Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Young officers

Almost 90 years after the British first threw the door open to Indian officers (the pre-1919 army was entirely British) and made a King’s commission the ultimate goal for the aspiring youth of the previous century, the wheel has turned full circle.

It is not that today’s youth don’t have it in them, but that they have other options. Last year, the then army chief General J.J. Singh told India Today, “We don’t have a problem. There are lots of young men who want to join the army, the academy seats are always full.”

The cat, though, was let out of the bag when his successor General Deepak Kapoor recently warned that if the situation continues, the Government may have to consider compulsory military service: “We are not at that stage yet, but should the need arise, the Government may have to think about it.”

India Today
Sandeep Unnithan
The Indian Army has always been a force of volunteers, even at the height of the 1962 war, which was termed as a grave external emergency. The warning was clearly aimed at the Sixth Central Pay Commission, which will submit its recommendations to the Government in April.

The army has already asked that the pay of officers be doubled. “The implication is that if the Government does not hike pay substantially, the armed forces will have no option but to suggest politically unpopular moves like conscription,” says an official.

Doubling salaries, the army says, requires a three-per cent jump in its budget for allowances to officers, which constitutes nine per cent of its total budget for pay and allowances.

Last year, apart from a vigorous media campaign, Defence Minister A.K. Antony had announced a number of steps to make a career in the army attractive for the youth, including timebound promotions up to the rank of colonel, professional courses for officers who retire at a young age, and more service selection boards for screening and interviewing candidates.

Evidently, none of this has worked. Though there is no shortage of soldiers—every year there are 10,000-15,000 applicants for one post—the army is vexed by the declining number of applicants for the posts of officers and a dearth of young captains, majors and colonels.

It is probably for the first time anywhere in the world that soldiers are coming in and officers are not,” says Major General (retired) Surjit Singh. Part of it can be attributed to the inability of the government to pay higher salaries to attract talent, which finds other, more rewarding avenues that are also relatively risk-free.

Today, a management graduate starts at a salary higher than the army chief’s Rs 66,000 per month.

The army says it faces a threepronged challenge: to attract new talent, to keep officers from leaving, and to put an end to the shortage of young officers.

From commanding a battalion to wearing a general’s epaulettes— easily the highest privileges—nothing seems attractive enough.

Not only are we burning the candle from both ends but also from the middle,” says a senior army official. Even the traditional feeders—the 19 Sainik Schools, five military schools and the Rashtriya Indian Military Academy—which used to produce over 2,000 eligible youth every year, seem to be drying up, due in part to myopic policies.

Fees at the Sainik Schools has quadrupled in the past eight years to cross Rs 40,000 per year. So instead of rectifying class imbalances—the reason the schools were conceived in 1961—they are now out of the reach of the weaker sections.

This year, the army has doubled its intake of short service commission (SSC) officers—who are trained for 10 months and serve the force for a minimum of five years— from 500 in 2004. Still, ssc entries constitute only 20 per cent of the army’s present strength, whereas armies of the developed world, which, like the Indian army, are scouring white-collar industry for talent, are largely made up of short-serving officers.

What the Indian Army has done, however, is to try and incentivise SSCS by increasing the remuneration. Its recommendations to the Pay Commission include giving SSC officers Rs 1 lakh as loyalty bonus at the end of every year of service.

More such steps are needed to increase the intake of SSC officers to make up for the current shortfall.

The army should shorten their stint to two years and train them within three months for specific tasks,” suggests Singh.

These officers should be allowed to leave after the period of compulsory service. This will inject young blood into the army,” he adds.

Clearly, the army needs more such booster shots in its hour of need

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

The army: full career or short stint?

Compulsory military service 'could be an avenue' if the armed forces are unable to recruit adequate numbers of officers and soldiers of the standard they require, army chief said here Tuesday.

Andhra Vilas
'Personally, I don't think it will come to that stage. But yes, should the need arise, it could be an avenue,' Indian Army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor said at a press conference.

Admitting to a shortfall of 11,200 in the officer cadre, Kapoor said: 'The fact is that we are not getting the right material. We have to take youth from the national pool in a situation where the corporate world is paying much more. At the same time, we do not wish to lower our standards.'

With a sanctioned strength of 46,615 officers, the 1.12 million-strong Indian Army is not the only one to face a shortage of what Kapoor terms the 'right material'.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) faces a shortfall of 1,565 officers against its authorised strength of 12,128 while the Indian Navy is short of 1,461 officers against a sanctioned strength of 8,797.

Detailing the steps taken to fill the vacant posts, Defence Minister A.K. Antony has told parliament that all officers, including those holding short service commissions, were now eligible to hold the substantive ranks of captain, major and lieutenant colonel after two, six and 13 years of service respectively.

Time scale promotion to colonel and equivalent ranks after 26 years of service had also been introduced, while the tenure of short service commission officers had been extended from 10 to 14 years.

Gen Deepak Kapoor's suggestion for compulsory service must have been modelled on the lines of Israel, where all eligible men and women are drafted at the age of 18 to serve three years, after which they are released to follow their career of choice. Ironically Israel is now in the process of shortening this compulsory stint!

It is surprising that the short service commission, instituted by the Indian Armed Forces, is not covering the shortfall in officers for the army. The short service commission is not a decision to be made in a spur-of-the-moment....it is taken after the young person has made his/her choice of career. So a doctor or engineer can join that branch of the military, do his five-year stint, and then return to civilian life without losing out in age or experience.

Interestingly civilian life is very kind to those defence personnel who have completed their full career in the military. This is particulalry true for the corporate world:
From the battlefield to the boardroom
Ramiya Bhas with inputs from Shubhashish

A career in the armed forces’ was something that AS Singh always wanted. And after spending more than a decade in the forces, he came to realise that he wanted something more than a retired life. He realised that he wanted to join the corporate world and have a second chance with a different career. But he was not sure whether or not a company would hire him as he did not have any masters’ degree or a management degree. After the completion of his tenure, when Singh approached a multinational company, he was in a pleasant surprise as he was instantly hired at a senior managerial designation. Today, at 52, he is still flooded with lucrative offers from prospective employers! The reason: he was a member of the armed forces.

This is not the first case where an individual from the defence sector has been recruited by an organisation. Many companies in the Indian scenario and globally are readily employing people who have a background in the defence sector. And this trend seems to on the rise as more and more defence personnel are stepping out of the defence sector and stepping into the corporate world.


If you think that it is quite a tedious process to have people from the defence sector to make this transition to the corporate world, think again. Many organisations are hiring people who have served in the forces and are offering them jobs that suit their profile. “We have hired several people who have joined the corporate world after the successful completion of their tenure in the defence sector. Most of them have come and joined us after a decade of serving in the army or the navy. And while hiring them, we know that their background works in our favour and we are more than happy to welcome them,” says Robin Lloyd, VP and GM, Lionbridge India.

Experts also say that people with a defence background have a certain edge while appearing for an interview and also on the job front. Indrajit Sen, Director – Talent Acquisition, Aricent says, “People from the defence sector prove to be equally competent employees as hires from other backgrounds. They are especially suited for specific functions such as administration, facility management, security and logistics, among others.”

Vijay Nair, General Manager, HR, Ninestars Information Technologies Ltd, a former army officer, who served in the army from 1982 till 1998 in the mechanised infantry, before retiring and joining the corporate world says, “A person from defence is trained to handle any situation envisaged in the management philosophy. They are disciplined, have a sense of integrity and excellent leadership qualities and can fit well within an organisational structure.”


Experts say that people from the forces can just about fit into any kind of a job profile and execute it with ease. While placing them within the organisation, experts say that they can fit in perfectly with leadership roles. Lloyd expresses, “They have a unique advantage that many employees tend to lack. They are more honest towards their team; more open and also have a better style of communicating with their team members.”

Llyod gives the example of one of their employees at Lionbridge, Bhupinder Singh Saini who presently works with Lionbridge Mumbai as a Project Co-ordinator with their Localisation team, “Saini has served the Indian Air force for more than 15 years in the Radar Defence System Department and was based at various locations in India like Bangalore, Kanpur, West Bengal and Assam. Saini’s key responsibilities involve working closely with Lionbridge’s Espoo team in Finland on various projects in Localisation. His job profile demands deep understanding of the software system at Lionbridge, good technical knowledge, excellent communication skills and working on tight deadlines to complete the projects on hand.”

Saini feels his experience with the Indian Air Force has benefited him immensely in knowing the importance of self discipline, working on tight deadlines, understanding of technical knowledge and improved communication skills that come handy while working on various projects of extremely demanding customers.

Nair expresses that people from the armed forces are here to stay and that they provide a major boon to the organisation.

The bottom line is that the trend of hiring former defence officers will catch up. And organisations are more than happy to hire them because they know that these people mean business and can get just about anything done. So if you are one of those who have been in the army, navy or air force and don’t want to sit at home post retirement, don’t worry because organisations are now on a hunt to find talent with an edge

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Monday, January 14, 2008

The Kangra infantry

18th century India saw the rise to prominence of infantry groups like the Berads, Telingas, Ruhelas, Jats, and Purbias. All Indian armies from the ancient times had an infantry component, but the improved rate of firing and the longer range and accuracy of modern firearms, propelled this arm to the forefront of other formations (cavalry and artillery).

By the closing decades of that century, these groups, particularly the Purbias, had been formed into disciplined infantry units by (mostly) French military officers. These military changes, emerging primarily under the spread of the Maratha power from western and central India, were paralleled in the east and south by the steady expansion of the English East India Company rule.

The quaint hill-state of Kangra, though located far north in the Western Himalayas, was not unaffected by these changes. Rajput states traditional relied on their clan providing the main (cavalry) force to the army, while their artillery and infantry were manned by those who could not afford to buy or maintain horses. Even so, the Rajputs of the Jammu and Kangra Hills, whether on horseback or foot, had a reputation of being excellent marksmen.

In the mid-18th century, after a century-and-a-half of war and peace with the Mughal Empire, Kangra's new ruler, Ghammand Chand Katoch recovered his entire kingdom from Mughal occupation. This success was paralleled by the invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali into the Mughal Punjab (1748-67)—during this period the trade routes traditionally passing through that province were diverted to the hill-states, further enriching their economy.

As the Mughals gave way to the Afghans, their soldiers sought employment elsewhere. Raja Ghammand Chand, because of his increased revenue, is believed to have hired an army of 4000 mercenaries, to supplement his clan-army. These mercenaries were primarily footmen armed with matchlocks and artillery guns and were composed of Purbias (Hindus from eastern India) and Ruhelas (Muslim Pathans disbanded from the Delhi army or adventurers).

Ghammand Chand's aim in hiring these foreigners was to aid him in capturing his ancestral Kangra Fort, still under Mughal control, and this could only be done by a regular siege and with plenty of firepower. In this he was unsuccessful, but by 1760 had managed to bring neighboring hill-states under his dominance.

His grandson, Sansar Chand's liberation of the Kangra fort, and his two decades of dominance in the hills must have seen the removal of the original Purbia and Muslim mercenaries through old age or death. It is not clear if he hired more of these foreigners or raised infantry and artillery-men from within his kingdom? At any rate Sansar Chand is definitely known to have made changes in this portion of his army by hiring Ruhelas (circa 1805) on the advice of the deposed Nawab of Rampur—this, and Sansar's struggles with the Gorkhas and Sikhs, is described in Kangra: the oldest state.

The Irish Colonel

Even after his subjugation by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the army of Sansar Chand continued to play a role in local warfare. An improvement in its condition came from an unexpected source. Matthew Heaney, a deserter from the 8th Dragoons, took up service with the Katoch ruler around 1810-12 under the alias of William O'Brien.

O'Brien is said to have initially raised a battalion for Maharaja Sansar Chand, drilled as infantrymen, and armed with matchlocks, which were stamped with O'Brien's name. The Irish soldier, who assumed or was granted the rank of colonel, had taken control of the Maharaja's armoury and manufactured eight guns for his unit from it. A small force of cavalry was attached to this force—the saddles and swords of these soldiers were also stamped with O'Brien's name. The cost of this entire corps was paid for by grants of land. The men for this infantry were all locals, making them the first "Dogras" constituted as trained modern infantry. This becomes clear from the Irish Colonel's correspondence with the Birtish during the Anglo-Gurkha War.

In the crisis of this conflict (1814-15), the British sought the assistance of Maharaja Sansar Chand, to assail his old enemies the Gorkhas from across the Sutlej in the Simla Hills region. But when the Katoch ruler only made a verbal promise while waiting for some concrete offer, Colonel Ochterlony the British political agent at Ludhiana, opened direct communication with O'Brien offering him a monthly salary of Rs 250 and a pardon for his desertion, if he came over to their side with his army. O'Brien's response, which he now considered safe to sign under his real name, is given here:
22nd March, 1815
Colonel Ochterlony,
I have received your letter, and have 1000 hill-men. I have also told the Raja I am leaving his service. All I'm waiting for is to get some troops settled that I have under my command. I have 8 or 9 horses that I mean to dispose of, for I cannot keep them on Rs 250 per month, as also I have some other property I mean to dispose of. I can join you in 20 to 25 days, as these mountaineers are very false people and great liars. I will let you know the wages of the whole of them when I meet you, which will be quick as possible the accounts are settled.
Matthew Heaney.

In other words O'Brien had plans of taking his soldiers to British service, leaving their families behind to face Sansar Chand's wrath, both of which were unacceptable to the hill-men, hence his complaint of them being "great liars". When the British sent agents to finalize the deal, these found the Irishman in a state of drunkenness, which lasted for days! Even so he had attempted to raise fresh soldiers to increase his bargaining power with the East India Company.

His treasonable correspondence with the British, and the presence of their agents in Kangra, was discovered by Maharaja Sansar Chand. In great anger he had the agents expelled, and disbanded the newly raised troops. This ended William O'Brien's attempt to rejoin his service and clear his name of desertion—by again deserting the service of his current employer!

His contacts with the British did not end here—after the conclusion of the Anglo-Gorkha War, munitions captured from the Gorkhas were purchased by O'Brien. Another deserting Englishman named James MacDonald came to Sansar Chand's court at Sujanpur Tira sometime after this and was sent to O'Brien—he was said to be the man responsible for improving the Kangra artillery.

The ruler of Punjab, Ranjit Singh, had been forced (1805) by the British to accept the Sutlej as an agreed boundary, leaving the cis-Sutlej Sikh states outside his grasp. In 1819 he attempted a fresh expansion in the hills, taking the aid of Sansar Chand's troops—his own men were led by Desa Singh Majithia and those of the Katoch ruler by O'Brien. They invaded Bilaspur state, capturing the forts of Pichrota, Nakalgarh, and Biholi Devi. Then they crossed the Sutlej and besieged the capital Bilaspur.

The outraged British then sent a demand for their immediate withdrawal to the agreed boundary—Ranjit Singh complied with the demand and further returned the captured forts to the Raja of Bilaspur.

Telinga Lines

In 1822 a Frenchman, Thomas Fukinaut, came to Sansar Chand's court applying for military service. He was in a bedraggled condition, so the Maharaja gave him ten rupees to buy new clothes and sent him to O'Brien. The Irish Colonel's camp was on the other side of the River Beas, opposite Sansar Chand's capital of Sujanpur Tira.

The complex was called the Telinga Lines. Telinga being the name of the earliest soldiers drilled into western-style infantry by French officers in the southern state of Hyderabad (Telingana region). The name became current for Indian infantry units, and was carried north by the Maratha expansion—but it passed into gradual disuse after the British conquest.

By this time William O'Brien had raised his troops to two battalions, 200 cavalry, and 8 guns.

Only a year later Maharaja Sansar Chand passed away and was succeeded by his son Aniruddha Chand. O'Brien also died in 1827, leaving behind no heirs, but only property worth Rs 60,000. This being accumulated from the land grants of Sansar Chand was taken over by Aniruddha—the Raja spent some of it in constructing a tomb for Matthew Heaney, alias O'Brien, somewhere close to Sujanpur Tira. The Irishman's favorite horses were believed to have been killed on his death, and were represented in sculptures behind this tomb.

Maharaja Sansar Chand holding courtthe Kangra infantry dressed in European uniforms

There is no clue as to who succeeded O'Brien to the command of the Kangra infantry, because in that very year a crisis erupted on the Kangra Royal Family——Raja Aniruddha Chand was forced to leave Kangra along with his family and close followers (to the number of 500) and take shelter at Hardwar under the British. Whether some of the infantry accompanied him is not known but seems logical——what became of the remainder of O'Brien's force is not known. The Europeans in it must have joined Ranjit Singh's service, as might have the infantry, or they might have returned to their villages instead.

When the Katoch rulers expelled the Sikhs from their country in 1845, they did so with the help of their clan army. And again when they rebelled against the British, the description of their initial army was given as, "a force of 800 Katoches." This must have included infantry and artillery, since many of their ancestral forts were liberated by these men——whether these were the remnants of the trained infantry is likely because even in the Anglo-Maratha War of 1803, after the desertion of the European officers, Purbia and Ruhela commandants took control of the Maratha infantry units at Aligarh, Agra, and Delhi.

Kangra subsequently became a recruiting ground for the Dogra Regiment. The word Dogra, derived from Duggar, is the name of the Jammu region, which had been united under Maharaja Gulab Singh and had expanded its power over Ladakh and Baltistan. Kangra and the other hill-states, on the other hand, had lost their independence and identity—hence the term Dogra was extended by the British to cover these states found in modern Himachal Pradesh.
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Monday, January 07, 2008

India-China border deployment

border deployment
Latest Govt estimate shows China, thanks to new rail-road network, can move 10,000 troops to Indian border in just about three weeks — down from 3-6 months a decade ago

Pranab Dhal Samanta

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prepares to leave for China in less than two weeks, the government’s high-profile China Study Group, which includes the Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and heads of intelligence agencies, has been given an urgent brief. It has been asked to come up with recommendations for the Cabinet Committee on Security to counter China’s much-improved ability to amass troops along the border at short notice.

This was prompted after the Army revised its estimate on how soon China can move troops along the Line of Actual Control, particularly across Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. According to this fresh estimate, China can move up to two divisions (over 10,000 troops) in 20-25 days — a huge leap forward from the earlier decade-old estimate that it would take a season or two (a season is three months) for China to amass such a large number of troops.

India had carried out a detailed exercise two decades ago on the Chinese threat and categorized threat levels into low, medium and high depending on the number of troops Beijing could move given the difficult terrain.

This assessment remained valid until 2000, after which questions were raised on a regular basis and now a fresh estimate is on the table. This has been officially conveyed to the China Study Group last month.

Consider the revised assessments:

Low-Level threat: This is an offensive with about two battalions. India’s earlier estimate was that it would take China 15 days to plan such a strike. This is now down to 7 days.

Medium-Level threat: This is an offensive with about two brigades. Earlier estimate was that this would take about 30 days for China. This is now down to 15 days.

High-level threat: This is what has got the government most concerned. This involves moving troops from hinterland China and about two divisions in total, which could take even up to two seasons (three to six months) depending on weather. This is now down to 20-25 days.

This reassessment, sources say, had to be done in view of the improved road and rail infrastructure in Tibet, connecting it to mainland China.

It’s learnt that security agencies have shown pictures of luxury cars coming right up to few kilometres from the Sino-Indian border. Also, the assessment states that China has greater flexibility and troop availability having settled its border dispute with Russia.

An initial assessment shows that India has to construct 72 roads urgently to come anywhere near addressing the Chinese challenge. The China Study Group is looking at ways to kickstart construction of these roads as well as reactivate airfields like Chushul in Ladakh, besides setting up new airfields to ward off Chinese dominance. Incidentally, Chushul is used only for chopper operations despite having a runway while China is said to have built new airfields in and around Tibet.

A set of eight strategic roads have been cleared for construction under the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for the North-East, besides over 3000 km in Arunachal Pradesh. But sources say a much more concentrated effort will be needed. For this purpose, the Defence Ministry is moving to get Border Roads Organisation freed from all other road projects in the country, particularly those going on in Naxal affected areas.

It’s learnt that an urgent construction and deployment will be initiated soon based on CSG recommendations. In fact, sources say, the increased incidents of transgression being reported by the ITBP along the Sino-Indian border is a result of more aggressive Chinese patrolling due to better connectivity and improved infrastructure.

And as per this India Today report (October 2007) as many as 130 incursions by the PLA have been reported in that year:

Even more serious is the input that there is a growing concentration of over 10,000 Chinese soldiers across the border in Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh, indicating that a full division of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China has been brought in the area.

China’s new game of intrusions seems to be a part of its renewed strategy to strengthen its claims on the disputed border areas. There are signs that the Chinese are strengthening their defences and have plans to intrude deeper into the Indian territory all along the 3,350-km-long Sino-Indian border.

What is worrying is that the incursions have expanded to newer areas. On August 25 this year there was an intrusion in east Sikkim—China accepted Sikkim as part of India as a trade-off for recognition of its claim over Tibet. Even official maps of China acknowledge it as a part of India. So does that mean Beijing has been violating Indian sovereignty at will? The Indian Government does not seem to have any answers.
Chinese incursions
According to the reports sent to the South Block, the violations in Trig Height area in Ladakh have increased and the Chinese violated LAC by flying a helicopter across it for the first time. Even in the Pangong Tso lake area in the western sector of the border in Ladakh violations are being carried out by boats in conjunction with vehicular patrols, the report says.

South Block’s assessment is that the Chinese want to draw the border in a straight line on the lake in the Western sector, which will prove to be strategically advantageous for them. Not far away in the same sector they have violated LAC from Demchok area in Ladakh from Charding nallah side for the first time this year.

According to South Block’s assessment, Chinese intrusions in Demchok area have a strategic significance. “It can bring infantry and armoured columns through Charding La, Jara La and Tashigong,” the report says. There are other reports that Chinese forces now also dominate an Advance Landing Ground at Fukche near the Jammu and Kashmir border, where even aircraft and helicopters to land and provide logistics and military supplies to its forces.

Intelligence reports suggest there is a concentration of over 10,000 soldiers across the border in Tawang sector, which means a full division of the PLA has been brought to the area. (This is in October last year)
Tibet Rail
In a war situation, development of three rail heads at Kashi in the western sector, Golmud in the middle sector and Chengu in the eastern sector of LAC can enable rapid mobilisation of troops and missiles. Road network too has been strengthened with the construction of a Western and Eastern Highway besides a Central Highway in Tibet right up to LAC.

While India has a handful of airfields near the border, in the recent months Beijing has undertaken a massive upgrade of its air fields in Tibet. In Gongakar, two twin runways have been constructed and Kashi, Hotan, Yarkand and Xinjiang can allow PLA to hit most cities of north India.

The Chinese have built all-weather motorable roads on their side of the border. In contrast, only three Indian posts in Arunachal Pradesh are accessible by road, the remainder can only be reached by foot patrols. The army and the border guarding forces are still ill-equipped when it comes to taking on PLA. Even though the Government has cleared construction of 608 km of roads along the Sino-Indian border at a cost of Rs 9,092 crore, the project has barely begun.

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