General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of the Indian Army, is reportedly leading what appears to be the most drastic organizational restructuring that the Indian Army has seen in the past few decades. This decision seems to have been driven by a growing inability of the Indian Army to update and modernize its platforms and build capability consequent to a diminishing capital budget and bloated revenue obligations (pay, allowances and pension). This attempt to restructure the Indian Army largely conforms to the global trend of downsizing the ‘quantity’ of standing armies and instead focusing on its ‘quality’ vis-à-vis the changing character and needs of modern warfare. The initiative is also a response to PM Modi’s directive to the three services on creating lean force structures during his first Combined Commander’s Conference onboard the INS Vikramaditya in December 2015.
While reducing the number of boots on the ground and focusing on military modernization makes sense considering the declining possibilities of conventional wars, the implications of such restructuring are not limited to strategic matters but can also extend to broader social issues. But first, a glance at what this restructuring might look like and what it seeks to achieve.
The Indian Army has previously attempted restructuring on two occasions – after the 1962 debacle and in the 1980s. While the initiatives in the 1960s focused on training and leadership, the 1980s saw widespread operational changes that were driven by Chief Gen Sundarji, which saw the reorganization of infantry and armored divisions. Subsequently too, General B.C.Joshi oversaw the formation of a counterinsurgency force in the 1990s, the Rashtriya Rifles. However, all these initiatives did not involve downsizing of any kind. In that respect, General Rawat is the first chief to seriously look at downsizing the force across combat, support and logistics units.
Three committees will examine the various ways through which downsizing can be achieved.
The first committee has been directed to consider ways in which the strength of combat units right down to the battalion level can be reduced, but simultaneously made more efficient by enhancing the capability of its soldiers. This new operational strategy will mean that instead of having two companies on the front line and two as back up, there will be only one company as reserve. The two front line companies will go from having 125 men to 170, with the underlying assumption that the increase in the size will allow for a higher rate of initial success, thus reducing the need for 2 reserve units. The same structure of reorganization will apply to armored regiments too. There will also be a discussion on adjusting the hierarchy of higher headquarters in a way that the all the elements of the higher headquarters can be decentralized into divisional headquarters on a permanent basis.
The second committee will seek to propose ways to compact the Army Headquarters. One of the solutions being discussed is to merge the Military Training Directorate with The Army Training Command in Simla and move the Rashtriya Rifles Headquarters to Udhampur or Srinagar from New Delhi.
The third committee will aim to reduce the Army’s 8000 officer shortfall to 5000 officers. They will explore various options such as decreasing the duration gap between promotions and the recruitment of officers from soldiers another ranks such as Junior Commissioned officers (JCO’s). The other objective of this committee will be to improve leadership within the different spheres of the Army.
While previously the Indian Army’s approach to its manpower diverged from the global trend of downsizing standing armies, this restructuring and reorganization seeks to downsize by over 1 lakh personnel. Sure, this means that the Army will have a larger pool of financial resources to fund equipment upgrades and purchase up-to-date military platforms, but it might also point towards some serious social consequences.
India is a country that faces great demographic challenges and is experiencing a youth bulge that is rising rapidly. However, this youth bulge is not being accompanied by a comparable growth in jobs and vocational opportunities despite concerted attempts by the government.
The Indian Armed Forces, particularly the Indian Army, has always been a large source of employment in the country. While this year the Army is expected to shed 1 lakh personnel, the number could grow higher over the new few years. Microscopically, 1 lakh disciplined ex-Army personnel in a population of over 1.3 billion might seem insignificant , but unless the job market for skilled and low skilled jobs increase at a similar rate, there might be a problem.
In isolation while the idea of restructuring and downsizing makes strategic sense, it cannot be looked at merely as so, particularly because the Indian Army addresses more than just the military and security needs of the country. It provides large number of jobs, both permanent and temporary, skills training and opportunities for advancement to the growing population of India. Therefore, it is imperative for the Indian Army examine this restructuring through myriad lenses, particularly from a national social perspective and not just from a strategic or efficiency perspective. A concurrent strategy that must be rolled out ought to be one that seeks to seamlessly absorb manpower that is shed from the military into other sectors, public and private.