The over 1.2 million strong Indian Army plans to launch a massive transformative exercise by early-2019 to emerge as a lean, mean, rapidly-deployable and operationally versatile force in the years ahead, grappling as it is with a ballooning revenue expenditure and pension bill that leaves little for modernization.
Top sources say the results of four ongoing studies, all headed by senior Lt-Generals, on force reorganization and optimization, flattening headquarters at different levels, cadre review and terms of engagement for officers and jawans will be discussed at the Army commanders’ conference in October.
“Army chief General Bipin Rawat will then take stock of the final consolidated and integrated plan towards end-November before it is sent to the defence ministry for clearance. If all goes well, the implementation should begin early next year,” said a source.
It remains to be seen how many of the radical measures under discussion actually translate on the ground due to institutional resistance and general politico-bureaucratic apathy. But there is no getting away from the fact that there is an urgent need to improve the Army’s poor teeth-to-tail ratio and boost its combat capabilities to ensure the force can meet future operational challenges with strategic flexibility and budgetary prudence.
Interestingly, the feasibility of raising “special operations force brigades” for the western and northern borders with Pakistan and China is also being considered under the overall plan. The other proposals range from slashing non-operational or administrative flab and downsizing the Army headquarters in Delhi to creating composite and integrated brigades, with four to five battalions each instead of the existing three, which will be commanded by Major-Generals.
The proposal for these integrated brigades ties in with the ongoing cadre review of officers, which is mulling the radical step of doing away with the rank of Brigadier or brigade commanders to ensure better career prospects and parity with the civil services as well as arrest its greying profile of commanders, as was earlier reported by TOI.
The integrated brigades will be larger combat forces, with all arms and services under them, and will report directly to the corps headquarters. This will eliminate the need to have divisional headquarters, each of which controls three brigades at present, in the middle.
The Army currently has six operational or regional commands, which have 14 corps and 49 divisions under them, and one training command. “Some divisional HQs, especially under the four strike corps (1 Corps at Mathura, 2 Corps at Ambala, 21 Corps at Bhopal and the new 17 Mountain Strike Corps) may have to be retained but most can be done away with,” said a source.
Similarly, with the same intention to ensure more officers are available for postings to frontline operational units rather than being deployed for staff duties, a drastic downsizing of the Army HQ at New Delhi is also on the cards.
“The Army HQ has become unwieldy. It’s being examined which branches or directorates can be merged, and the ones that can be closed down or relocated out of Delhi. There is lot of overlap and duplicity in the charter of directorates/branches as of now,” said another source.
“The two directorates for procurements, Perspective Planning and Weapons & Equipment, for instance, can be brought under a single authority. The aim is to improve functional efficiency and usher in faster decision-making in the hierarchy,” he added.
All these measures, it is felt, will transform the Indian Army into an agile and efficient war-fighting machinery, with formations that can rapidly deploy from one front to the other. China, incidentally, has re-organized its 2.2-million People’s Liberation Army into five theatre commands to crank up its offensive capabilities as well as establish better command-and-control structures. Its Western Theatre Command now handles the entire 4,057-km Line of Actual Control with India, instead of the earlier Chengdu Military Region in the east and the Lanzhou Military Region towards the north.
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