ARMY REFORMS FROM TOOTH TO TAILFeatured

Written by Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoc
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In one of the biggest reforms of the Indian Army after Independence,over 57000 of its personnel will be redeployed in a bid to increase the "toot to tail"ratio of the force.Tooth to tail ratio is a military term that refers to the amount of military personnel it takes to supply and support(tail) each combat soldier (tooth).But there are other serious issues that are crying out for urgent reform.

IN MAY 2016, the then Raksha Mantri, Manohar Parrikar constituted a Committee under Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (Retd), to recommend measures to enhance combat capability and re-balance defence expenditure of the Armed Forces with an aim to increase “Teeth to Tail Ratio” of the Forces. The Shekatkar Committee, as it was called, submitted its report to the Ministry of Defence in December 2016. Parrikar left in March 2017 to take over as the CM of Goa and Arun Jaitley assumed additional charge of the Defence portfolio. Under Jaitley, the recommendations were partly approved in August 2017, with the MoD giving out the broad contours of what had been planned.

The MoD statement read: “In a first-ever exercise after Independence, the Ministry of Defence in consultation with the Indian Army has decided to reform the Indian Army in a planned manner. These decisions were approved by the Defence Minister.” The statement went on to say that in the first phase, reforms would involve redeployment and restructuring of approximately 57,000 posts of officers, junior commissioned officers and other ranks and civilians. It further stated that optimisation of signals establishments, closure of military farms and army postal establishments in peace locations as well as the restructuring of repair echelons in the army including base workshops will also be part of the extensive exercise.

The restructuring would include redeployment of ordnance echelons to include vehicle depots, ordnance depots and central ordnance depots apart from streamlining inventory control mechanisms. The reforms would also be carried out to ensure better utilisation of supply and transport facilities and animal transport units. In addition, there would be an enhancement in standards for recruitment of clerical staff and drivers in the Army as also improving the efficiency of the National Cadet Corps. The Committee had suggested 99 recommendations for structural changes in the Army out of which the defence ministry has accepted 65 after consultations with all the stakeholders. Implementation of the Shekatkar Committee Report has begun with the decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security to close 39 military farms in a time-bound manner.

The above is indeed an important move to restructure the Army and to improve the teeth to tail ratio. The administrative component of the Army was a legacy of the British and it has served its purpose well. However, increasing digitisation of the Force, improved industrial capability within the country and rapid strides in communication technology necessitate a review of the methodology of providing administrative support to the Field Force. Earlier, in April this year, the issue of enhancing the Army’s overall strike capability had been deliberated upon in the Army Commanders’ Conference, which means that a broad consensus exists for the reform process within the Army.

Redeploying 57,000 personnel for combat duties is unlikely to significantly impact upon the teeth to tail ratio. Doing away with military farms, postal services and base workshops and reducing manpower in the Remount and Veterinary Corps (RVC) is a positive step, but most of those laid off will be civilian noncombatants who cannot be assigned combat roles. The saving on their establishment costs would need to be redirected towards meeting the outsourcing costs as such services cannot be dispensed with. There would be some savings through ‘optimising’ non-combat support arms — Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) and Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME). This would be marginal. At a future time, the Army would need to restructure these services to form a composite logistics service rather than individual services carrying out these functions.

The Army is invariably seen as a manpower-heavy organisation fit for cutting ‘flab’ and therefore defence expenditure, especially revenue expenditure. It is not well appreciated that the Army, by the very nature of its role has to be a manpower intensive organisation, considering the nature of its employment on our borders with China and Pakistan and its continuing commitments in countering terrorism and insurgency. No technology can replace the manpower required for these tasks. The Navy and Air Force, on the other hand, are equipment and technology-intensive organisations operating from well established and compact bases with no commitment or employment in underdeveloped areas with extreme terrain and climatic conditions where supporting a combatant at the cutting edge may at times need more support troops than the combatant itself.

Siachen is a pertinent example. A more pertinent reform would lie in reforms in the defence support establishments like Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Director General Defence Estates, Director General Quality Assurance (DGQA), Ordnance Factory Board, Ordnance Factories, Defence Public Sector Undertakings and so on. Expenditure incurred on these organisations also forms part of the defence expenditure, but these see little accountability. The investment in these entities and the ‘teeth’ provided by them merits much greater scrutiny than the support elements within the services, but this is rarely if ever considered. Interestingly, defence civilians account for 40 percent of the defence pension budget. The recommendations of the committee on these structures is unlikely to see implementation.

It needs to be appreciated that India is burdened with a large number of ordnance factories and Defence Public Sector Undertakings, which continue to underperform. Privatisation of these can be the most effective way to improve the teeth to tail ratio. A comparison of the manpower efficiency of the government-owned Vehicle Factory, Jabalpur and the private sector Ashok Leyland is revealing (See chart: data for the years 2008-2010).

While outsourcing has always been considered as a viable tool to cut manpower, such methods throw up specific challenges, some of which are as under:

• Strategic/critical core activities in defence sector not feasible

• Large-scale civil staff attrition

• Lack of availability of facilities meeting quality standards in private sector.

• Limited private sector participation

• Lack of detailed guidelines.

• Concerns about information security..

• Efficient quality assurance mechanisms.

As part of the modernisation process and the efforts to reduce manpower, we could consider Performance Based Logistics. Under traditional contract structures, the military services are responsible for determining the type and quantity of parts they need, as well as making repairs, while the contractors only have to supply parts. PBL contracts differ by putting contractors in charge of knowing what parts are needed for the types of repair work. The inherent incentive for the supplier is that if they can make equipment more reliable so that it spends less time in the shop for repairs, their costs will go down and their profit margin will increase. We need to look into integrated, affordable, performance packages designed to optimise system readiness and meet performance goals for a weapon system through long-term support arrangements with clear lines of authority and responsibility.

We could also look into Public Private Partnership (PPP) models. A PPP arrangement is a business venture which is funded and operated through a partnership of the government and one or more private sector companies. The cost of using the service is borne exclusively by the users of the service and not by the taxpayer and the capital investment is made by the private sector on the basis of a contract with the government to provide the agreed service.

Another area where reforms are required is in the Ministry of Defence itself. It comprises solely of civilians, with very limited knowledge of matters military. India perhaps is the only country in the world which has a Ministry of Defence devoid of military officers. Most modern democracies have half if not more of their personnel in the ministry from the military. India has none. This is a structural flaw which has never been rectified due to government apathy. Briefly put, the MoD has ‘full control without accountability or responsibility’.

Ideally, the MoD should have a mix of military and civilians working together in a cohesive manner, to meet demands of national security. This is resisted by the bureaucracy, which continues to retain a vice-like grip on the Armed Forces. Integration of the MoD, by bringing in uniformed personnel in the decision-making process is a long overdue reform, but one that is unlikely to come about in the near future. However, reforms in the management of defence at the apex level are necessary, if meaningful reforms in the Armed Forces are to come about. While a good beginning has been made in putting up some of the recommendations of the Shekatkar Committee for implementation, much more is required to be done. The new Raksha Mantri, Nirmala Sitharaman indeed has a most challenging task in front of her.

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