Letter to the Editor | June 2020

Not Just Trained, but Educated Too

Dear Sir,

It took some time for me to comprehend the article ‘The Uncomfortable Question’ by Ghazala Wahab (May 2020). I fully agree with the opening line “The Indian veterans must do more than raising nationalistic slogans” and the last line “Concerned patriotic citizens have to make government accountable. And for that, start by asking uncomfortable questions.” However, there are certain remarks by the author, which are debatable and need to be rebutted by facts rather than rhetoric.

First of her such remarks for serving officers were “While in service, they don’t read much”. What a sweeping remark against thousands of serving officers of all three services! Ghazala in another article ‘Read. Reflect. Repeat’ (January 2018) had expressed similar opinion about reading habits of young officers in service. Those opinions have been formed by her purely on the basis her two interactions (12 years apart) with a retired Lt Gen. and an army commander. Last sentence of that article was, “By celebrating the age of illiteracy amongst military leaders, we are ensuring that as a nation we continue to hobble on borrowed wisdom”. I wish she had interacted with serving officers of three services (different service groups) during these 12 years, before making such damning comments.

Let me address the issue which she has raised first by comparing operational scenarios during (1965-71) and around 1980 (younger days of those two retired Lt Gens) and prevailing now, by using my own example.

As a young artillery officer in 1979, I was posted as Observation Post (OP) Officer at Gymochen (14,500 ft), at Tri-Junction of India, China and Bhutan and it overlooked Doklam plateau (of 2017 fame). All I had for observation inside Chinese territory was a binocular with no night capability. One day, I saw a Chinese patrol within their territory, moving towards Doka la (closest Indian post). I could not communicate the same to Doka la post (two and half hours away) due to communication snap. Subsequently, Chinese patrol went back without touching Doka la post. I reported the matter, once the line communication got restored after some time.

After 30 years or so of this incident, I got posted to Corps Headquarters at Sukhna, near Siliguri (responsible for Sikkim Sector). During 2008, Chinese incursions in northern Sikkim had peaked, especially in Finger Area. Now the young OP officer posted in that area (around 17,000 ft) was equipped with Long Range Reconnaissance and Observation System (LORROS) which could look up to 25 km inside Chinese territory. It had night capability as well. LORROS live video streaming, with fibre link connectivity, of these incidents was carried out in operational room at Corps Headquarters, around 200 km away. OP officer would respond promptly to the communication from these headquarters, so important for decision making at apex level. In case of communication failure, he could record the video on his laptop and send it manually through vehicle/ helicopter to higher authorities. It was very critical to keep this LORROS always serviceable as nearest place for repairs was 120 km away at Gangtok (with no replacement available nearby). This young artillery officer had to be technically sound to handle all the equipment-related issues.

During Doklam standoff with China in 2017, some other OP officer would have kept Army Headquarters operational room continuously updated from Gymochen post with better surveillance and communication equipment. During current crisis in Eastern Ladakh (May 2020), India is using UAVs for tactical monitoring of Chinese troops. UAVs are controlled by pilots from ground and these UAV pilots are also young/ middle level artillery officers. I hope Ghazala would have realised what these young officers have to read now and remain professionally updated as compared to what retired Lt Gen/ Army Commander did 40-50 years back. In a lighter vein, a number of young officers crib that they would have never joined armed forces, if they had known earlier that there is so much study involved in service life!

By the way, texting is a global phenomenon, not limited to Armed Forces Officers only, so why to lament for that.

Now let us understand the training profile of an officer till around 20 years’ service. Being a gunner officer, it would be easier for me to explain using artillery as an example. After initial compulsory Gunnery courses, with around five years’ service, he appears in Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) Entrance Examination, in which around 35 per cent get nominated for a 10-month course. These LGSC qualified officers (around 60 per year) become the backbone of artillery and handle/ impart instructions on guns like Dhanush, Light weight M-777 Howitzers, old Bofors, Pinaka and Smerch Rocket systems, BRAHMOS missile, LORROS, Heron and Searcher UAVs. All the field trials for fresh induction of guns, rockets, missiles, surveillance radars, UAVs in the army are carried out by them. During Kargil operations, in battles of Tiger Hill/ Tololing/ Point 4875, Bofors were firing just 100-200m ahead of own attacking infantry soldiers (defying all the safety norms) due to the professional competence developed by these officers by reading/ understanding the nuances involved, not by enthusiasm alone.

By the time, the army officer has around nine to 10 years’ of service, he wishes to qualify for Tri-Service Staff Course, conducted at Defence Services Staff College (DSSC). DSSC Entrance Examination is one the most competitive examination of army and has six papers — Tactics A, Tactics B (Appreciation of a Tactical Situation), Administration, Morale & Military Law, Science & Military Technology, Military History, Current Affairs & Area Studies. All the papers have to be passed in one go, memorising precis do not help. Around 1,300-1,500 army officers appear in the entrance exam every year and only 250 qualify to attend the ten-month course. This is the first course, where armed forces officers (including 40-45 foreign officers from countries like Germany, France, Japan, USA) study the tactical employment of the other services/ joint operations.

Due to the above competitive entrance examinations in place, artillery officers have to study technical subjects at junior level and vast number of subjects at middle level, irrespective of the fact, whether they finally qualify for LGSC/ DSSC or not. Which Central government service has such expansive competitive exams for their own officers to qualify for further study?

As far as study of technical subjects is concerned, around 200-250 officers from army, navy & air force attend full time M. Tech. at various IITs every year. Recently navy and IIT Delhi signed an MoU for full time M.Tech. with specialisation in Artificial Intelligence.

Army officers after commanding their regiments/ battalions (around 20 years’ service) are considered for professional courses like Higher Command/ Higher Defence Management Course (HDMC) based on merit. The 44-week HDMC course, conducted at College of Defence Management (CDM), Secunderabad is attended by around 150-160 officers from all three services and foreign officers. I shall highlight certain important part of course syllabi — Strategic Management (Geopolitics, Theories of International Relations, Net Assessment, Operational Art), Financial Management (national income including GDP, national & defence budgeting, global & Indian economic scenario), SCM (defence procurement, contract management, defence land management, operational logistics), Project Management, Information Communication Technologies (Information Warfare, Net Centric Warfare and Artificial Intelligence). These officers during later years of their service assume all critical appointments in three services including Service Chief.

I had carried out my research as full-time scholar in Osmania University (ranked 28th nationally) in totally unexplored area of ‘Performance Budgeting in Defence Organisation’ and was awarded PhD in 2007. Google search would reveal that this was first such PhD at global level. Hopefully, my above narrative would have given some insight to author as well as readers about the ‘reading done by service officers at junior, mid-level and senior level’. Naturally every officer would not be exposed to all of it. I would earnestly request Ghazala Wahab to visit DSSC/ CDM and interact with course officers formally/ informally as and when these courses commence after current lock-down. It would make a sea-change to her perception (primarily based on interactions with senior retired officers, settled around Delhi) about ‘professional knowledge’ of serving officers from all three services.

Now, moving on to the issue of veterans. Let me quote one of her statements, “With few notable exceptions, they have mortgaged their intellect and voices to the government in exchange for post-retirement benefits”. There are around 90 Lt Gens, 300 Maj. Gens and 1,130 Brigadiers in the army out of 44,000 serving officers (written reply in Lok Sabha in 2019). Currently, except for Brig. B.D. Mishra in Arunachal Pradesh and Admiral D.K. Joshi in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, there is no veteran as Governor/ Lt Governor in the country. There is no ambassador of our country with service background as of now. Membership of Armed Forces Tribunals is the highest benefit, government could offer to retired Lt Gen./ Vice Admiral /Air Marshal. Only Lt Gens do not make veterans; what about balance 43,900 officers. Author is most welcome to quote facts (post-retirement largesse to veterans) to substantiate her arguments as a rejoinder to my figures.

Now to another statement by her: “Most have reduced themselves to a herd, ready to be led wherever their chosen master decides to lead them”. During July 2019, Army HQ asked serving officers to quit WhatsApp groups, social media with non-serving persons as members including army veterans amid security threats (honey-trapping by enemy). However, it is a well-known fact that veterans were covered by this army directive primarily due to rising criticism by veterans of various policy decisions of government.

Lt Gen. Ashwani Kumar, former army adjutant general, had told a TV channel (telecast on the date of his retirement i.e. 31 October 19) that the Army Headquarters was working on a code of ethics for retired officers. Several veterans including army commanders had castigated the proposal to draw up a code of conduct for retired officers, which they see as a way of gagging any public criticism of the government or the defence forces. If Ghazala was right in her opinion of veterans being a herd, ready to be led, there would not have been above mentioned disturbing developments in July and October 2019.

I do agree with her statement that veterans “Can make enormous contribution to not only the military it once served, but by extension the nation.” These veterans could definitely contribute much more to the nation than what they are doing now. Fighting for OROP, tax-exemption for disability pension etc serves them only, not the nation as such.

It is perceptible that process of politicization of armed forces has begun. Veterans also seem to have been caught in this whirlpool and they need to be careful of not being used by one or the other political party for their ulterior motive. They can begin by raising uncomfortable questions related to ‘Tour of Duty’ proposal of the army. Kashmir can follow.

Col V.K. Singh (veteran)


Ed: Since the letter draws upon two articles, readers might be interested in reading them. Both can be accessed here.


The Uncomfortable Question


Read. Reflect. Repeat


The January 2018 article ‘Read. Reflect. Repeat’ had drawn attention even then and several officers had written to FORCE. Their comments can be read here



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