By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)
The movie ‘Hidden Figures’ recounts the time when NASA was first attempting to put a man in space. Scientists are not sure that the orbit they had figured out would enable them to get their astronaut back to earth. An African American lady who is a whizz at maths and space geometry is called upon to work out a safe orbit. She examines the problem and says words to the effect “The answer will be in the maths. Maths cannot be wrong”. In the event, she re-works the orbit mathematically using complex equations (including Euler’s and Navier Stokes equations I guess) and presents a solution. The astronaut is launched into space based on her maths. He completes the space orbit and enters back safely into the earth’s atmosphere. This is a true story. However the hidden truth is in Maths.
What has this got to do with Agnipath and Agniveers? It’s the maths. Let us not have any doubts. The nation is embarking on a military transformation of a mammoth order. It is similar to entering a space orbit. Full of uncertainties with doubtful outcomes. However as in the movie, if we get the maths right, we can enter the current orbit. Failure to get the “Sahi Ganit” will leave us stranded in no man’s land. Good maths keeps us on our desired orbit with due course corrections. Look at it this way. I have long been of the opinion that the Indian Armed Forces are strong enough to defend the nation but are not modern enough to enable India’s rise, to be a regional power of consequence. Hence we must get the maths right in this transformational orbit. Otherwise we might be left struggling to defend the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. Being a regional power of consequence is a later day story.
As against previous articles, time, more inputs and better understanding, have led to an evolutionary model based on first principles. The model is in four year blocks from 2022 to 2034. Earlier methods and figures have been applied differently to evolve an easy to understand model with relatable time lines. The focus is on the Army, due to its sheer size, centrality of India’s continental compulsions and its long unresolved land borders with belligerent adversaries. One can never forget that India has always been invaded from its land borders. It has never been invaded from the sea or air. If we get the Indian Army equation right, then we are on our way. Our transformation has to be right from two perspectives. At the top, we must have the right mix of man and machine in balance. This includes technology, training, age profile, experience, and leadership, in tailormade organisations to meet perceived threats. However all this has to enable the fighting end to execute its tasks. Hence the fighting end, which is represented by units and sub units – companies, squadrons and batteries, must be in harmony and well-honed to face the enemy. After all they are in the business end of “theirs but to do and die, theirs not to reason why”.
In this context, I have heard all the head honchos of India’s military enunciate some issues repetitively. The Agnipath Scheme will stabilise with time…It is a far reaching transformation…It will reduce the age profile of the Army and make it youthful…It will enable better induction of hi-technology…The reduced pension outgo will enable the nation to spend more on modernisation…Those who criticise it cannot understand its vision…Veterans are fixated…This is an era of modern warfare…We have studied models of other armies…so on and so forth. All that is fine. However, we have not seen the maths. The orbit is hazy.
This model analyses Agnipath quantitatively to identify the problem. Once identified, solutions can be worked out. The model is based on certain assumptions. The four year block principle is based on the four year tenure of the Agniveers. It gives great clarity across time lines. The first and reasonable assumption is that the yearly intake into the Army is 65000 soldiers. This figure has been applied across the entire 17 years of colour service of a soldier in a uniform manner. This intake has stopped for 2020, 2021 and 2022 due to Covid. The resultant shortfall is 65000 x 3 soldiers (which is 1.95 lakhs). This shortfall is not factored for being made up. I think the government will not let this opportunity go. Hence the strength of the Army is being maintained at 10.05 lakhs (12 lakhs – 1.95 lakhs) in the model. If this strength is made up, the imbalances creep up faster. Also, the government has announced 46000 vacancies for Agniveers. That is for the first six month cycle. The Army share of these vacancies is presumed to be 32500 at present. Over the annual period, it will be 65000. This is assumed to be sustained for the first four year block. After that, it will have to be increased. Incidentally, this model can be tweaked with varying numbers to get different outcomes.
With these assumptions in place, it is relevant to understand the current structure in the Army. In the basic block of 0-3 years’ service there is no one at present. This three year block will only go up the ladder without any personnel in that service bracket. In all subsequent blocks, till 17 years of service, there are 65000 personnel per year. Depending upon a two / three year block (as depicted) , each block has 2.6/1.3 L soldiers as can be seen in the graphic below. Once distributed in this fashion there are 0.95 lakhs personnel above the 17 year bracket who are mainly JCOs and senior NCOs. This figure will be constant through time since the highest ranks are always kept filled. It does not mean that there are no JCOs / senior NCOs in lower service blocks.
In the next four year period, up to 2.6 lakhs Agniveers will be inducted (yellow block AGNI 1 in graphic ). At that time there will be 7.45 lakhs experienced soldiers with more than 4 years’ service. For every three experienced soldiers, there will be one Agniveer. In fact till 2026 there is no adverse effect on the Army. The growth corelationship between the 2022 and 2026 structure is visible through a common colour code for each block and the slanted arrows connecting blocks. This is applicable for all further graphics also
In the period 2026 – 2030, 75% of the first lot of Agniveers (AGNI 1)would have exited and only 25% (0.65 lakhs) would have been retained. Taking into account the normal exit pattern and the 75% exit of the first lot of Agniveers, there will be a necessity to increase the intake to 4.5 lakhs Agniveers (AGNI 2)in the period up to 2030. If this is not done, the strength of the Army will fall drastically. In this period between 2026 -2030, there will be an ‘experience’ reduction. There will be 5.5 Lakhs experienced soldiers as against 4.5 lakhs experienced soldiers in the system. Experienced vs inexperienced Agniveers will be almost at parity at macro level.
The period 2030- 2034 there will be an experience inversion. Taking the model forward it can be seen in the graphic that there will be 4.675 Lakhs of experienced soldiers for 5.375 Agniveers (AGNI3). Beyond this period, the figures tend to stabilise within in a narrow band. By then the situation will almost be stable and largely irreversible.
Prima facie it will appear that if the experience vs inexperience ratio is 1:1, it is manageable. However, this is at a macro level. The major issue to understand is that what will be the effect on the unit or subunit due to this changing macro profile. The devil is always in the detail. Let’s us look at the devil.
As modelled previously, the rostered strength of a unit is a taken as 500. It implies five hundred people are held on the unit roster. Of these, 10% , are permanently sent on Extra Regimental Employment like NCC, HQs, R&D establishments, MCOs etc. These 10% vacancies are given to units on a rotational basis. All those sent out have to be above 5 years’ service and are mostly JCOs/NCOs. Hence the residual War Establishment strength of the unit is 450. In this effective strength, those posted in the unit HQs and specialist sub units are taken as around 120 (27%). This is a conservative assumption. Resultantly, the number of soldiers in fighting sub units ie coys/btys/sqns is 330. That makes it about 110 soldiers per sub unit, assuming an uniform triangular pattern of three subunits per unit. The composition of these 110 soldiers is the crux of the issue. It is also a common practice in units to keep the youngest soldier in fighting companies / sabre squadrons / gun batteries. Hence all Agniveers will bunch up at the fighting end. That detailing can be seen in the table below.
In 2026, the macro ratio of 75:25 converts into 62 experienced soldiers for 38 Agniveers in a subunit. That is fine and stable. As per my experience and wisdom of others, serving and retired, there is no way that the number of inexperienced Agniveers can be more than experienced soldiers in a subunit. If the happens, the fighting capability of the sub unit is suspect. However in the period between 2026 and 2030, there is a sharp inversion. By 2030, while the macro ratio will be 55:45; at subunit level, there will be only 32 experienced soldiers and 68 Agniveers as can be seen in the table. The inversion will happen around 2028 and the kindergarten will be established. Beyond 2030 and specifically in 2034, the number of experienced soldiers in a subunit will further reduce to only 18. At that time, the kindergarten will be filled to the brim. The trick and the solution is to ensure that the experience ratio is always maintained in favour of the experienced. It can be done if flexibility is built in the scheme.
I have been going by numbers and maths in all my analysis. Incidentally, the gross check on my numbers are that the VCOAS has confirmed that by 2032, there will be 50% Agniveers in the Indian Army. When that figure is reached, the experienced people at the subunits will be around 25 only. If this be so, the repeated assertion by the Political, Security and Military leadership that the operational effectiveness of the Indian Army and the Indian Armed Forces will not be adversely affected but will improve is a mirage in the desert. Further, if we think that by 2028, we will modernise adequately through injection of high end technology to offset the reduction in quality of manpower as a result of half trained Agniveers; it is being pretty unrealistic. Our track record in modernisation and procurement is rather uninspiring. Hence there is an undeniable need for a tweak to make the Agnipath scheme, workable and successful.
I would beseech those who think I am being pessimistic or am underestimating the prowess of your youth, to rethink. Overall, the maths does not add up. The Agnipath scheme has not been stress tested by a formal study or trial. This ‘transformation’ is most likely to enter an orbit without re-entry options. In this article I have dwelt upon numbers only to identify when the problem will occur. There is also a huge qualitative issue related to reduced training and inadequate time for the mental transformation of a village boy to an effective Agniveer. Both these issues compound the problem severely. These issues need to be attended to holistically. It also needs analysis as to why this has happened and what is the stable way forward. Wisdom needs to prevail on cold logic, facts and figures. That is what many of us were taught at DSSC were we not? Good old staff work based on diligence. I will attempt that in my next article.
(The author is PVSM, AVSM, VSM, and a retired Director General of Artillery. He is currently a Professor in the Aerospace Department of IIT Madras. He writes extensively on defence and strategic affairs @ http://www.gunnersshot.com. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).