The number of vacancies in the defence services is increasing every year despite all the efforts of the ministry of defence in issuing attractive advertisements which glamourize a career in the armed forces. These advertisements, which cost the army Rs 2 crore, make much of the defence services’ “glorious heritage”, “timeless traditions, blended perfectly with the latest in hi-technology training techniues and strategic doctrines”.
Unfortunately, these have fallen flat with today’s youth, for whom the army comes way down the list of priorities: after the civil services, the corporate world, engineering and medicine. As a result, more than 13,000 posts have been lying vacant in the army alone for the past 15 years which has rendered the Indian army a much inefficient and overstretched force.
It is no use blaming the youth for this state of affairs. The armed forces have lost much of the glory associated with them in the Sixties owing to the policy of early retirements with no lateral induction, poor pay scales, fewer avenues of promotion and extremely hard life.
In order to fill the vacancies, a new category of officer cadre, the special commissioned officers, was established in 1998 by the merger of two existing cadre — the specialist quartermaster and regimental commissioned officers.
Age is a problem
Entry to the SCO cadre is open to all serving junior commissioned officers/other ranks, except from the army medical dental corps and religious teachers JCOs/ORs. Officers inducted into the SCO are employed in all major arms/services.
The entry level age limit for these candidates is between 30 to 35 years. Candidates also need to have passed class XI (under the Central Board of Secondary Eduction) and the army school certificate examination.
The selection is made through the services selection board and those selected are put through six months pre-commission training at the Indian Military Academy/Officers Training Academy. An officer in the SCO cadre can be promoted up to the rank of colonel and the retirement age is 55 years. The rest of the service conditions and privileges are the same as that of regular commissioned officers.
But it has been found that this is a slipshod method of dealing with the problem. The majority of the officers of SCO cadre are selected from the clerical cadre, since JCOs/ORs from the fighting arms have heavy operational and training commitments.
No wonder, most of the SCO cadre have no knowledge of the functioning of the various divisions of the army — armoured, engineers, signals, artillery and infantry. They are therefore a misfit in the fighting units.
Moreover, the SCOs create hurdles in the smooth functioning of the regiments. Unused to the hardships of army life, they hesitate to take a risk independently. Age too can be a hurdle in their effective functioning. In fact, some analysts say that the army was better off without these rigid and disgruntled officers who are worried more about themselves and their families than the men they command.
In the recent Iraq war, a majority of the commanding officers of the allied forces were between 30 to 35 years of age, while the young officers were from 18 to 21 years. In the Indian army, on the other hand, commanding officers are in their forties.
The American troops suffered 124 casualties in Iraq, while about 400 were wounded. In contrast, 398 men died in Kargil and 578 were wounded. Surely age has a lot to do with this disparity. Also, the casualties would have been far higher in the Kargil war, thanks to the inadequate and outdated equipment, if it had not been for the zeal, valour and determination of our gallant soldiers.
In sum, the SCO cadre needs to be disbanded and a differemt strategy formulated to fill up the vacancies in the army.