The government`s move to bring the Tour of Duty (TOD) recruitment model into the armed forces could emerge as a high-impact reform if introduced with the right strategy. It is being stated that the move is aimed at primarily reining in the burgeoning revenue budget. Already labeled by many as a controversial short-sighted move, it is important that the proposal is rolled out taking into account not only cost but also the military`s operational effectiveness imperatives
The defence budget has seen a rise in expenditure on pensions at an average rate of 10.7 percent since 2012-13. The share of pensions has shot up to 26 percent of the defence budget in 2019-20 touching nearly 1,20,000 crore this year. A balance has to be found. Sheer reliance on boots on the ground (BOG) may not be the answer, seeing the expanding security landscape. In any case, the current force design has not been able to stymie pre-emption or ingress at the borders and it is time to leverage technology to address repeated surprise by the adversary.
In the past some forts were initiated to balance the revenue budget, however, these proposals assumed ab-initio that rightsizing of the military meant downsizing of the tail. The war in East Europe has demonstrated how hollow can be the staying power of a vaunted force operating with outdated force design, overlooking the disruptive effects of sensors, electronic warfare, space, unmanned assets, and digitization. Hence the need for the right strategy for TOD. A two-pronged human capital intensive strategy and an overall demand reduction strategy can form the kernel for TOD. This strategy has to clearly spell out that the transformation of the military entails the transformation of all elements of the armed forces and that no one can retain the status quo.
Over the years, hi-tech has entered the Army at a staccato pace. Organizational and personnel changes have been half-baked, following old mindsets. A case in point is the manner in which the immense advantages of IT, networking, and data mining are yet to be effectively utilized in enhancing operational effectiveness. The shelving of many net-centric and automation projects reinforces this argument. Net centricity could have reduced the number of weapon platforms, led to better situational awareness, improved deployment, and demand reduction, and brought in distribution-based logistics. It could have enabled better force design using modularity and reduction of manpower.
A one size fits all approach needs to be avoided. For Infantry where unit stability with minimum personnel turbulence is important, a slightly different approach is desirable. It may be prudent to keep around 10% of vacancies for filling up by personnel from paramilitary on a rotational basis. The nature of competencies needed being largely similar, it could straight away lead to savings in pay and pensions. There will be virtually no expenditure on training, maybe onboarding for a few weeks in the units. Coming largely from the same rural stock, these personnel will seamlessly integrate and be keen to acquire higher-end weapon handling skills. This could also lead to enhanced force efficiency in their parent organizations like the BSF, CRPF, ITBP, SSB, etc. In the long run, it could relieve Army from counter-insurgency duties. A systems view has to prevail at the highest level to facilitate this tweak of TOD. As it is the Army`s special forces are on TOD with NSG, a reverse flow could be equally advantageous.,
If such a move does not find favour, even a minuscule introduction of TOD personnel in the fighting arms can lead to savings in the regular workforce without impacting unit stability. TOD can create a huge impact in the three technical Corps – Engineers, Signals and Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), equipment-intensive combat support Corps, and Medical Corps. Induction of diploma and ITI trained personnel can reduce training duration, as these recruits after a short stint of military training can be given specialist / on-the-job training of 6 – 10 months and deployed in units.
Diploma holders if deployed as direct senior Non-Commissioned or Junior Commissioned Officers can relieve officers in routine jobs. If implemented with a sense of purpose and ownership, a distinct upscaling of technical skill sets and better exploitation of the power of technology could result in fields like surveillance, intelligence analysis, cyber, logistics, quartering, engineering sustainment, and Medicare. Being technically qualified, released personnel would not face major hurdles in finding a second career in government and industry.
Some facilitation by the Government for their employment in DPSUs, Ordnance factories, airport /seaport/ highways authority, police, and PMFs would be helpful. A strategic fallout of this migration will be a remarkable upscaling of skills and competencies for Make in India. The enviable achievements of Israel in the field of military and information technology have been due to the regular migration of technicians from the Israeli Defence Forces into the civilian workforce. India too could replicate this human capital intensive growth strategy that focused on knowledge and innovation. Like Israel, if India too achieves self-reliance and a steep rise in defence exports alongside TOD, the critical issues of strategic autonomy and resource crunch could get resolved for good.
TOD should not be at the cost of combat effectiveness, but the mindset that operational effectiveness and BOG are synonymous has to change. Getting the right mix of TOD personnel is equally important. BOG has to be supported by an integrated military capability that can give them staying power on the battlefield. A mere 10% TOD personnel in an Infantry battalion could bring in savings of about 40,000 personnel overall. Similarly, bringing in 15% TOD personnel in the three engineering Corps can save around 45,000 combatants. Adopting a similar methodology, and all-round reduction of 100000 plus regular personnel is feasible. A strategy of all-round demand reduction has to be adopted. IT, networking, and robotics can lead to large savings for personnel managing supplies, clothing, and ammunition. The superior technical ethos of operators and gunners can lead to a reduction of technicians.
How TOD gets implemented will impact future combat effectiveness of the military. Decisions of today will impact unit stability, job content, and career progression of its members in the years ahead. The armed forces have demonstrated ample commitment, versatility, and ability to withstand the stresses of fighting insurgency and conventional conflicts over multiple fronts. Any unbalanced reduction in strength can cause disruptions, hence a cap of 20% must be maintained for at least for a decade. Force reduction is inevitable but it should also be accompanied by a gradual increase in the defence budget to at least 3% of GDP. The Army especially should consider innovative force regeneration measures, if the need for a surge in BOG arises. If Special Forces personnel can move in and out of the National Security Guards on rotation, a similar provision for the PMFs would help manage the risk of lesser ground forces whenever the need for BOG surfaces.
Skill level imbalance has silently crept into the military, leading to poor personnel and platform efficiency i.e. sub-optimal utilization of equipment capabilities. The military has to take a long-term view and strive to maintain a force design with a fine balance between experience, youth, and intellectual firepower to remain operationally and technologically effective. This will be feasible if not only the concerns of those being retained but those transitioning into a second career are handled with sensitivity and authenticity.