New Delhi, Dec. 16: The army's commanders will be younger and fitter for warfighting, the government said today after announcing that it is implementing a policy to put youth upfront on battlefields.
The army's officer cadre will not only be infused with young blood but some in their late twenties will also stand the chance of being eligible for promotion as battalion commanders.
Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government has decided to 'partially implement' the recommendations of a committee headed by Ajai Vikram Singh (currently defence secretary).
The immediate effect will be the creation of 750 additional posts at the rank of colonels. Colonels have by convention been commanders of battalions, the frontline fighting units of the Indian Army.
'We hope that with the implementation (of the policy), the career prospects of officers in the army will vastly improve. This will ensure mobility of the officer cadre. We hope to implement the policy by January 1,' the army chief, General N.C. Vij, said.
An infantry officer is normally commissioned into the service at the rank of lieutenant around 21 years of age with a salary between Rs 13,000 and Rs 14,000 a month (excluding perks and allowances). Promotions in the infantry are comparatively faster than the other wings of the army (such as artillery, supply corps and air defence).
By the time an officer rises to the rank of colonel, he is around 41. The average salary of a colonel is around Rs 25,000 a month (excluding perks and allowances).
With the new policy, army headquarters hopes it can reduce the average age of colonels to around 37, majors to around 27 and lieutenant colonels to around 34. In several battalions, lieutenant colonels are required to function as battalion commanders.
Singh, the author of the report, said the impact of the reconfiguration of the army's officer cadre on the budget would be 'negligible'. The army also faces a shortage of officers, which the new policy does not immediately address.
But Lt Gen. Rana Kapur, who assisted in the preparation of the report, said the army has a capacity to train 2,100 officers annually. It was working to increase the intake at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai. The sanctioned officer strength of the army is 46,218.
Army headquarters has assessed that with the age profile at the battalion level being brought down, its top brass ' from the rank of brigadier onwards (major general, lieutenant general and general) ' would also get younger progressively.
Defence ministry sources said the government would separately look into the officer cadre issues of the other armed services, the air force and the navy. It is inevitable that the other services will seek parity with the army.
The Singh committee had been asked to come up with recommendations in the light of the experience of the Kargil war in 1999. Army headquarters had suggested in post-conflict analyses that fitter battalion commanders may have come up with results faster.
Lt Gen. Kapur said the recommendations would be implemented in two phases. The second set, still being considered, has a suggestion to allow army officers to be deputed to private sector companies.