And unbelievably, no Indian government has performed an SDR in the 57 years since Independence, or made any effort to formulate a coherent defence policy.
The Pakistani “downsizing” effort is nothing but window dressing to convince the international community and financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that it is making concerted efforts to reduce the defence budget. Some of the personnel will be re-mustered to serve in new “force multiplier” units, while others will be employed on contract as orderlies for officers. Obviously, it would be foolish to reduce the size of the Indian Army simply to match these cosmetic changes.

Pakistan’s moves to reduce Its military personnel nave brought calls for India to do the same — but a blind reduction in force would be precipitous, particularly when Pakistan’s moves have mostly been cosmetic

Most supporters of large-scale force reductions say that we are facing a revolution in military affairs and that it is quality and not quantity that will matter on tomorrow’s battlefield — never mind that the merits of this argument, also put forward by US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, are even now being sorely tested in Iraq. Others argue that competition between nations is undergoing a paradigm shift in which relations based on the balance of military power are giving way to relations based on the relative strength of market economies, which will make military strength less important.
Pending the outcome of a SDR, it would be prudent to accept that the present force levels, in terms of the army’s corps, divisions and independent brigade groups and the supporting logistics elements, are based on the existing threats as perceived in the collective wisdom of the Ministry of Defence and Army Headquarters. These must be presumed to be adequate and not open to any major reduction, particularly in view of the continuing large-scale commitment of the army in counter-insurgency (CI) operations — a commitment that is unlikely to be reduced in the near future.
The fundamental challenge, then, is to find ways to maintain a force structure capable of dealing with today’s realities and still generate sufficient resources to invest in modernisation and technologies crucial! to tomorrow’s battlefield. Ac expenditure on manpower accounts for over 90 per cent of the army’s budget, all possible avenues need to be explored to save manpower costs without compromising the army’s operational preparedness.
Given the known military potential of India’s major adversaries and the greater transparency of the battlefield due to better surveillance resources, the breakout of sudden hostilities is improbable — though, of course, not impossible. In the prevailing security environment, it should be possible to obtain an enhanced warning of three to six months before war becomes imminent, except in contingencies like the situation that arose after the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on Parliament.
Hence, some calculated risks can be taken without seriously compromising national security interests. Public memory being short, it has already been forgotten that General V P Malik, then Indian Army chief, unilaterally announced the reduction of the Indian force by 50,000 combatant personnel, and the exercise was well underway in 1999 when the Pakistan army’s nefarious excursion into Kargil put paid to the plans. This unilateral reduction of troops was expected to result in an annual saving of approximately Rs 500 crore, an amount that was to be spent on modernisation.
Based on a study carried out in 1996-97, the army had taken measures to reduce the manpower strength of the Non field Force (NFF). These reductions amounted to approximately 20,000 personnel from various non-combat establishments like the training centres and depots.
Here, the aim was to cut down the flab and improve the ‘teeth-to-tail’ ratio. Such a move offers a lucrative opportunity to save on manpower costs by increasing the number of Territorial Army (TA) battalions and reducing the number of regular army units. Territorial Army units have performed creditably in the post-independence conflicts and are continuing to do so in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeastern states.
Besides infantry battalions, field and air defence artillery TA units have existed in the past. Perhaps the most important statutory change required to make TA units even more combat-worthy would be to make TA service compulsory for all Central government employees. This would require a bold political initiative, but one from which a nationalistic political party concerned with the nation’s security should not shy away.
Another concept that has gained currency abroad is the suspension of some fighting formations. Under such a plan, not all units need to be in a state of immediate Operational readiness at all times, since wars are unlikely to break out overnight. If this line of argument is accepted, it should be possible to downgrade the readiness standards of certain formations earmarked for offensive operations. For instance, the command and control elements and a core group of essential personnel could be retained to maintain mothballed equipment and warlike — stores, while the remaining personnel could be reservists who would be called up only when war clouds appear over the Strategic horizon.
To make this work, active service in the army for the jawans would need to § he reduced to seven years. On release from the army, the demobilised troops would be absorbed by the Central Police Organisations (CPO) where — they would serve until super-annuation. The army would have a lien on their service as reservists for a period of eight to 10 years. Such a scheme would give the army a much younger profile; the jawans would continue to have gainful employment till the normal age of superannuation, the CPOs should be happy to induct trained army manpower and the exchequer would save millions of rupees of the taxpayers’ money by cutting down on pension bills.
It is also possible to reduce manpower In logistics. With the development of better roads and other infrastructure in the border areas, continuing investments in military vehicles are no longer necessary.
The army can easily requisition thousands of civilian trucks in a short period of time and can save on both manpower as well as vehicle costs. Obviously, some four-wheel drive vehicles capable of cross-country movement will still be required. For these, the government can float a public sector unit on the lines of the Container Corporation of India so that the vehicles can be used for commercial purposes during peacetime and provided to the army during war and for counter-insurgency Operations. Of course, risks can be taken only up to a point while planning logistics support; beyond that, such moves become counter-productive. A detailed cost-benefit analysis should be conducted through a comprehensive study of the logistics requirements in each theatre of operations.
Only then can decisions for reducing the cost of logistics support be made.
There should be no doubt that there is an urgent need to save on manpower costs.
But this can be done without cutting down on the availability of the required manpower for war. As long as this fine distinction is understood, whatever method is ultimately found will be based on a reasoned analysis. The exercise to reduce the costs of the army’s manpower will be painful. It will require political courage, military astuteness, a non-parochial approach and a singularity of purpose to ensure that the army can march into the future with confidence, well prepared to tackle the new challenges looming on the horizon.