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Converting logistics units into TA The Excelsior 24 Oct 2023
The army and air force are seeking to enhance technology dominated force multipliers alongside force enhancers including rocket and missile regiments. The navy desires to add a third aircraft carrier as also additional submarines, while increasing the quantum of ships, all to meet forthcoming challenges in the Indian Ocean, emanating from growing Chinese presence. Simultaneously, the requirement of securing disputed borders, possessing strike forces to pose a credible threat to adversaries while combatting terrorism in J and K and the North East demand minimum force levels to be maintained and deployed.
At the same time, strength of the armed forces cannot continue to increase as revenue share of the defence budget, meant for maintaining and sustaining forces in being, has to be kept within limits. Hence, there is always an ongoing tussle on what should be the minimum force level that the nation can sustain as also is needed. The government on its part has repeatedly insisted that the services adopt a policy of ‘save and raise.’ This would ensure that manpower holdings remain static.
After all, a developing nation like India has a fixed budgetary pie with competing requirements, if it has to improve living standards of its growing populace. Studies ordered by the government to evaluate force structures have provided different options. A suggestion in every study has insisted that the government reduce the non-military element in establishments directly under the MoD to curb revenue and pension budgets. Converting the Ordnance Factory Board into different Public Sector Undertakings is a step in this direction. Also ongoing is reassessment of the role, tasking and staffing of the DRDO, as also possibly reducing its establishments.
Central government employees, less the armed forces, recruited post 01 Jan 2004, are part of the National Pension Scheme (NPS). Current directions state that all employees make a monthly contribution of 10% of their salary and a matching contribution is paid by the government for their pensions. Thus, their impact on pensions is far less.
The armed forces too have to consider their share in terms of reducing force levels to curtail both the pension budget as also revenue expenditure. The first step was taken by the government when it stopped recruitment on the pretext of COVID, while permitting retirements to continue. This did bring about a compulsory reduction in manpower. The second step was the Agipath scheme. These two mainly reduced the pension budget which was ballooning, with little reduction in revenue.
It must be noted that every new armed force organization which is created, needs funds for equipping, manning and accommodation, which adds to revenue expenditure. Hence, as inductions increase there would be a need to curtail levels in areas which will not directly impact operations. One of the options under consideration is logistics.
The nation has been witnessing a quantum leap in infrastructure development. This enables delivery of products directly at the doorstep from manufacturers or producers, reducing middle echelons. Added has been increased indigenization as also induction of equipment, common to both, military and civil, mainly in fields of transport. This means that repair facilities are available for such equipment even at remote locations, which can be exploited by the forces.
Domestic manufacturers can also be tasked to establish repair facilities close to the battle zone. Drones for delivery direct to troops on the frontlines are under evaluation and would soon be a reality. These ongoing improvements and innovations necessitate a change in concept of management of logistics. In peace locations, the army has already closed static workshops, outsourcing repair facilities to private vendors. As in corporates, outsourcing is becoming a mantra in the armed forces.
Manpower for ensuring last line connectivity, monitoring movement of stores, as also ensuring checks on quality and quantity must remain in place. Transhipment of products, from one mode of transport to another, which was the earlier norm, can be dispensed with under normal conditions. Hence, moving with the times would mean that forces should consider reducing administrative echelons, which act as duplicators in peace time, but would be partially essential during operations. In some cases, especially with offensive formations, existing structures may need to continue.
This is what appears to be the thought behind converting some logistic establishments into TA (Territorial Army) units. The TA, part of the regular army, comprises of part time volunteers who support regular forces. Since they serve for short periods every year, they are not entitled to pensions. TA units play an important role in relieving the regular army in static duties such as road opening, protecting lines of communications as also in maintenance of essential services. They have participated in every war the nation has fought, including being involved in counter insurgency operations in J and K and the North East as also some of its members have been decorated for valour.
In its latest tasking, the TA is recruiting Mandarin language experts to be deployed in forward locations to form part of border talks teams, apart from monitoring Chinese communications. The TA is also evaluating criteria to hire cyber security experts for the army. Thus, the role being played by the TA in supporting the armed forces is on the rise.
In a similar manner, specialized manpower necessary for ensuring logistics support can also be identified. These could be employed for short durations under normal conditions. Their full-time employment during operations would be easier as they would have served in the same location and would be aware of the intricacies of the terrain and logistic requirements. It may imply creating specialist TA units with a singular task in operations, functioning on a limited scale in peacetime. The manpower being freed from such an approach could be available to the forces for inducting technology intensive organizations.
The armed forces have to seek innovative options for management of manpower. While technology can bring about some savings at the unit level, much more would be needed at the macro-level in case requirements of sister services have to be met. The DMA, (Department of Military Affairs) under the CDS, must coordinate this to enable benefits to be shared by all services.