Monday, August 8, 2022

Indian army’s ‘tour of duty’ is a sound plan

The Indian government is considering a proposal to introduce the “Tour of Duty (ToD)” scheme, under which soldiers will be recruited only for three to five years. The model is somewhat similar to the short-service commission that allows officers to serve for 10 to 14 years.
While the plan is radical in many ways, critics feel that ToD’s implementation will affect the cohesion and effectiveness of the armed forces. While it is true that the concept is new for the Indian defence forces, similar schemes have been implemented in several other countries, without any adverse impacts.
Initially, the concept was meant for officer ranks, but now the scheme will be only for Personnel Below Officer Ranks (PBOR). However, the final contours are yet to be announced, and so those criticising the plan must wait for the final guidelines on the selection process, Terms of Service, severance package for those who are not intended to be retained beyond the initial planned period, and subsequent absorption in the Central Armed Police Forces/private sector/who want to start their ventures.
I have culled out some features of the scheme from open source documents:
•The scheme is only for PBOR.
•Intake will be from All India All Class (AIAC), even for units with a fixed-class composition.
•While yearly vacancies will be announced, this will be the primary mode of recruitment in due course of time.
•Initial service will be for four years, including six months of training.
•There will be a severance package after completing four years of service for all those who are not retained.
•Approximately 25% will either be retained or re-inducted to complete balance service on par with soldiers with current terms and conditions.
•Since partial medical cover is already available to all non-pensioners, except those out on disciplinary grounds, the same level of medical care can also be extended to this category.
•While there may not be assured side-stepping in paramilitary forces or in any other government organisation, help and guidance will be provided to soldiers for their employment, including in the private sector. There will also be provisions for easy access to loans and skill development opportunities.
If the ToD concept comes even close to those mentioned above, it could unleash several benefits.
•While officer corps undergo a stringent selection process, PBOR primarily moves on a length of the service-based model. The real selection is done at the subedar major level, too little and too late. The proposed concept will give an immediate qualitative surge in the units as only 25% will be retained/re-inducted. This qualitative edge will result in better leadership at the NCO level, besides better equipment handling capability and technical orientation.
•Some units have a specific class composition, which has been modified over the years because the intake process has not been proper. As we rise as a nation, national integration will be the key to handling both external and internal threats. The All India All Class (AIAC) will be better as a nationalistic model as ethos will be related to the unit and the country against laying too much focus on class composition.
Since ToD soldiers from AIAC composition will have representation from all the classes, some course corrections can be done as and when needed. Many countries have successfully implemented this model, and there is no reason why India can’t. The proposed model will also eliminate the possibility of class-based units revolting/leaving the lines.
•There are varying training models for officers’ entry into the Indian Army (10-12 to 18 months). There is no document that shows those who have been trained for a lesser period perform less than those who have been prepared for a longer duration. Each category is mandated to be given similar tasks in peace or counter-insurgency areas. Therefore, it is fair to induct these soldiers after six months of training as time spent in the unit also remains part of the “on job training”.
In any case, their numbers will be small in a unit initially. By the time their strength increases, bulk would have been adequately trained and experienced and, therefore, there will be no adversity by adopting this model with six months of training. The planning committee can further look at inducting National Cadet Corps-trained cadets who have already been trained to a reasonable degree.
• Certain skill sets are common in civil and armed forces. Picking ToD soldiers from those skill sets will be advantageous for the armed forces. However, TOD soldiers trained in those skill sets can also be employed outside the Army. These areas need to be identified as manpower and equipment/ infrastructure should have multiple uses, at least dual uses.
•With even ₹10 lakh as the minimum severance package, part Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme facilities on the lines of non-pensioners and facilitation for subsequent employment make the proposal a reasonably attractive package.
• ToD soldiers will ensure a large quantum of dedicated and skilled workforce, thus enhancing the output of the government/ private sector organisations.
• ToD soldiers can be employed in merchant shipping (since they would be more capable of taking on emerging threats such as piracy) and protection duties for key infrastructure projects.
Major General Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd) is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is visiting fellow of CLAWS and specialises in neighbouring countries with a special focus on China.

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