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Army blackens greying ranks

New Delhi, Dec. 8: The Indian army is set to create 500 additional posts in its officer cadre at the rank of colonel. The jump in the number of officers at this level is part of an exercise by the army headquarters to turn its officer cadre on active combat duty from “grey” to “black”.

Younger officers who would take command at the field level are perceived to be better prepared physically and psychologically to lead their units in combat, especially in taking on the pressures of counter-insurgency operations.

Officers who make it to the rank of colonel in the army are in line for command duties. Going by the book, the commanding officer of a battalion is usually a colonel. But this cannot always be adhered to. Lieutenant colonels are usually the second-in-command in battalions.

Sources in the army headquarters said after 500 lieutenant colonels are promoted over the next two years, the intake of younger officers in the ranks such as major (company commander), captain and lieutenant would be increased.

The army headquarters is, however, still worrying over the problem of “congestion” from the rank of brigadier onwards. A defence ministry proposal to the home ministry to make room for “greyer” officers at the rank of colonel and brigadier has evoked little response. The army points out that officers at the colonel rank, who are usually past the age of 45 years and are less likely to be promoted on merit, are a trained pool who are still good enough for lateral entry into central paramilitary forces, such as the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force.

But the paramilitary forces would be worried about accommodating these officers because that could upset the hierarchy within the organisations. One proposal being discussed is the creation of a separate cadre of army officers in paramilitary outfits.

Manpower planning in the officer cadre of the army is a tedious exercise because of high-age profile, career stagnation and a shortage in the number of officers. By creating 500 additional posts at the rank of colonel, army headquarters is trying to bring down the age profile from 45 to 40.

A defence ministry-constituted committee made a set of recommendations on manpower planning in the armed services nearly two years ago. The Ajai Vikram Singh Committee suggested a restructuring of the officer cadre but the ministry is wary of carrying out an overhaul. Sources said some of the recommendations would be implemented over the next two to three years.

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