The BSF needs result-oriented training to ensure availability of manpower at cutting-edge level of operations
I was associated with training from early days in my career and have spent almost one-third of my career as an instructor with various training establishments of the Border Security Force (BSF). I have always had the feeling that all is not well with our training systems. I will try to make my point clear through following account which is based on my experience and perception of how training is carried out in the BSF.
The feeling was reaffirmed each time I attended the annual training conference as head of two different training institutions or as a frontier commander. The presentations by Training Directorate contained only mundane matters like ‘how many vacancies not utilised’ or ‘how much training budget not utilised’ etc. There was rarely, if ever, any fruitful discussion on what our training philosophy should be or what steps should be taken to mould our training methodology to meet the future operational requirements. The ‘Annual Training Directive’, perhaps a copy of some similar document of some other organisation, also contained only clichés and platitudes without alluding to what ailed our training systems and how to rectify those.
I was appointed IG (Training) for a brief while towards the end of my career in 2015 and during this short period I had the task of organising the annual training conference of the force. The draft presentation for the conference prepared by my staff officers contained the same routine points. To the chagrin of the staff officers, I decided to change all that. This is how we came to prepare a presentation titled ‘What Ails training in BSF’. As the title suggests, the presentation analysed what was wrong with our training philosophy, methodology and suggested a way forward. The DG wasn’t amused at the title and before presentation could begin, asked whether training really was ailing? I was tempted to unhide the very first slide of the presentation which consisted of photo of the appointment board of IG (training) which contained names of a large number of incumbents in a very short period of time. Most of the officers who held the appointment of IG (Training) manned the post for very small durations.
It was apparent that this important post was mostly being used as a slot to temporarily accommodate requests from officers who were either due for superannuation or who wanted an accommodation in Delhi before onward posting to the field. There hardly was any continuity. Nor were the incumbents particularly familiar with the nuances of training requirements of the force. Not much appears to have changed five years after my retirement as I hear.
This in my view is symptomatic of what ails training in the BSF and perhaps in other security forces too. The casual attitude at the policy level towards training percolates down the line manifesting itself in widespread fudging of records and contempt of training.
So even though the training companies are rarely available for annual collective training, the annual training reports invariably reflect near 100 per cent compliance of Company collective training. Similarly, even though ranges are not available nor can units spare manpower for firing, the data about ‘Annual Range Classification Firing’ of troops will always indicate 100 per cent completion.
I remember in 1999 I was moving my unit from Samba to New Bongaigaon. We had to undergo pre-induction training of four weeks. A 200-metre firing range was available in near vicinity of the Tactical Headquarter. I ordered completion of annual firing for troops and zeroing of weapons. I went to the range one day to supervise. The unit armourer, when asked as to how many weapons he had calibrated, started waffling. I decided to go to the target area and to my horror found unrepaired targets with hundreds of bullet holes. Apparently, the troops were given their quota of ammunition and simply asked to fire, thus defeating the very purpose of Annual Range Classification Fire (ARCF) i.e., to classify the troops according to proficiency achieved and to calibrate the weapons.
This is the state of affairs at most places. As IG North Bengal frontier, I had the good fortune of having a Baffle Range in my area of responsibility (AOR) as well as another range at the Subsidiary Training Centre (STC). With these resources available, the classification firing could be organised in a much better manner. However, problem persists in those frontiers which do not have dedicated ranges. My commandants were told in unequivocal terms to reflect only the actual figures of firing as well as collective training to the chagrin of training directorate.
It is not only the method of actual conduct of firing which is problematic. The problem also is in the design of the classification fire range course which do not have any connect with operational environment. The troops operate in an environment that requires them to react in a quick time frame on moving infiltrators/ militants from very close range mostly at night. However, the range course has only one or two night-firing and snap shooting practices, that too on static targets. The range course must cater for actual operational conditions.
Another dimension that has recently been added is that of use of less lethal methodology to tackle trans-border criminals especially on the eastern border. There are instructions that troops should refrain from opening fire on infiltrators. Therefore, the principle of ‘ek goli ek dushman’ is now redundant at least in peace time border guarding. The classification firing practices must reflect this change in orientation.
The training must now be aimed at preparing the border man to practice use of minimum force and use lethal force only in private defence in face of grave danger. Use of minimum force also is the basic requirement while operating in internal security environment. However, the training philosophy of the force is not oriented towards achieving this. The contradiction between training inputs which are oriented towards use of force (even if not maximum force) and the requirements on ground lead to confusion amongst troops. Practical training in use of minimum force is the only way to minimise human rights violations. Presently, only theoretical knowledge of the concept is imparted which is wholly inadequate.
The aim of training is to address the performance gaps and prepare the participants for higher responsibilities. The BSF has large number of training programmes for different levels of officials. However, many programmes are either too ambitious or do not cater to the training needs of particular level.
In early 2000, I was part of a board of officers to review the contents of pre-promotion cadres for Other Ranks and subordinate officers. We found that the eight weeks’ programme’s aim was to turn the participants into instructors of all subjects i.e., drill, map reading, field craft, physical training et el. How can one person conceivably become instructor in every topic in a such a short duration? We corrected the anomaly and designed programmes with the aim of preparing the participants to take over the responsibilities of the next rank.
Similar is the case of map reading programmes. We have made map reading standard one, two and three as essential qualifications for further promotion of other ranks. This is based on what happens in the Indian Army. However, our troops only need basic knowledge of map reading while deployed on the borders and also in the internal security. Such elaborate map reading training, therefore, need not be imparted to every soldier. Most requirements at the level of constabulary can be met by, at the most, map reading third standard and the BSF can easily discontinue training of map reading second and first class and save a lot of manhours which can be made available for actual duties. We can instead have selected personnel trained in the higher standards to keep a pool of instructors.
The contents of map reading also need urgent review. The latest methods of finding one’s own location, location of pillars and other important landmarks along the border with the help of Google maps need to be included in the syllabus. One extremely important aspect, that of ‘Strip Maps’, also must form part of the map reading programme. This is very handy in finding out exact alignment of border as I found in my command of North Bengal frontier and earlier as DIG (Ops) in Tripura frontier. We were able to recover several patches of land at many places along the North Bengal frontier by effectively using these maps.
Many of the courses linked with the promotion of officers do not have any linkage with the job requirements of the next rank. For example, the Battalion Support Weapons course has been made mandatory for promotion from the rank of deputy commandant to Second-in-Command. This is anomalous because first, the support company of the unit is commanded by a deputy commandant. So, any training for Battalion Support Weapons must be imparted to Assistant Commandants, that too only for two or three Assistant Commandants which is adequate to have enough reserve. Secondly, there is no linkage of proficiency in Battalion Support Weapons with the duties to be performed by a Second in-Command. A training programme consisting of matters related to accounts, legal aspects and administration will be more appropriate for promotion of Deputy Commandants.
Suffice to say that our training programmes are over ambitious and there is a disconnect from the actual requirements.
The second aspect that our policy planners need to focus on is the training methodology. I remember when I underwent basic training in the late Seventies and later the Company Commander Course (now renamed Junior Command), we had small squads and the methodology was that of tutorial discussions in small syndicates. Resultantly, there was more interaction and exchange of ideas. However, with rapid expansion of force and consequent increased pressure on training infrastructure, the trainer-trainee ratio has become adverse. The situation can be improved by little improvisation on part of the trainers.
I would again fall back on my experience to clarify my point. I was posted as head of Subsidiary Training Centre at Churachandpur in 2006. On visit to training areas, I found almost 20 trainees in a squad undergoing weapons training. I immediately instructed my Company Commanders to divide their companies into two parts of two platoons each and stagger their training. Thus, while two platoons would undergo Drill practice, the other two would undergo weapons training, thus improving the ratio and hence the assimilation by trainees and the quality of supervision by squad instructors.
Another example that I wish to use is about map reading training. During one similar visit to the ground, I found one map reading instructor taking a lecture on some basic aspect of map reading for an entire company consisting of 168 recruits. After hearing him for a while I decided to assess the level of assimilation of trainees by asking a simple question. To my dismay I found that out of almost a dozen recruits whom I asked the question, only one could answer it partially. It took a lot of convincing by me to make my officers understand that the designated squad instructors should impart training in the basic aspects and a ‘map reading instructor’ course qualified person is required to take classes only for specialised topics besides planning the map reading training of entire institution.
Similarly, the classes for field craft etc were also delegated to squad instructor. The results proved me correct even though the instructors had to take five-six periods per day as against two or more that they were used to taking. But then the instructors are entitled to a substantial instructor’s allowance. Some other simple acts like making copies of maps and issuing them to trainees for own time study proved beneficial during my tenure at Hazaribag. We need officers with ability to think out of the box to head training institutions.
The format of company collective training also requires change. It is high time that we delegated the responsibility to design the company collective training programme to frontiers if not to sectors. The design should contain inputs related to local situations.
I had attended a ‘Design of Training’ programme long ago. The key takeaway was that the training should address the performance gaps, it should cater to the training needs of each level and should be progressively planned i.e., from easy to difficult and from known to unknown. The policy planners in the BSF would do well to stick to these basic points.
By focussing on quality rather than quantity of training we will, besides enhancing operational efficiency of the force, ensure that adequate manpower is available at the cutting-edge level for operations. Training planners need to focus on this aspect.
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