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Indian Army mulling converting Logistics and Transport Units to Territorial Army is a risky proposition amidst unsettled issues and ongoing tensions at the borders
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army
According to media reports, the Indian Army is examining conversion of its logistics and transport units into the Territorial Army (TA). Media has quoted an unnamed 'top defence sources' to say, "It is in the deliberation stage right now. We are discussing conversion of logistics and transport units 'among other administrative units' into TA. The move will have huge financial implications as it will reduce the burgeoning pay and pension burden on the government at present. As part of the larger transformation of the Army, several efforts are on the cards to optimise its manpower – including roping in veterans with expertise in several areas for its training institutions on contractual basis, cross-skilling technical trades, outsourcing several services at its static units. The efforts to downsize elements of both combat and combat-support arms of the Army, is slated for implementation in the next five years in phases."
Converting logistics and transport units into TA would be an invitation to our enemies to attack them and weaken the formations dependent on them
The source further said, "TA gives an opportunity to able-bodied and employed citizens to don the uniform and serve the country. Also, five Chinese language interpreters have been hired in the first phase, based on their proficiency in spoken and written Mandarin. We selected the best. They have already been deployed in forward locations where border personnel meetings (BPMs) with the Chinese take place. Their induction started in August this year even as the process had started in January. The source also said that five to six cyber security experts are likely to be hired on a trial basis in the first phase, for which sanction is awaited.
Role of the TA is to relieve the regular Army's various static duties like road opening or protection of lines of communications. TA units are also provided to the regular Army as and when required for specific roles such as providing aid to civil authorities during disaster or maintenance of essential services. Currently, about 14 TA battalions are involved in counter insurgency and counter terrorism role in the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). According to the source, several TA units have also been inducted in Ladakh and are providing protection to the lines of communications and other critical border infrastructure of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). For example, the oil sector marketing unit of TA has been overseeing supply of petroleum products in the area, including aviation fuel, as large number of aircraft are flying every day in the region. Overall, 43 TA units are reportedly integrated with the regular Army in J&K and the northeast.
The exercise to downsize the Army has been ongoing for past several decades despite the unsettled borders with China, Pakistan and Myanmar, the China-Pakistan anti-India nexus, Army's commitments in CI-CT, China's aggressive stance including illegal claims in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and other areas, plus the continuing standoff with China along the entire length of the Line of Actual Control since April-May 2020.
Don't compromise on defence requirements for the sake of saving money based on recommendations of time-serving bean counters who are not accountable
China and Pakistan are already waging hybrid war on India and conventional war can hardly be ruled out on account of changing global dynamics due to the Israel-Hamas war, which may enlarge into a larger Middle East, having fallout in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, China's new G-695 expressway linking Xinjiang with Aksai Chin-Galwan and Pangong Tso is to be completed by 2035, which is a recipe for conventional Sino-Indian war. But we may be fighting a war earlier as China may want to try all its military technology on India before taking on the US.
As regards converting the Army's logistics and transport units into TA, such units are meant to support a military formation in conventional military operations and are normally located away from the formation in an administrative area. These units, while carrying out maintenance and repair tasks of equipment involved in the battle, are also expected to protect themselves from enemy action, like ground attacks, commando raids, air/drone attacks. They also occupy defences and would need to fight it out as witnesses in the Ukraine war. In addition to their transport or maintenance and repair work in the case of a logistic unit, they have to prepare and man their defences including protecting their installations and fight when necessary. Do we expect TA units manned by civilians with limited training and experience to fulfill these tasks?
The Prime Minister has said "this is not the era for war", which has been appreciated worldwide at various global and regional forums. However, the leaders nodding heads are all waging wars. Converting the transport and logistics units into TA would be an invitation to our enemies to attack them and weaken the formations dependent on them. The hybrid nature of war, which includes the conventional element, implies simultaneous activation at the tactical, strategic and operational levels.
Can't the nation absorb less than one percent of the GDP as pension to soldiers who gave the best years of their lives to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation?
A veteran scholar-strategist notes: don't compromise on defence requirements for the sake of saving money based on recommendations of time-serving accountants who are not accountable and will not be there when the chips; these actions (converting to TA) will result on loss of blood and destruction; please allow the Army to fight as it deems fit and provide them the right resources besides ensuring trained and motivated troops.
As regards the perpetual furor over the defence pension bill, it is highlighted periodically without comparing it with other civil services and police forces. We have an absurd ratio of 1:4 - one civilian to four defence persons and each civilian defence employee is four times more expensive than the uniformed counterpart. But civilian defence employees remain untouched because of unions and vote-banks despite being mostly unproductive.
Almost 37 per cent of the defence pension bill goes to civilian defence employees, including even finance ministry personnel on deputation to the defence ministry. Applying the same yardstick to civilian defence employees for the uniformed will automatically reduce the defence pension bill. Defence pensions anyway are barely 0.75 per cent of the GDP; can't the nation absorb less than one per cent of the GDP as pension to soldiers who gave the best years of their lives to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation?
If India is to become a superpower, we must learn to respect our soldiers and veterans akin to superpowers. Successive defence budgets are negative in actual terms compared to the budget of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) which has risen by 12 per cent. Also, isn't it ironic we are hiring Chinese interpreters after decades of confrontation and holding BPMs with China? We took eight months (January to August) just to select five interpreters and induct them? Where are our priorities?
Finally, converting logistics and transport units into TA is a bad idea that will adversely affect combat potential of the Army formations being supported by then. Such TA units will be soft targets for the enemy and lives of these personnel will be at stake with little benefits by way of pay, medical and pensions.