As Good As It Gets

Infantry TA seeks new roles for itself

Operations Vijay (the 1999 Kargil war) and Parakram (the 10-month stand-off with Pakistan after the 13 December 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament) have radically altered the complexion and roles of the non-departmental Territorial Army (TA). The changes are well beyond what was envisaged and recommended by the 1995 Report of the Territorial Army Review Committee headed by Brig. (TA) K.P. Singh Deo. Still called a part-time citizen’s army, the TA, in reality, trains and equips like the regular army, is mid-way between a part-time and a full-time tasking, and has gainfully added to the numbers of the regular army without formally tinkering with the government laid ceiling on the authorised army strength. However, the single major drawback with the TA directorate is that it shies away from the needed publicity which could assist it to make-up the shortfall of young officers. The reason for such a proclivity is a misplaced sense of security: the adversary should not be informed about our success in this area. It is another matter that Pakistan already has over 100 battalions of Mujahids, a rough equivalent of the TA, which is deployed on the Line of Control in the holding role to relieve the regular army for more important tasks.

In an unusual development, Indian Army Rule 33, which embodies (mobilises) the TA has been in vogue uninterrupted for three years, and this state is expected to continue for some more time. Considering that the TA is a part-time army where officers and ranks are required to embody for only two months each year, this move has ample significance. Moreover, “the recently raised Home and Hearth (HH) and Ikhwan (surrendered militants) battalions in Jammu and Kashmir will be embodied initially for three years, but much would depend upon the security situation in the border state,” says Maj. Gen. S.S. Ahlawat. For good reasons, embodiment of these special units is expected to be indefinite. The biggest challenge for TA authorities is to balance the part-time character of the organisation, and at the same time, to make it professional enough to support the army in peace and wartime roles. After all, the biggest usefulness of the TA lies in the fact that, unlike the regular army, it has a minimum pension liability. To achieve these basic objectives, the TA is being made sufficiently attractive to beckon people who either wish to do part-time military service, or having missed the opportunity to join the regular army, are willing to choose the second best option.

Outlining the historical perspective, the K.P. Singh Deo report says that, “In 1949, projected strength of the TA alone was 1.3 lakhs when the strength of the regular army was about two lakhs. At present (1995), the strength of the regular army has grown to about 10 lakhs, whereas that of the TA has shrunk to about 40,000, out of which about 8,000 are in units (department TA) which do not have a war time role.” However, the present strength of the non-department TA is 38 Infantry battalions, which includes six HH and one Ikhwan battalions, which have been raised in a record time of six months beginning January this year. While government sanction to raise eight more HH battalions in 2005 in Jammu and Kashmir exists, the TA perspective planning is more ambitious. “We would like the TA to be 70,000 strong from its present strength of about 40,000 in five years,” says Maj. Gen. Ahlawat. The non-department TA battalions are affiliated with regular Infantry regiments and are sub-divided into six or eight companies each based upon their operational tasking. For administration and recruitment purposes, the battalions are controlled by four TA Group Headquarters, which corresponds to Army’s four Command Headquarters in Chandigarh, Lucknow, Kolkata and Pune. Government sanction for raising a new TA Group Headquarters for Army’s Northern Command is expected soon. A constraining factor for TA expansion is a meagre budget of Rs 150 crores annually. It is hoped that with the TA new look, the government would consider a separate budget for TA and not from the defence allocation as is being done now.

Three factors have been responsible for the changing profile of the non-departmental Infantry TA. First, the TA concept is predicated on the availability of adequate warning time before commencement of hostilities. The government is expected to lay down a warning period during which the TA units are embodied and imparted pre-deployment battle-oriented training. This was possible during the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars where the TA were put to good use. An exercise done in 1989 to check the effectiveness of Infantry battalion TA concluded that with about four months of intensive, war-oriented, pre-deployment training coupled with the regular two-month annual training for TA rank and file, these units could carry out many tasks assigned to the regular army units. Unfortunately, all this has changed with the proxy war unleashed by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. Both Operations Vijay and Parakram demonstrated that the ongoing low-intensity war could escalate without any warning period. Moreover, even as India has to prepare itself for a conventional war with Pakistan, the added challenge is to defeat terrorism inside Jammu and Kashmir. According to Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury, a Member of Parliament and a former army chief, “The army has to be ready to fight a two-and-half-front war; one each against Pakistan and China, and a half-front war against terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.” In such a scenario, TA can only be effective if they are prepared, without any warning time, to support the regular army both in counter-insurgency operations and a conventional war against Pakistan.

Second, the poor state of TA preparedness to cope with the changed times came to full glare during the first terrorist attack on army’s 15 corps headquarters in Badami Bagh in Srinagar in April 1999. Without any harm to themselves, terrorists killed six TA personnel and an army major (public relations officer) who stood guard at the gates of the corps headquarters. The TA personnel lacked the training, weapons and motivation to face up to the well-armed terrorists. Once they were imparted the requisite training, all subsequent fidayeen (suicide) attacks on 15 corps headquarters were foiled with no loss to own personnel or any collateral damage. This was possible after TA personnel were initially mixed with regular army personnel for the guard duty, and were given on-the-job training to foil such attacks. By beginning 2003, the army authorities at 15 corps headquarters were confident to hand over the security of their gates to the TA units.

And three, during Operation Parakram, when all Infantry TA units were completely embodied (the first time after the 1971 war), their operational usefulness was finally realised. It was concluded that the TA personnel, like regular army, had initiative and a good instinct to survive and inflict maximum enemy casualties. What they lacked were training, weapons, leadership and motivation to support both the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and regular army. “Operation Parakram changed things for the TA when it was felt that on specified tasks, the TA could perform as well as the regular army,” says Col. K.S. Rathore, who commanded an RR unit before his present assignment. It was, therefore, decided that necessary corrective measures should be taken to make TA a potent military force.

The Infantry TA employment is now three-fold: rear area guard duties, support to the army for a conventional war, and to the RR on Counter-Insurgency (CI) tasks. The rear area guard duties include security of ammunition dumps, command, corps and other high profile headquarters, sensitive and forward airfields, protecting various vulnerable points and vulnerable areas and so on. For example, the inner perimeter defence of forward airfields is with the Defence Security Corps, while the outer perimeter is guarded by TA units. Unlike in the past, this task is now more dangerous and requires better weapons and training. “Because the TA is required to guard airfields against a dangerous enemy, it was felt that they should be good in map reading and navigational skills, something unheard of in the past,” says a former ADG, TA.

In its role to support the army in a conventional war, the employability of TA units would depend upon the ingenuity and training of the personnel. At present, a few TA companies have been operationally grouped with regular army on defensive roles in less threatened areas, usually in depth, both on the Line of Control and the border. Moreover, TA officers accompanied ammunition convoys during Operation Parakram.  According to the ADG, TA, “There is a thinking of having a TA armoured unit with discarded tanks (Vijayanta) of the regular army.” Considering that Vijayanta lack mobility but have a good gun, they could be used effectively in 10 and 11 corps sectors. There are even proposals to have TA units for most combat and combat support arms of the regular army, as was the case until the late Sixties. There could be TA air defence, TA artillery, TA engineers, TA ASC and so on. According to a former ADG, TA, servicemen could be encouraged to enrol into the TA before leaving on pension. These ex-servicemen, say from the artillery, could then be grouped to form a TA battery of an artillery regiment. This will help save manpower of regular artillery units which could be employed in new army raisings, say the missile groups with the artillery. Considering that the recruitment training for TA has now enhanced, which is in addition to the mandatory two-months each year, the artillery ex-servicemen would have little difficulty in continuing with their earlier jobs. “The whole thing can be made more attractive if the HH concept of raising units from amongst locals is followed,” says the general.

Regarding the TA role in CI operations, the HH units in Jammu and Kashmir are a masterstroke. These include young locals who are potential recruits for militants. They know the local language, people, and thus excel in intelligence gathering and its interpretation. However, the most important thing about these units is that all recruits are young, mostly in their twenties, and have been trained well in handling all sophisticated weapons employed by Special Forces. These units support RR battalions with timely intelligence, and are more than capable of independent tasking on dangerous CI missions. The recruitment procedure for these young men is different from the rest of TA enrolment. The RR battalion commanders directly identify and recommend locals for recruitment, which is finally counter-signed by the commander, RR Force Headquarters. For these reasons, in these HH units, continuous embodiment will continue. From the army’s viewpoint, the priority would be given to raising more HH units rather than more Infantry TA units. “New raisings of the latter would depend upon the availability of the necessary nucleus staff from the regular army, and the equipment which can be spared by regular Infantry units,” says Maj. Gen. Ahlawat. At present, it is mandatory that each Infantry TA unit must have two regular army officers; the commanding officer and either the Adjutant or the Quartermaster. The single TA Ikhwan unit, meanwhile, is merely a formal acceptance of ex-militants in the service of the RR units. Earlier, Ikhwanis were helping the RR in CI operations, but their kith and kin got nothing if they were killed. Under the present arrangement, the family of a killed Ikhwani would get all benefits as are applicable to other soldiers. “This is an incentive for more militants to give up arms and join the mainstream to fight terrorism,” says the ADG, TA.

Given the above gruelling tasks, the training of TAs has undergone a drastic change. Earlier the TA officers and recruits were given three months training in the unit itself, which included one month recruitment training and two months annual mandatory training. Thereafter, they were disembodied for the remaining year. However, in the last one year, the training schedule has changed. The TA recruits do a month’s training in the unit so that they can take oath and become sepoys. Thereafter, like the regular army recruits, they undergo nine months training at the affiliated regimental centre. There is simply no distinction between the training of a TA and regular army recruit. In the case of TA officers, they are commissioned in the unit. After a month or so in the unit, they go for a three-month post-commission training at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. Although TA officer’s eligibility is between 18 to 42 years, the officers who go to the IMA have an average age of 23 to 25 years. “Two TA officer courses with 30 officers each have passed out of IMA and the third course is to be held from July 26 to October 26 this year,” says Maj. Gen. Ahlawat. The only difference between TA officer and regular officer recruitment is that the former does not appear for the Union Public Service Commission written examination, but instead qualifies the screening procedure conducted by the directorate of TA. However, officers from both streams are required to qualify the Services Selection Board which assesses the Officer-Like-Qualities needed to become a commissioned officer.

Moreover, the TA directorate has acquired 150 acres area in Manesar (Haryana) from the Western Command in 2003. This has been developed into a training area where various courses are being held. For example, a three weeks CI capsule for Officers, Junior Commissioned officers, and a few bright Non-Commissioned Officers includes marksmanship, navigation and map reading classes, battlefield leadership course and a tactical course for young officers. In addition, all TA units which are inducted into Jammu and Kashmir undergo a three-month training to familiarise themselves with the combat environment and CI operations in the state.

Special emphasis has been laid on leadership development, especially for those TA officers who seek a full-time employment in the service. “The standard of these officers must be that of the regular army,” says a former ADG, TA. For this reason, for the first time in 2003, proper Qualitative Requirements (QRs) have been spelt out for promotions. The Junior Command Course has been made compulsory, and the Senior Command Course is mandatory for TA officers approved for the rank of colonel. For example, Major Vikram Singh of 105 Infantry (TA) battalion (grandson of Lt Gen. Kundan Singh, a former military secretary) has been in service for over seven years. He has done platoon weapons course and tactical leg of young officers’ course meant for regular officers. “I joined the TA at age 23 after I could not clear the UPSC written exams. Today, I see TA as my career,” he says. To encourage such soldiers, two added provisions have been made: One, young TA officers can now apply for the regular army. “One TA officer is expected to join the armoured corps as a regular officer soon,” says Col Rathore. And two, after seven years of embodied service, TA soldiers can apply to join Defence Services Corps which is a pensionable service and one can serve till 58 years age.

Sub Arimardan Singh of the same unit has spent 22 years in the TA which includes 17 years of embodied service. “In the last three years of continuous embodiment, jawans are more disciplined as they have become aware of their responsibilities and privileges, and also the provisions of the Army Act,” says Singh. Moreover, the last three years have seen induction of regular army weapons into the TA. “Except for anti-tank weapons, TA units have all weapons of regular Infantry battalions,” says Maj. Gen. Ahlawat. These include the latest surveillance equipment, night vision devices, and even anti-grenade launchers. Though most TA units still have the old 7.62mm self loading rifles, specific battalions like the HH soldiers are equipped with the latest 5.56mm rifles and even some equipment procured from abroad for Special Forces.

Moreover, many welfare and administrative measures have recently been taken to make the TA attractive. For example, anyone who serves in the TA gets an ex-servicemen status, which is an incentive for those who are seeking a status enhancement and not an employment in the service. Since 2003, TA personnel can avail Canteen Stores Department facilities even when not embodied. Furthermore, TA soldiers are now at par with regular soldiers for gallantry awards and ex-gratia compensation in case of death while on duty. “A case has been taken up with the government for having TA messes in important stations,” says the ADG, TA. Probably, the biggest advantage the TA has over the regular army is that recruitment is possible up to 42 years age.

The moot question then is why is the regular army, especially officers, dismissive about the TA? “The problem is attitudinal,” says Gen. Roychowdhury, a strong supporter of the TA. Maybe, the correct answer lies somewhere in between. At present, Infantry TA is in a supportive role to the RR and regular army, and is not geared to take on their tasks. For example, the RR has an offensive role in CI operations, while the TA has a defensive one. However, the TA’s newly raised HH battalions are in a similar offensive role as the RR. It is, therefore, argued that once more HH battalions are raised in Jammu and Kashmir, and that there is a case to have HH battalions in other states with unrest as well, the true worth of TA would come to the fore. Regarding the TA role in support of regular army, the options are limitless. Fully aware of the latent strength of the TA, Gen. Roychowdhury says that, “Ideally, TA should be in addition to the regular army, and not at the cost of it.” Brig. K.P. Singh Deo, who fought the 1971 war as a TA (air defence) officer, and is probably the biggest votary of TA, feels that, “Every able bodied man should spend time in the TA.” His 1995 TA review report calls for ‘legislative measures to lay down the procedure and deterrent action against any employer who denies employment to any individual on the grounds that he is enrolled in the TA, prohibits any of his employees from enrolling in the TA, denies permission to any of his employees who is enrolled in the TA to attend obligatory training programme or join his unit when called upon for embodiment or denies protection to any aspect of employment of such persons when away on training or embodiment are imperative.’ For the moment, there is merit in this thinking that TA still has a long way to go towards its optimal potential. But the beginning has been made.



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