Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia (Retired), former Director General of Military Operations, recounts DH‘s Anirban Bhaumik that ‘Agnipath’ is regressive and wasteful and ‘Agniveers’ will be risk averse. Excerpts:
Do India’s armed forces need a system like Agnipath?
Agnipath is the greatest exercise in transformation proposed to be undertaken after that which followed the 1962 debacle. But Agnipath is regressive, and certainly not necessary. India’s armed forces have demonstrated their effectiveness in the full spectrum of conflict since 1947. Indian soldiers have shown unparalleled bravery even in the face of aggression from China in 1962. The soldiers, sailors and warriors of the air are the strength of our armed forces. They cost the minimum and offer the maximum.
Read also | Demonstrations dispersed during the bandh against Agnipath
Will Agnipath make the armed forces leaner, smarter and younger? Will it increase the professional skill level of the soldiers?
The armed forces need a judicious mix of youth and experience. Over the years, an optimal balance has been achieved, especially after the Kargil war in 1999. The youth profile has been corrected based on the recommendations of the Kargil review board. There is no operational need to tinker with it.
Improving professional skills requires training programs. Agnipath actually reduces the training period.
A soldier takes almost 4-5 years to become an effective member of his sub-unit or ship or squadron. Therefore, a tenure of only four years will have a negative impact on the training and task of an Agniveer. The challenge of training is not to transmit or acquire knowledge and skills, it is the attitude that takes time to instil and soak up.
Yes, the army will become leaner. The authorized dosage remains unchanged. As there has been no recruiting for the past two years, the army has an existing manpower shortfall of over 100,000 men in all ranks. On average, the numbers of the army decrease by 55,000 to 60,000 men each year. As Agnipath plans to recruit 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers every year for the next five years, this will reduce the numbers. Given the current deployment, especially along the India-China Line of Effective Control (LAC), this will place an additional burden on soldiers, curtailing peace mandates essential for their retraining.
Read also | Several decisions may seem unfair at first but benefit the nation in the long run, says PM Modi amid Agnipath protests
Will Agnipath then bring down the operational capabilities of the armed forces?
The program envisions recruiting soldiers for only four years, with 25% retention thereafter. The recruitment basis remains the same, as do the recruitment processes, selection system and criteria. The best ones will now join the Central Armed Police Force, Assam Rifles, State Police Force and other government departments, which give assured and permanent employment without uncertainties.
Second, the military is a way of life and a soldier takes pride in being part of a unit and a regiment. He fights and dies for the “Naam, Namak, Nishan” of his unit. There is no reason for an “on duty” soldier to make sacrifices. Agniveers will be risk averse, and rightly so. A lesson should have been learned from the experience of Russian army soldiers in Ukraine. This will impact the intangible assets we are fighting for and will eventually spell the end of the armed forces.
Also read: Agnipath: Bulldozers accompany cops on flag march in violence-hit Aligarh
Did the government put too much risk in acting hastily to bring about such sweeping changes in military recruiting?
Yes, not only is the very concept of Agnipath wrong, but the timing of its implementation is not good, given the current security challenges, especially China’s aggression along the LAC with the ‘India.
One of the arguments put forward in favor of Agnipath is that it will bring young people into the armed forces, who are more in tune with the latest technological trends. What do you think?
Yes, it will improve the admission of soldiers who can better absorb and exploit technology. However, in four years, a technician will not be able to service airplanes, ships, submarines, tanks, radars, guns, electronic warfare systems and other military equipment. Agniveers, who will be inducted by industrial training institutes for this task, will need on-the-job training for 3-4 years to be competent enough.
You also expressed concerns about Agnipath leading to the militarization of society. Why?
The 75% Agniveers who will not be selected for regular service in the armed forces will return to villages rejected, discouraged and frustrated. The reservations the government is now announcing will only benefit about 20% of them. The others, who will then be semi-trained in the use of weapons, risk militarizing society.
Over the past few days, the government has announced a number of sops, including reserving jobs for Agniveers, to quell outrage and protests over Agnipath. Could this address concerns about the diet?
Partially yes, but implementation will be the challenge. The government should own and be accountable for the success of Agnipath. Currently, the armed forces are defending the regime. However, violence in the name of protest is certainly not a solution and must be condemned by all.
What more should the government do?
Now that the program has been rolled out, the government could launch it as a pilot project, study the effects, the impact on combat effectiveness, operational readiness and defense readiness, the aspirations of young people and soldiers , then revisit it with an open mind. . Mid-course corrections should be made whenever necessary. There needs to be good transition management, minimizing unnecessary turbulence and turmoil that may occur in the armed forces.