Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Pay Commission Outcome as Opportunity

There has been an attempt to generate a controversy around the military's propositioning the government on raising its emoluments and addressing the perceived decline in status. Inspired leaks have tried to bring into question the sense of propriety and self-discipline of no less than the Chiefs for doing this. Such critical commentary could be considered damaging for the morale of the services. However, the Chiefs by adopting a collective and proper approach have not only added to their individual stature but have enhanced the pride in uniform of both serving members and of their veteran well-wishers.
The controversy does not brook repetition. Suffice it to mention that the services felt let down by the Pay Commission's outcome and have sought to apprise the government of their concerns, lest injustice is done to the soldier. Since the Chiefs are held accountable for their respective force, they have not only a right, but a duty to bring any possible disquiet, or prospect of this, to the notice of the political head. Political control being the prerogative of the elected political authority, it is to the political representatives of the people that the services need answer. This, the Chiefs have done and while doing so have explained the situation of resultant delay in disbursing the pay bonanza through the time-honoured medium of a respective service-wide communication. That the government is seized of the matter is evident from the matter being taken up by a group of senior ministers to resolve. While not preempting the outcome, it may be anticipated that the nation would not begrudge its guardians a positive response.
Therefore, it behooves the services to introspect and continue to ensure that the national treasure expended begets a quality return. Here are some illustrative directions that the services could traverse in this regard.
First, is the question of manpower management. There is a case to be made that in the nuclear age, the Army in particular needs to move from a 'mass' configuration of a war-fighting military to a technology-savvy force of a war-deterring one. Organizational changes have been made such as new raisings of higher headquarters and some niche units such as for info war. But these have been through milking the existing resources, keeping the spaces so created blank for filling up in the future. Also, expansion in the officer corps to fill in the well-known vacancies of over ten thousand officers is under discussion through an expanded short service cadre. The Ajai Vikram Singh Committee's Phase II recommendations have been approved for implementation, expanding vacancies in higher ranks. Operationally, there are reports of brigade-sized manoeuver groups being formed in the wake of adoption of the Cold Start doctrine. However, there has been no effort to draw down the strength of the army.
There are several directions along which this can be done. One is delayering - for instance in emulating the US Army's emphasis on brigade-level combat teams over divisions. Is there a case for reduction in holding divisional headquarters, with pivot corps operations and logistics staff substituting their functions in a networked and IT-enabled environment? Next, in the case of the colonial-era system of countrywide presence of Area and Sub Area headquarters, can one of these rungs not be axed in the light of better communications now available?
Modernization of work culture and savings can also be brought about through thoughtful legacy-busting interventions. Facilities all over the country, particularly in peace stations, have improved enough for the military to consider outsourcing administrative functions, such as clubs, messes, canteens and so on. These consume manpower that should be devoted to training - getting conversant with the equipment and tactics of future war. Where there is a military concentration, there should be collective - infrastructure-saving - facilities, such as buildings for headquarters and messes. The aspect of preserving identity through distinctive space is only relevant for cutting-edge fighting outfits. For instance, there is no need for three brigade headquarters buildings and messes in a station accommodating a division. These could instead be clubbed into one, with flanks and floors being the distinctive space, along side the division headquarters. And the division and brigade staff can have a joint mess without the graded and separate messes presently. Only individual units - in which messes fulfill a bonding and cohesion function - could maintain respective messes.
Lastly, it would appear that it is time for a reappraisal of the Army's officer-man relations. A better paid, educated soldiery would require to be dealt with in a different fashion than the paternal pattern of yore. The feudal hangover from the Raj, particularly in self-esteem impinging tasks (waiters, orderlies, ornamental sentries) to which soldiers continue to be applied, could attract scrutiny of the hierarchy in the form of a 'top-down' initiative. This would enhance their professional quotient, devolve accountability down to soldier level and modernize Army culture.
This is an opportunity for the Army to emulate its sister services and within the Army, the Infantry, to learn from its brother arms and services. This would help ensure that humanware keeps pace with the hardware and software of the 21st century.

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