Lt General Rajiv Bhalla, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM Writes :
The COVID pandemic has forced the military to terminate all activities being done collectively with special reference to training courses being conducted at various Institutions. While the field training can still continue to a limited extent, the individual training at these Centres of Excellence has been adversely hit. The tight schedule and timelines for training individuals for one of the largest armies are generally drawn up well in advance and any disruption impacts the future training schedules for the next set of individuals. As the threat of corona virus is not likely to go away in the near future, it is imperative to re-evaluate the training procedures in the military to avoid any loss of time on training of future leaders. The training Directorates / Cs-in –C of all the Services have a lot on their hands to retain the annual numbers being trained despite the unprecedented lockdown and restrictions in place.
It is well known that the training of a soldier is the hallmark for his competence, professionalism and achieving success in war. All soldiers have to be perpetually trained to ensure victory in any future conflict with the adversary. Accordingly, the army has an extensive and elaborate set of establishments, spread across the entire country for the training of its officers and men. The dynamics of ever changing operational situation /circumstances necessitates a soldier’s mind to be extremely alert and ingrained with the capability to react to any situation and come out a winner.
The Indian soldiers are one of the best trained in the world. The officers are also put through a vast array of courses till the rank of Lt Col, and the thorough training curriculum makes them highly competent and confident even in extreme trying operational conditions. The men look up to these officers and once ‘blooded’ in combat are willing to go to any extent in following the leader.
Thus, continuation of training of military soldiers is of utmost importance and cannot be diluted or done away with. With the availability of latest technology and the modern-day exposure of our junior and middle rung leaders to it, the training could be modified without affecting the quality of professional competence and leadership. Our formations and units also have the capacity to run adhoc pre-staff/ promotion cadres including the JCO cadre, which is indicative of our resilience and potential to train soldiers at the formation/unit level too.
Under the present uncertain circumstances, we will need to maintain social distancing till the issue of immunity is firmed up, during which period it may be prudent to divide the courses into two phases; the residential phase and the contact phase. This may not be feasible to apply across the entire spectrum of courses but will have to be done selectively. It will be easy to do it for the tactical and theory-based courses and be difficult on equipment related courses. The revised syllabus for each course will need to be worked upon by an expert team and a viable model evolved. This opportunity could also be considered as a harbinger to the long awaited jointness in Tri-service training as being emphasised by the CDS. The pre-commission training at NDA/IMA /AFA/NA will however need more deliberate thought to find a way out during this interim period
In the residential phase, reading material is sent to the officers to study and answer certain questionnaires, with the duration varying between 30 to 70 percent, depending on the course, and the balance conducted at the training institutes as a contact programme. This however may not be fully applicable to equipment related courses as the men need more thorough theoretical knowledge to ensure a very high degree of its serviceability under war like situations. While such a major shift in training may not be easily acceptable to an operationally biased mind but needs to be examined objectively with vision and foresight under the prevailing circumstances. Our young children in colleges/ universities undergoing postgraduate / doctorate studies, in the similar age bracket, spend most of the time in self learning and get little time to attend contact classes where they firm up their views and hypothesis. If our JCOs/ NCOs can be extremely proficient in handling equipment and becoming professionally competent without all of them being put though the army courses, why should our officers not be put through ‘on the job’ learning, in the units under the guidance of unit seniors. The TSOC course has been reduced to one year from the erstwhile 17 months to include a component of residential phase for the non-tech officers.
This process will also transcend the archaic methodology of tutoring our officers vis-à-vis self-study to hone skills and develop the habit of reading and imbibing issues of innovation, ingenuity and original thinking rather than preparing from old notes of previous courses (Previous Course Knowledge – PCK) to obtain better grades. It is also well known that a large number of officers and men prepare thoroughly before proceeding on the actual course and the attendance at the establishment is primarily for a ‘good grading’. This is indicative of the fact that the shortfall in attendance during this period at JCOs/ NCOs level can easily be absorbed without adversely affecting the operational effectiveness of units/subunits. This model would help save time spent at the training institutes and make these officers available for Regimental duties for longer periods. It will also streamline the overall requirement of young/middle ranking officers at the training establishments as instructors.
It is said that post the COVID crisis, the ways of operating will undergo a major change. While the military duties along the active borders, counter insurgency operations and formation/unit/subunit level training will need to be undertaken as hither-to-fore, may be with slight modifications, the individual training at the establishments will definitely need a major review. It is therefore incumbent on ARTRAC to consider putting teams in place to evolve a blue-print for imparting robust training, by neither diluting the quality of the content, nor the quality of officers being churned out to lead men in battle.
Lt General Rajiv Bhalla, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM is a former Military Secretary and a former Director General of Military Training. The views are based on his personal experiences.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.