A Study in Futility?


As per a recent news report, the Chief has ordered a study to look at increasing the availability of officers in units. With shortage of officers reaching alarming levels of almost one fifth of the sanctioned strength, the concern and urgency is understandable. Rising cases of discord, assault and affray in units are disturbing manifestations of this shortage. The handful of officers available in a unit at any given time are unable to maintain the desired degree of interaction with their men, resulting in alienation and communication gaps. The fact that decision makers at the highest level are seized of the problem and keen to take steps to resolve it is heartening.  But, going by the inputs from the newspaper report, the manner in which the issue is being addressed does not inspire much confidence about any substantial outcome.

It was Einstein who reportedly defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”. The study apparently has been asked to look at increasing the availability of officers at units through clubbing of courses or condensing of training capsules. This is an exercise that has been carried out several times earlier, and resulted in shortening the duration of many courses, including the Junior Command course, and altogether doing away with many other ‘non-essential’ courses.

Tinkering with the already pared down inventory of courses of instruction that young officers undergo is likely to make only a minor impact on the availability of officers in units. Nevertheless, a study entrusted with such a term of reference would feel obliged to recommend some changes to existing courses. The increasing complexity of modern equipment and weapon systems, combined with the requirement to train officers to undertake operations along the entire spectrum of conflict, means that we should be looking at increasing rather than restricting their training opportunities. Compensating the reduced face to face or hands-on learning time through use of technology and distance learning, which are the predictable recommendations of the study, would be cosmetic measures without the same efficacy.  A marginal increase in the availability of officers in units at the cost of their professional development would be a retrograde step to say the least.

The well intentioned efforts to deal with the challenges posed by shortage of officers need to be channelized towards more meaningful measures. The starting point needs to be accepting the fact that the availability of officers in units is not going to increase substantially in the foreseeable future- even if all the academies function at full capacity for the coming decade. The focus therefore needs to be on finding out steps that can be taken to make sure that the existing depleted strength of officers present in units gets to spend enough time with their men. This means ruthless cutting down of activities and commitments that keep them away – apart from courses of instruction.

A beginning can be made by either completely doing away with involvement with AWWA at unit and formation levels, or outsourcing its activities. Reducing the bandobast during VIP visits (and similar events like visits by the Higher Command course) is another step. A realistic, truthful survey of how young officers from units from a cross section of locations spend their time over the period of a month would clearly identify many activities that keep them away from the men they command – activities which can easily be done away with. Identifying such time wasters would be beyond the purview of a study headed by the MS and conducted by the MS Branch. Ideally, an external research agency should be commissioned to carry out such a study and give their unbiased inputs.

Adopting this approach would entail making changes that may take formation commanders and staff out of their comfort zones. It may also mean that many opportunities for ‘projection’ may have to be sacrificed. But unless we look at taking some uncomfortable measures as these, the problem is not going to go away. It would be just another study, possibly a rehash of several earlier ones pulled out from dusty lockers, synthesized and touched up. It would recommend cosmetic measures which would be implemented half heatedly for a while. Then the dramatis personae would retire, leaving the problem intact for another incumbent to deal with by ordering another study.

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6 thoughts on “A Study in Futility?

  1. The point is being missed as usual like other surveys. With reduced number of Officers there is requirement to make the JCO,s more authoritative and doing what maybe the 2nd Lt and Lt were doing. As we are aware the demography of the soldier is also changing, he also require his own space and time more than anything else. In fact what I feel is the soldier is getting overburdened in keeping pace with useless requirements put forward by the Officer class because of the zero error syndrome. They are being kept unnecessarily busy to project high level of work ethos. What is required is to bring about a systematic change in the work culture. Today’s jawan is well educated he require time for his own self to follow his future ambitions, hobbies and further his knowledge. They are wanting to grow but are getting aggrieved by there useless employment in activities which neither benefit them nor the growth of the organisation. Also young Officers are not getting enough time for themselves that is why what ever time is left with them goes in getting their own life in order how will they interact and be aware of the problems of the jawans. Time management is the key, with emphasis on work which gives personal and organisational growth. zero error syndrome has to be removed which is preventing officer from taking decision. Senior Officer have to realise that the post they are holding though gives them lot of perks and privileges is not meant for their personal appeasement.

  2. My recommendation in this aspect is as under:-
    1. Have direct rect of JCOs, who are likely to be Graduates/ post Graduates.
    2. They should come through some sort of SSB and may be put through JLC etc to get them into some grid.
    3.50% JCOs may still come from ranks.
    4. These direct rect JCOs may be graded/ rated and after some yrs may be recommended to become offrs Lt onwards, thus ensuring motivation level and desire to perform,
    5. These JCOs/ offrs WILL be of assistance to a CO/ unit due to better edn as well as awareness levels. They r likely to be those pers who could not make it through CDS/ OTA entries. These indls can be expected to share the present load of offrs.
    6. Expecting present JCOs to be given authority/ independence and do tasks which are done by offrs is a tall order. It just one more ‘directions’ amongst many other, which r basically ensuring ‘whom to blame when something goes wrong’!!!!

  3. First is why are we having a shortage of offrs?
    Is it a considered decision of the govt or we are not getting enough volunteers, of required calibre? If so we need to address that as a problem, and not look out to starve the already starved.

    secondly, will the problems of Army in form of discontentment etc go away if we have more offrs? I cant be sure, of course it may help.

    The Army needs to be more professional, more transparent and with more espirit de corps which for the most part of the yester decade has taken a beating.

    You are right, we cannot afford less professional instruction for offrs (or men) today, we need more of it, and more stringent, true and demanding if we need to do our job meaningfully, and not vice versa.

    and thus I am back to my first point, get more offrs, train them hard. make job more lucrative but tough. and do not just do patch work for solution to only one problem whch is seeming biggest.

  4. Shallowness in our approach to most serious of issues has become order of the day. In our day to day routine itself, the major thrust is on keeping the higher echlons happy, contended and well assured. The major problem is not officer-men interaction but lack of job satisfaction, adhoc employment, mundane and sundry work like working parties for grass cutting, loading and unloading personal baggage of seniors, organising events primarily for the officer community etc. We keep stressing on the technological advances in sensors and weapons, future conflicts and related challenges thereof and the changing socio-economic environment but all this has not perculated down or is not evident in the working of our soldiers. ‘Sab theek hai’ and ‘sab chalta hai’ attitude especially amongst the officers in the middle and the lower rungs need to change. Paucity of officers is not and should not be taken as the primary cause of the deteriorating situation in the armed forces. Its high time we focus on the real issues like quality of officer-men interaction rather than just the quantity, living conditions and work ethos of soldiers need to improve, outsourcing of mundane jobs etc. Basically, the crux lies in making a combatant feel and being treated like a combatant thus ensuring that he has a sense of pride and dignity in a system which presently has not been able to ensure the same in these modern times. Studies will happen and continue to happen proping up baseless recommendations as the incumbants change from time to time. Outsourcing is a good option to identify the actual reasons but its recommendations may not be palatable to our policy makers. It is therefore we, especially the officer cadre which needs to sit back and realise the need of the hour.

  5. why do we say that middle or lower level offrs need to pull up?
    are these offrs not already under pressure? the pressure being exerted is finally on them and also if a senior officer gives a job to a less senior officer then it finally comes to the really young officers to complete it as all jobs are handed down and so all the pressure comes down to the juniors… do they not need a better way of life then being led …. one .. without sooooo much pressure? do they not have the right to take leave? have time for their own development?

  6. I guess the Chief may be looking at the mirror of yester-years where he was one amongst the 27 in the unit and one among the 8 in HQs. Today we have 8 in the unit and 27 in the HQs. What is being changed and what is being charged!!!

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