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The C3 Formula

Teeth-to-tail ratio is a flawed concept without any scientific base

Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman (retd) Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman (retd)

According to Morris Janowitz, investment in the military is hardly the result of disposable capital but is rather a fundamental cost that nations are prepared to bear, whatever be their economic ability. However, the pie that a nation can spare for defence is not limitless. It is often said that resources diverted to defence are always at the cost of development. Regrettably, such a sweeping statement exposes ignorance of geo-strategic realities. A secure environment is a prerequisite for development. Therefore, defence is a function of development. However, it is incumbent on the defence authorities to ensure that the allocated budget is utilised prudently and all efforts are made to affect savings.

As manpower consumes a major chunk of the defence budget, it is natural that its reduction be viewed as the most viable option to reduce expenditure. Since no military can accept reduction in its fighting potential, combat elements (teeth) remain outside the purview of possible cutbacks. The axe invariably falls on the support and logistic elements (tail). In other words, endeavour of every review is invariably to curtail the tail, thereby improving the ‘teeth-to-tail ratio’.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to the Combined Commanders Conference in last December for efforts to better the existing ‘teeth-to-tail ratio’, reduction in tail appears to have become an obsession with the environment. It is being treated as a panacea for all budgetary woes. A committee has been constituted by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under a retired General Officer to recommend measures to improve ‘teeth-to-tail ratio’. The Army Headquarters has also set up an internal committee under an Army Commander with similar assignment. Most unfortunately, the so-called tail is being equated with flab in a highly irrational and cavalier manner.

The concept of ‘teeth-to-tail ratio’ was initially propounded by the corporate world after the Great Depression to describe relationship between the cost of production of a product to its overheads (distribution, advertising etc). As there was limited scope in the reduction of production costs, efforts were directed towards reducing overheads. Hence, production expenses were called teeth while all overheads were grouped together as tail.

As regards the armed forces, the concept was first applied to the US forces during World War II to highlight the enormous expenditure being incurred on logistic infrastructure to maintain supplies to the Allied Forces from production bases in the US. The term soon caught the fancy of military thinkers the world over and came to be used loosely to indicate how streamlined the manpower structure of a military was. It has come to be accepted as a measure to appraise a military’s utilisation of its human resources. There are few concepts and expressions which have been as blatantly abused as ‘teeth-to-tail ratio’.

Teeth-to-Tail Ratio Lacks Scientific Exactitude

Although the services take pride in being explicit and abhor ambiguity, military commanders have started using the expression ‘teeth-to-tail ratio’ in an extremely loose manner, without understanding its implications fully. ‘Teeth-to-tail ratio’ is a highly imprecise, vague and misleading concept. It has no standard criterion. Resultantly, its application is always subjective and skewed, resulting in flawed deductions.

Interestingly, ‘teeth-to-tail ratio’ has different connotations at different levels. At infantry unit level, teeth include all personnel who wield bayonets; all others form tail. At the formation level, it implies the ratio of combat troops to support troops. Finally, at the national level, it is the proportion of combat forces to support constituents. And, support constituents include both uniformed and non-uniformed personnel who are paid for by the defence budget.

In addition, there can be no standard ‘teeth-to-tail ratio’ for all types of operations as requirement of support elements varies. An expeditionary force needs much larger logistic support than operations within the country. Similarly, mountain warfare requires far more logistic support than warfare in the plains. Further, many constituents perform both teeth and tail functions. Army aviation pilots ferrying supplies to the troops in remote areas can be termed as tail. However, when they direct artillery fire, they act as teeth. How does one categorise them?

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