Brake on VK blueprint

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  • Published 22.02.12

New Delhi, Feb. 21: The Centre has mothballed army chief Gen. V.K. Singh’s ambitious programme to reform and restructure the military from the headquarters downwards.

Gen. Singh calls the reform programme to make the army leaner and faster “transformation”. The ideas were borne out of a two-year study when he was the Eastern Army commander before taking over as the chief. The study was conducted along with Lt Gen. A.K. Singh, currently the Southern Army commander.

The programme essentially has three pillars:

Bring the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME), the Army Service Corps (ASC) and the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) under a single “logistics branch”

Integrate officers of the rank of major general with the air force and the navy — and likewise accommodate air vice-marshals and rear admirals in the army (cross-posting) — to make joint operations simpler to execute

Raise two mountain corps (each of about 30,000 troops) to be deployed along the disputed border with China.

The proposals were sent by the army headquarters to the government after the “Sudarshan Shakti” exercise by the 21 (strike) Corps in Rajasthan in December that Lt Gen. Singh had described as the “testbed for transformation”.

The ministry has now asked the army headquarters to “review and re-analyse” the idea of “transformation”. It has questioned whether the mergers of the EME, ASC and AOC were feasible and desirable. On the proposal to cross-post major general-equivalent officers in each of the three armed forces, the ministry wants the concurrence of the navy and the air force.

The raising of two mountain corps — which would mean expanding the infantry — has essentially run into objections from financial advisers and the finance ministry. Two new mountain divisions (totalling about 25,000 troops) are already being raised in the Northeast.

In the army headquarters, an officer associated with the programme said “there seems to be a reluctance in the government to understand modern military concepts”.

The architects of the reform programme believe that the duties of the ASC and the AOC often overlap and bureaucratise military deployment. The ASC is responsible for transporting and distributing supplies to keep the 1.3-million-strong army going. A third of the army is actively deployed on border and counter-insurgency duties.

The ordnance corps is tasked to ensure that stores are available to all units — fuel, fodder, needles, tanks, uniforms, helmets, guns, vehicles, night vision devices, bullets, bombs — the whole paraphernalia of war.

The Corps of EME is tasked to keep weapons, radars, sensors and equipment fighting-fit in the hinterland as well as in forward locations.

The EME, the ASC and the AOC are non-combat arms but are forward-deployed. Without their services, the battalions, brigades, divisions and corps — the field formations — would not operate.

Gen. Singh apparently wanted the three logistics branches to be broken down into smaller contingents that would be integrated into the combat units (teeth) of the army and shorten the supply line (tail) so that deployment could be faster.

In military jargon, he was proposing to reduce the “teeth-to-tail” ratio.

In 2001, for example, it took about a month for the army to be fully deployed along the border with Pakistan under “Operation Parakram” after the attack on Parliament. At a news conference leading to Army Day (January 15) last month, Gen. Singh had claimed after “Exercise Sudarshan Shakti” that deployment time was now down to about 15 days on the western front.

The ASC and the AOC — the inventory, supplies and transport corps of the army — are frequently plagued by corruption cases. A former chief of the ASC, headed by a lieutenant general, is waging a battle in Delhi High Court to stave off a court martial.