Tour of Duty – An analysis
Tour of Duty: The media is abuzz these days reporting the contours of a raging debate that relates to the Army’s proposal of offering a short tenure of three years (in short called the Tour of Duty or ToD) to the youth on a voluntary basis.
This article re-visits the Tour of Duty proposal and argues why there is a need to exercise great caution in taking this proposal forward and what pitfalls lie ahead if the proposal is implemented the way it is being proposed.
What is ToD?
Out of the several entry schemes for the officers in the Army, the ones that lead to a Permanent Commission (PC) implying a permanent incumbency till the attainment of the retirement age of the last rank served (unless boarded out for any reason medical/disciplinary etc) are either through the National Defence Academy (NDA) and (or) the Indian Military Academy (IMA). (The details of various entries are not covered).
Apart from the above, there is a Short Service Commission (SSC) entry where the officers are inducted for a service of 10 years extendable to 14 years. Prior to achieving the superannuation age, the officers are screened for grant of PC. The ones who make the grade are offered PC, the rest leave.
There is no fixed percentage or quota of SSC officers getting the PC year-on-year.
The men (referred to as Personnel below Officers Rank or PBOR) are normally recruited for an engagement period of 17 years (there are variations in this period based on type of entry, educational qualification etc. These are not relevant to the argument hence not covered). As the PBORs keep getting promoted in their ranks there superannuation age keeps going up.
The Tour of Duty (ToD) is planned to be another entry scheme whose details are enumerated:- 1
1. After the process of initial selection and pre-commissioning training, the ToD offers an engagement of three years.
2. This engagement is neither PC nor SSC type but is only a type of internship or a temporary engagement, so to say.
3. Irrespective of the Officers or PBOR, the period of engagement will be three years.
4. The officers and PBOR will draw the pay and allowances equivalent to the regular cadre officers and PBORs.
5. As an incentive, there may be a tax exemption on the compensation package.
6. There will be no severance package (retirement benefits) applicable at the end of three years. Such a package includes the following:-
c. Leave encashment.
d. Medical facilities through the Ex-servicemen Cooperative Health Scheme ( ECHS)
e. Ex Servicemen (ESM) status.
7. In place of the severance package, the plan is to provide a lump-sum of Rs 5-6 lakh to officers and 2-3 lakh to PBOR which could also be tax free.
8. There will be no restrictions on the employment of ToD inductees across various arms and services or in front-line fighting units or other units elsewhere.
Possible Drivers for the ToD (Tour of Duty)
Since no proposal starts to get its traction just like that, Tour of Duty is no exception. It is the sense of the author that the proposal is guided by several drivers. These are enumerated.
Induct Young Blood (Tour of Duty)
There is an abiding feeling in the force that the best quality and calibre of youth from top colleges, universities, IITs, IIMs etc, normally give the Army career a pass in favour of the corporate world.
For the above general trend, out of many reasons like the pay, quality of life, risk etc, one of the tipping one is long years of commitment (read getting stuck) as against, the dream of climbing the corporate ladder through multiple hops, job-to-job maintaining the pace of upward mobility with no long-term commitments (read shackles).
In a demography where half of the 1.34 billion are below 25 years, this is a huge loss to the force. The Army therefore intends to offer a no-pains package that addresses all the above. The same runs like this:-
1. No long term getting stuck; only a three years internship.
2. This is how the ToD pay package is likely to be positioned in the minds of the youth:-
a. Target age of the youth bracket (20-23 years).
b. The Army pay package will almost be double than what a youth will expect to get as a fresh inductee at this age in the corporate.
c. Instead of investing the first three years in the corporate, invest it in the Army. Multiple benefits will accrue, such as the following:-
– Significant financial advantage.
– Opportunity to serve the armed forces of the nation.
– Donning the military uniform and imbibing the ethos and
values of the force – loyalty, duty, respect, selfless
service, honour, integrity, personal courage etc.
– Whether an inductee imbibes the above or not, the three
years will certainly make him more self-confident, a
better team-man, more responsible, more pro-active and
with better social skills.
d. Voices are already being heard from the corporate leaders that
the virtues supposedly acquired by the Tour of Duty officers and men
will make them a preferable candidate over a non Tour of Duty
e. The following is likely to play in the youth’s mind
– It is a win-win.
– Short commitment multiple gains.
– Indeed a life-time (read life-changing) experience at minimal cost.
– Worth it.
Yeh Dil Mange More (Tour of Duty)
The above thought process is backed by the on-ground experience of the force which has also acted as a driver in putting out the ToD proposal. In that, it has been proven time and again that the budding youth, vibrant in their young blood have shown unparalleled courage and sheer guts in the face of the enemy.
Many of them have not only made the supreme sacrifice willingly, but have done so in the highest tradition of soldiering. Any number of examples can be cited. 2/Lt Arun Khetarpal, PVC (posthumous) service 6 months. Capt Vikram Batra, PVC (posthumous) – Yeh dill mange more; commissioned 1997- achieved martyrdom 1999, Kargil war. The Honour Roll of ‘Amar Shaheeds’ can fill many a volumes.
This belief has probably led to the thought that it is fine to induct a young boy for as less as three years also.
Ride the Wave (Tour of Duty)
A careful look at the events in the recent past will reveal the following:-
1. Ever since the days of Uri and Balakot, there has been a resurgence of some kind of a nationalistic and patriotic feeling.
2.The same got a shot in the arm the way the ‘shaheed’ card was played during the election campaign, especially targeting at the first-time voters. The catchy phrases – ‘is bar vote shaheedon ke naam’ ‘mera vote – Balakot’… come to mind.
3. Also the momentum has been kept alive by catchy slogans, phrases and even poetry. The lines of Mr Prasoon Joshi’s poem oft repeated by the PM come to mind…
Saugandh mujhe is mitti ki…
Main desh nahi mitne doonga.
Main desh nahi rukne doonga.
Main desh nahi jhukne doonga.
4. It was appreciated, that the prevailing youth sentiment is favourable to receiving this proposal (ToD).
Filling the Deficiencies (Tour of Duty)
The Army has a long standing deficiency of some 7000+ officers and 27,000+ men. It was felt that if ToD entries could become a success, a part of these deficiencies could be addressed at minimal costs.
Cost Savings. (Tour of Duty)
Talking of cost savings, a lot of figures are being projected in the open source. A brief summary is attempted:-
1. The total cost ( from pre commissioning training up to severance package) for an SSC officer serving for a 10 year term works out to 5.12 Crs and for a 14 year term it climbs up to 6.93 Crs. If an officer gets the PC, the liability for his pay and allowances up to an age of say 54 years is another 3 Crores while about 9 Crore is spent in pensions say up an age of 75 years.
2. For PBOR serving a full term of 17 years, the Government incurs an expenditure of 11.49 Crs.
3. Compared to the above, the end-to-end cost of a ToD officer is being projected as 80-85 Lakhs and for a PBOR as 4.89 Lakhs.
4. It therefore implies that for one PBOR the net saving will be about 11.44 Crs and for a batch of 1000 men, it will be approximately 11500 Crs.
5. The money thus saved is planned to be gainfully employed in modernisation of the force currently under pressure from Covid driven Budget blues and the rising bills of salaries and pensions.
The ToD on all the above counts appears to be a great proposal that is likely to bring an avalanche of benefits for the Army.
Great Apprehensions (Tour of Duty)
The other side of the story is a grim reality of what such a proposal will actually mean if implemented as it is. Some details are presented.
Inadequate Tenure (Tour of Duty)
A tenure of three years is actually not three years. As rightly worded, it is only a ‘tour’ where the first two to three months will go in the inductee finding his feet on the ground in the heretofore alien environment of the Services, while the last two-three months (if not more), will go in aligning oneself to the post dis-engagement scenario of landing a favourable spot in the corporate world or some other place. The actual tenure will only be just about two-and-a-half years or thereabout.
This is too short time for a Tour of Duty inductee to mature as a leader of men or for the Army to be getting the optimal deliverables.
Consider the following:-
1. At present, what a PC officers takes for commissioning through the NDA route is three and a half years while through the IMA route it is one and a half years (details of various entries is not covered).
2. Even after such long years in shaping a boy into a leader of men, much of the training of a young officer (YO) is through his initial formative years in the unit.
3. While on the technical and professional side, he is groomed though a number of training courses (YO’s course, Platoon Weapons Course, Battalion Support Weapons Course, Regimental Signal Officer’s Course, Transport Management Course …. The list can go on), the real grooming takes place ‘on the job’.
4. On the job implies maturing through the years in absorbing the ethos of the ‘paltan’ and the Army, learning by experience in going through hundreds of peculiar situations involving men and fellow officers; so to say ‘diving in the deep end and learning to swim’.
5. Where will be the time for a ToD inductee to be groomed in this manner?
6. To argue that a correctly selected Tour of Duty inductee will be a ‘ready matreial’ that will deliver all in just 2.6 years is asking for something unreal.
7. Actually speaking, these are intangibles and can be argued either way. For instance, it can be said that for a display of grit, determination, and cold courage in the face of the enemy or in trying times etc. no ‘pre-training’ or ‘grooming’ so to say, over the years is actually required; it is the question of ‘Do you have it in YOU? It cannot be faulted.
The question is, ‘Is the Tour of Duty for unitary situations or unitary purpose? Or are we trying to induct well trained and well groomed officers and men to deliver in high-technology wars of today and tomorrow. If the logic of ‘do you have it in you’ is the only truth, it defeats the logic of comprehensive pre and post induction training of officers and men currently in vogue. ‘Do you have it you’ justifies the ‘right material’, training follows to complete the personality; the two are inseparable verticals. For, if you ‘do not have it in you’ – no amount of training will make any difference. That is the logic.
Pre-induction Training (Tour of Duty)
How much pre-commissioning training will be justified for a Tour of Duty inductee? If it is claimed that there will be no let-up in the initial selection criteria and training, a period of six to nine months is likely to be a be a bottom line. What cost and duration of training will justify an engagement as short as three years is to be seen? Since the detailed breakdown of the projected 80-85 lakhs as total expenditure for a Tour of Duty inductee is not known, further analysis on this cannot be done. In fact, the balance to be struck is between two rival verticals; one, no let-up in quality of training and two, costs incurred to have some semblance of proportionately with period of engagement.
A word about Savings (Tour of Duty)
Much is made out of the savings that will accrue through the Tour of Duty scheme as a tool to push forward force modernisation and ease pressure due to rising salary and pension bills etc. In the sense of the author this idea is misplaced.
It will be recalled that a figure of 11500 Cr has been stated earlier as saving accruing out of 1000 ToD men over a tour of three years. What is 11500 Crs over three years? It is less than the cost of a single Surface to Air Missile Regiment what to talk of modernisation of force composed of hundreds of units and millions ( 14 million) of men.
It can be argued that this is just the beginning and the savings will grow cumulatively after every tour finishes. The point being made is, that such annuity increments after every three years are firstly notional (since these are unlikely to result in any quid pro quo credits into modernisation budget) and secondly, these are far too insignificant for a major budget head such as modernisation of the force.
A New Cloud of ‘defence experts’ (Tour of Duty)
Not that there is any lack of them now itself, giving their ‘expert opinions’ on each and everything from a needle to a mountain, from a bootlace to the recommended nuclear arsenal in space, it is difficult to imagine how his number will hit the sky when every Tour of Duty de-inductee will claim his share of the pie called ‘defence experts’ and will hit the ever-hyper 24×7 media making big comments on strategic issues and generally telling the Army how to run the force. There will be a total mayhem.
Two sides of the see-saw (Tour of Duty)
The way the package is structured actually gives a very ‘business like feeling’. The message which a potential youth is getting probably runs like this:-
1. Come in with no shackles of long commitment.
2. Do the internship in the Army which in any case has to be done on first joining in corporate/elsewhere.
3. Earn more than double the pay as compared to a fresher in corporate world.
4. Get the stamp of ‘military duty’.
5. The other takeaways (intangibles) of donning the uniform, chance to serve the forces, and picking up force’s ethos come alongside at no extra cost.
6. Take home a large lump sum ( probably tax free) something which non-ToD friends could not dream off.
7. Come out with an edge over peers as a more acceptable candidate among the hopefuls.
Indeed a real win-win for the youth; BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ARMY??? Probably the following :-
1. Put in place an initial selection process and a pre-commissioning training infrastructure (by further loading the existing systems and institutions).
2. Induct a transient force that is here to stay for a brief period of three years (effective is only some two and a half or thereabout).
3. Keep balancing between using them as ‘raw as inducted’ where possible, or choose to train them selectively so as to make them worthwhile for units holding highly complex weapon systems.
4. All along keep the hope alive that in breezing through the force for as small as three years, they pick up enough experience and maturity to be ‘leaders of men.’
5. Cope up with reduced deliverables on either side of three years, initially for bedding in and towards the end for ‘next flight’.
6. Be ready to have a new crop of defence experts’ trying to tell the system how to run the force?
Recommended view point (Tour of Duty)
A viewpoint on a possible way ahead is attempted.
Simply put, the thought process in the force that triggered such an idea may have run like this:-
1. The best quality youth graduating from the best colleges and universities are giving a pass to the army career in favour of corporate/outside world.
2. This young blood needs to be attracted to the force for all its good.
3. The vehicle to attract must be perceived as win-win by the young.
4. THE ARMY MUST ALSO NOT BE LEFT AS A LOOSER at the end of the day.
While the points from 1 to 3 actually stand addressed in the ToD proposal, it is Point 4 which must drive our actions and hit at the disadvantages of ToD set out earlier; inadequate training, inadequate tenures, misplaced notion of savings and more.
Following is suggested:-
1. SSC is already in place.
( explained earlier) but it is not subscribe well enough by the youth. Why? Some possible reasons:-
a. Perceived as too long a commitment (read getting stuck).
b. Not lucrative enough in terms of post service takeaways.
c. When one comes out after 10/14 years (34-36 at years ) it is a case of neither here nor there ( late for a corporate career).
2. It is possible to address the above shortcomings and actually have a system in place that picks up the good points of ToD while giving a pass to its perceived shortcomings, as well as, some ills of SSC.
3. Salient points of the recommended system are:-
a. Instead of ToD only the SSC entry is retained.
b. Revisit the upper limit of entry age for bringing it down (currently 20-27 years). No recommended new upper age is stated here as a lot of pros and cons and connected issues will have to be examined to arrive at the same.
c. Leave untouched the entry age for widows of defence personnel who died in harness ( SSCW) and SSCW Tech as 35 years.
d. SSC tenure to be 5 years; period.
e. The entry is incentivised though measures like the following:-
– Medical facilities post retirement.
– Better severance package.
– Offer of management/technical courses at reputed colleges and universities.
– Some weightages/age consideration etc. for appearing for civil services examinations/second careers through UPSC.
4. Following advantages are likely to accrue from the above arrangement:-
a. The youth is likely to still perceive the bracket of 5 years as a lucrative one, given the benefits of pay, perks, military service card and above all, a hand-shake that actually facilitates the second career.
b. The de-induction is likely to be in the age bracket of 25-27 years instead of mid thirties. Hopefully till then as well, the corporate preferential benefits will stay alive.
c. The Army is likely to get some worthwhile time in optimal utilisation of the inductee commensurate to the time and resources invested.
d. No additional load is likely to come on existing systems, institutions and infrastructures.
In sum, the reconfigured package will be so positioned as to meet the requirement of the all the stakeholders- youth, army, nation. Tour of Duty
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