The Indian Army and private military companies: The way forward

Updated: Aug 10, 2020 1:22 PM

It was in 1986 that I wrote an approach paper on the need for our Defence Production, Simulation Techniques for training, Indoor Shooting Ranges and Creation of training areas with a clear objective of saving as well as generating funds.

indian army, defence production, UN Missions, National Security Guard, private military companies, Military Corporations, armed forces, defence news,latest news on defenceThe effort at Make in India to my way of thinking has come only about 40 years too late! (Representational image: IE)

Brig Pradeep Sharma

It was in 1986 that I wrote an approach paper on the need for our Defence Production, Simulation Techniques for training, Indoor Shooting Ranges and Creation of training areas with a clear objective of saving as well as generating funds. In the same approach paper, I brought out the need for generating revenue through an increased participation in UN Missions, training of friendly forces, setting up training facilities in friendly foreign countries, hiring space for parking equipment and so forth.

The total effect of this approach paper was “Baffle Ranges” and it remained so for a very long time. All this while built up areas in Cantonments, field firing ranges and encroached upon military facilities, short, long ranges and many field firing ranges were closed for reasons of safety due to these encroachments. Costs of training kept increasing in the absence of simulation techniques while the expansion of cultivation reduced space for collective training. Clamour over budget reduction reached a crescendo and began to tell upon modernisation programs, debates pitched for reduction of manpower, sale of defence land and reduction of pension bills rather than looking at ways to increase our income while gainfully utilising the large numbers of disciplined and well trained/skilled manpower of the Armed Forces.

The effort at Make in India to my way of thinking has come only about 40 years too late! The reasons for this are not difficult to find and rest squarely on our policies and approach to National Security, the Armed forces and if I may say so a conflict of interests amongst and within stake holders.

Experience Post Superannuation: An eye opener

My first exposure to how the western world operates with reference to the Defence Forces & Industry came when the National Security Guard ( NSG) were raised in 1984, this gave me a brief exposure on the involvement of Private Military Corporations(PMC) and Defence Industry in cost cutting as well as generation of revenue.

Many Nations like Israel, USA, France, UK, Russia, Sweden and even Switzerland have such a powerful world presence in production and sale of defence equipment, in many cases they almost drive not only the economy but also policy!

Training facilities for the Armed Forces, Security of Camps, Supplies of essential items and much more was being outsourced to PMCs to reduce the costs and also provide employment to Veterans who were found to have vast experience in warfare and use of equipment.

Visits to USA, UK, France, Sweden, Israel on invitation post 26/11 to see various facilities were an eye opener. There was so much being done by PMCs and Industry! To quote a few examples:-

DCI Group: Perhaps the best example, the French government has a 49.90% stake in the DCI group based out of Paris with several sites all over the national territory. It has permanent offices abroad, in particular in the Middle East with Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and in Asia with Brunei, India, Malaysia and Singapore. DCI continues to expand internationally with innovative, high value- added services through the development of new partnerships. With a workforce of nearly 1000 employees, they generated a turnover of 240.7 million euro in 2018. DCI of France has been a reference operator of the ministry of the armed forces for the international transfer of the French military know-how to friendly countries armed forces; DCI group has been operating across the entire defence and security spectrum for more than 45 years. Holding the “French Armed Forces Training” label, DCI is offers tailor-made services in the fields of consulting, training and technical assistance. (www.groupedci.com).

b) A private military company (PMC) on the other hand is a private company providing armed combat or security services for financial gain. PMCs refer to their business generally as the “private military industry” or “the circuit they refer to their staff as “security contractors” or “private military contractors”.

c) Another example could be that of the ‘Blackwater’ a US based mercenary force which employs ex servicemen with the required expertise in the field of operation. Blackwater has been known to support or even replace US forces in foreign countries .

In an effort to reduce costs and generate revenue, veterans need to be encouraged to form corporate , various services could then be out sourced to cut costs & generate employment in the areas mentioned below:-

  • Take on the responsibility of supply chains
  • Undertake stocking and manage Ordnance Depots
  • Provide security to military establishments
  • Take over and run Base Workshops being privatised
  • Set up camps to include HAA shelters
  • Take over and run Command Battle Schools
  • Set up training establishments in friendly foreign countries
  • Undertake joint training with friendly forces
  • Increase participation in UN Peace Keeping
  • Reduce civilian’s numbers in DRDO, Ordnance Factories, and MES by transferring human resources from concerned supporting arms/services
  • Like the DCI , form Corporate to market Military Hardware, training and technology both within the Country and Internationally

Costs & Budgets: The Constant Tussle

The annual release of approximately 75,000 experienced, tried and tested, skilled manpower from the forces is something that needs to be reviewed and these individuals should be gainfully employed to cut costs as well as add value. It is this disciplined, experienced and motivated manpower aged between 35- 45 years, which finds itself out on the street looking for jobs! Surely, not a healthy or motivating sign. Can we expect this to encourage our youth to join the Armed Forces for a short term ‘Job’ fraught with risk of life and limb? Retiring at a prime age, some get a pittance as pension; others do without it and mingle with a society that does not even care to give you a fair chance to be a part of it. These are battle hardened leaders who can think on their feet, take decisions, and give directions, in situations where the consequence of error is loss of life and National Pride.

The policies for absorbing them in second careers have always been cloudy and unsure. Industry mostly considers such individuals suitable only for ‘Security or Administration ‘, ignoring the multi talents & skills that these individuals bring with them. Ministry of Defense and the three services have put in efforts towards resettlement albeit with limited success. The policies flip flop between SSC and others getting absorbed in CAPFs on Deputation to being re employed where possible or attempting to join the Corporate World. Director General Resettlement(DGR) ,the primary organization for training and re-employment, who have been dealing with Coal Transportation , Security Agencies and Licenses for Petrol Pumps for some time are looked upon by many, as a defunct organisation. Army Placement Agency is another organization for the three services that operate in a similar model as any hiring or recruitment firm. Zila Sanik Board serves as the grass-root touch point for JCO’s/ OR’s and help them in undertaking primary and secondary employment registrations.

A significant amount of money is spent in imparting courses with educational institutes towards creating job readiness for a career in the corporate world.

It is a deplorable sight to see is a soldier who has gone through thousands of hours of structured and experiential training, as a doorman at a five-star hotel or a factory gate for a pittance of a mere eight to ten thousand rupees. An Infantry Soldier is treated at par with a ‘Semi Skilled’ worker after having spent the better part of his youth, laying his life at risk on borders and insurgencies!

Most officers end up joining the corporate world in security, administration and facilities that don’t use a small percent of what they are capable of, hence leaving them frustrated and unfulfilled for the rest of their lives. No wonder that the family tradition of joining the Armed Forces is dying.

Food for Thought: Next Step

War and Conflict have always been the backdoor for big businesses. Mega corporations manufacture weapons, vehicles, equipment and more under the government’s payroll; pioneering innovation and advancement in this demand intensive market. Profiteering from war is also a subject of moral debate, but that’s just capitalism.

The efforts of India’s Government to ‘downsize’ the forces needs to read ’right size’ and the financial burden needs to be turned around to a more or less self reliant organisation if not a profit generating one. It is my belief that this can be achieved if right ‘policies’ are adopted.

The answer lies in creating ‘Private Military Corporations’ (PMC) or Companies like those in the ‘Western World’.

Private Military Companies are non-existent in India as of now. A report by FICCI suggested that private security firms are amongst the largest employers in India, employing more than 8 million people, with the potential to employ about 3 million more by 2022.

A booming industry where the manpower is dominated by ex-servicemen; Indian firms, are unable to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with PMCs ,mainly due to State supremacy which has had a tight grip on matters related to defence forces and industry.

Make in India should open doors for this. According to a recent report in the Tribune 04 August 2020, the Army has put out a RFI for ten years supply of ammunition, further the import of 101 items has been prohibited and additional funds provided for defence procurement, this can be seen as a way forward for Veterans to form PMCs and undertake to deliver the Army’s requirements.

The DCI model of ‘joint ownership’ may just be the right answer? Perhaps it is time to experiment even on a small scale?

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal).

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