Thursday, 31 August 2017

Defence ministry slashes army flab; 57,000 soldiers to shift to combat roles

Shekatkar Committee claims its reforms would shave Rs 25,000 crore annually from defence budget

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st Aug 17

The army currently deploys more soldiers on non-combat administrative and supply chain duties than in the trenches in wartime.

On Wednesday, to increase what the defence ministry terms the army’s “teeth to tail ratio” by putting a larger percentage of soldiers on the frontline, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley ordered 65 reforms to the structure of the military.

Improving the “teeth to tail ratio” involves whittling down administrative and logistic units that support combat operations, and redeploying the manpower thus saved into combat units.

The defence ministry says the 65 reforms must be completed by December 31, 2019, involving “redeployment and restructuring of approximately 57,000 posts of [soldiers] and civilians.”

These reforms are part of 99 measures recommended by the Lieutenant General (Retired) DB Shekatkar Committee, which former defence minister Manohar Parrikar constituted in 2015. The Committee submitted its report to Parrikar on December 21, 2016.

The Committee discovered that the army’s “teeth to tail ratio” was an unsatisfactory 1:1.15. That means every 100 combatants directly fighting the enemy had 115 soldiers supporting them logistically and administratively. The Committee aims to improve the “teeth to tail ratio” to 1:1 or better.

The Committee noted in its report that accepting its recommendations over the next five years would shave Rs 25,000 crore rupees off the annual defence budget.

The defence ministry says it sent the Committee’s recommendations to the military for studying their feasibility and making an implementation plan. Business Standard learns the army recommended the implementation of 80 reforms. Now, in what the ministry terms “The first phase of the reforms”, 65 of those are being implemented.

The cuts announced on Wednesday are to signals units that handle communications; equipment repair echelons; supply and transport units including animal transport (mules); supply echelons for rations, ammunition and equipment, and the closure of military farms and army postal establishments in peace areas.

Enabling such cuts are technological advances in digital communications, improved road infrastructure across the country, the availability of transport vehicles with higher carrying capacities, and the availability through civilian wholesale markets of rations, fuel and equipment in border regions where the army needed to be self-sufficient in earlier times.

The army’s massive manpower – some 38,000 officers and 11.38 lakh soldiers – has been a drain on its budget, leaving insufficient money for equipment modernisation. The pressure to restructure manpower has increased over the last decade with the army adding 80,000 to 90,000 soldiers for two new mountain divisions and a mountain strike corps for the China border.

Now more personnel are needed to establish “new generation warfare” organisations like the proposed “cyber command” and “aerospace command”. With the prime minister making it clear to the top military command in December 2015 that increasing the military’s size was no longer an option, the 57,000 troops saved by the new reforms could be redeployed to these organisations, say military sources.

Senior military officers, speaking anonymously, point out the defence ministry has only picked the low-hanging fruit from the Shekatkar Committee recommendations, bypassing the deeper structural reforms that require political will. There is no move to introduce the recommended tri-service command, which would generate not just operational advantages but also savings by eliminating redundancies in the three services. Nor is there any move towards setting up tri-service “theatre commands” as China’s People’s Liberation Army has recently done. The ministry is silent too on the Committee’s proposal for more tri-service training establishments. 

Shekatkar reforms: what's done, what's not done

Reforms accepted
Reforms not accepted


Optimisation of signals (communications) units, by merging different types
Enhancing defence budget from current <2 2.5="" 3="" font="" gdp="" of="" to="">
Restructuring of equipment repair   workshops
Early appointment of four-star officer as tri-service commander
Restructuring of vehicle, ammunition and equipment depots for ordnance
Setting up tri-service “theatre commands” with units from army, navy and air force
Better structuring of supply and vehicle transport echelons
Setting up Cyber Command for new-generation warfare
Closure of military farms and army postal establishments in peace locations
Tri-service training establishments like Indian National Defence University (INDU)
Enhancing standards for recruitment of clerical staff and drivers
Institution of “roll on plan” for unspent budget to devolve to the subsequent year
Improving efficiency of National Cadet Corps (NCC)



Ministry officials, echoing a familiar refrain, say the deeper reforms have not been implemented “because they require discussions with, and consensus amongst, a larger number of stakeholders.”

Nor is there any move towards the Committee’s recommendation to institute a “roll-on plan” for capital expenditure, which would enable unspent capital allocations from one year to be rolled over to the next year to prevent it from lapsing due to procedural delays in concluding procurement contracts. Year after year, the military surrenders thousands of crores of unspent capital allocations – at the end of 2016-17, the military surrendered just short of Rs 7,000 crore.

Spending on manpower, running and equipment (BE 2017-18)


Share of personnel costs
Share of running costs
Money left for capital equipment




Army
72%
17%
11%
Navy
29%
24%
47%
Air Force
31%
16%
53%

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