Manpower Reduction In The Army

27 Jan, 1998    ·   53

Maj. Gen. D. Banerjee writes that the Chief of the Army Staff, General V. P. Malik, recently announced that the strength of the Army was to be reduced by 50,000 soldiers

1.                   The Chief of the Army Staff, General VP Malik, recently announced that the strength of the Army was to be reduced by 50,000 soldiers. The statement aroused considerable interest in the media. Reactions ranged from one of consternation that defence capability were being reduced when the security environment remained unfavourable, to a cry, that this should only be done after more careful scrutiny and under a stable political leadership. Any major attempt at force reduction needs to be explained to the nation at large. At the 15th Party Congress in Beijing, President Jiang Zemin had announced that the PLA was to be reduced by 500,000 soldiers in three years. This had followed a careful review and detailed study over two years. The Central Military Commission had felt that to keep the PLA modern and reasonably well equipped in the future there was no option but to cut forces. What are the compulsions for India?

2.                   The issue needs to be assessed both in perspective and in the context of current realities. At Independence the Indian Army numbered 260,000 soldiers. A massive reduction after the Second World War retained merely the core of a battle hardened force. This remained the strength of the Army for the next decade. Only limited additions were possible till 1960. With tension building on the border, force requirements were reassessed. But, no increments were made till after the brief conflict was over. The strength of the Army then went up to 800,000 by the late 1960's. A pretty sharp rise that sufficed till the 1970's. The 1971 War was fought with this new and young Army. The Brass did well to ensure that quality did not suffer and that long established regimental traditions were not disturbed. The result was a resounding victory that any nation can be proud.

3.                   The need to upgrade support and communication capabilities and meet the requirements of a forward posture against China necessitated a further increment of the Army. Its strength was to peak at over a million soldiers. This was needed. The late 1980's and the 1990's saw an unprecedented level of commitment of the Indian Army. Upto four divisions were deployed in Sri Lanka from 1987 till their withdrawal in 1990. The entire Northeast India got engulfed in insurgency. The Punjab suffered nightmarish years till 1993. Very large contingents were sent there periodically in aid to civil authorities in a series of Operation Rakshak deployments. In Dec 1989 insurgency erupted in Kashmir. The Indian Army had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to meet this sudden rise in military commitments. At the same time it met its international responsibilities and contributed large contingents to UN Peacekeeping operations worldwide.

4.                   The Army rose to the challenge magnificently in this period of turbulence. But, it did not remain unscathed. Prolonged operational deployments in the most adverse conditions took a heavy toll. Not merely in morale and well being of the Force, but also in its effort at modernisation. The Infantry could not bear the entire brunt of this load. The responsibilities of counter-insurgency had to be shared with the armoured forces and artillery shedding their equipment and learning the Infantry's trade. There continued to be a clamour for more troops. Not only from the military commanders, but also from political leaders from the regions, who saw the Army as the first as well as the last resort when everything else seemed to fail.

5.                   How then did the Chief decide to reduce the strength of the Army at this time? It is a bold and well-calculated decision. The operational environment is more under control. With elections over in Kashmir there is hope on the horizon. The action now is up to the political leadership. With confidence building measures in respect to China progressing well, there is talk of reducing forces there. At the same time the defence budget is set for a sharp rise with the implementation of the Pay Commission Report. Manpower is getting more and more costly. This affects equipment modernisation and even cuts into training costs. Capital expenditure has dwindled which means the Army is short of even their existing authorised scales of equipment. No meaningful acquisition has been made for the last several years. There is a master plan in this reduction and it is a result of a careful exercise undertaken by the current Vice Chief of the Army Staff. The principle being that the non-combatant tasks will be transferred to civilian personnel and organisations. The combat elements will not be affected.

6.                   The challenge of future war in the information age is indeed a daunting one. It requires careful training and a range of sophisticated new equipment. Much of it will need to be indigenously produced to meet the special operational tasks of the nation. All this will be extremely expensive. Other and more significant restructuring will be required. Is the Army ready for this transition?