Indian Army plans to bite the bullet

Radical reforms to cut manpower and free up cash for weapons

By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in New Delhi
  • Published 14.10.18, 2:41 AM
  • Updated 14.10.18, 3:21 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat (PTI)

The Indian Army is working on its most “radical” reforms in 35 years that seek to reduce the size of the world’s second-largest defence force, spend more money on firepower and free up more officers for field assignments.

The proposed restructuring in phases is aimed at cutting the strength of the army, including support staff, by 1.5 lakh or 11.5 per cent. The “right-sizing” is expected to save between Rs 5,000 crore and Rs 7,000 crore a year in revenue expenditure, sources in the army headquarters said.

The decisions, subject to approval from the Centre, were taken at the Army Commanders’ Conference on Saturday. The conference, which started on October 9 and will continue till Monday, is being attended by top commanders and chaired by the army chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat.

The avowed objective of the exercise is to make the army “leaner and meaner”, a hackneyed phrase that need not fully reflect the economic compulsions that are making the defence force reform itself.

If the Centre does resist populist instincts driven by patriotic rhetoric and throws its weight behind the exercise, it will also mark a milestone in the reform processes in the country.

Last month, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had told reporters that there was no proposal to reduce the number of personnel. She had, however, added that a government-appointed committee had recommended steps to make the army a lean and powerful machine and that Rawat had been holding meetings with his top commanders.

“The army is facing an increasing burden of revenue expenditure and pensions with little funds left for modernisation. The plan to restructure the forces in phases would help us spend more money on buying arms and firepower,” a senior defence ministry official said.

In March, the vice-chief of army staff, Lt Gen. Sarath Chand, had deposed before a parliamentary panel that the army “does not have enough money, nor does it have modern firepower in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on army camps in Jammu and Kashmir, and the Doklam-standoff”.

He had told the panel that the defence budget for 2018-2019 “has dashed our hopes” for modernisation and the army’s plans to roll out Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Make in India projects.

Sources said the army was also planning to do away with the rank of brigadier and the brigade headquarters as part of an officer-cadre review. This is aimed at freeing up a significant number of officers for field duties. The restructuring is likely to include the merger of various wings of the army that are doing the same work.

The army headquarters had instituted four studies with the overall aim of enhancing the operational and functional efficiency of the force, optimising budget expenditure, facilitating modernisation and ensuring better performance.

Army spokesperson Col Aman Anand said the commanders’ conference had concluded that “the studies will be implemented progressively in a phased manner”.

The first study on “Reorganisation and Rightsizing of the Indian Army” focused on the operational structures to make them efficient and ready for eventualities along the western and northern borders.

The second — “Reorganisation of the Army Headquarters” — aimed at precluding redundancy while the third dealt with cadre review of officers.

The fourth study sought to find ways to harness the higher life expectancy of populations, ensure a younger profile of key commands and to motivate the personnel.

“The commanders decided to implement the reforms with specific timelines while agreeing to carry out a 360-degree evaluation of various steps and, if required, going for course-correction,” an official said.