The chief’s challenge

General Suhag has 30 months to push the army modernisation project.

Written by Syed Ata Hasnain | Published on:August 1, 2014 12:59 am
 Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag in his office on Thursday. (Source: PTI)
Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag in his office on Thursday. (Source: PTI)

From July 31, a new army chief takes over the reins of the 1.3 million-strong Indian army. As General Dalbir Singh Suhag wears his rank badges and the fourth star appears on his staff car I can revel in the thought that he is a batchmate, a good friend and someone I have worked with on many a course of instruction and command assignment. The army’s time-tested esprit de corps dictates a prudent sense of loyalty among batchmates, but these buddies can also be the best umpires of performance. The hallowed office of army chief does not come easy and personalities who occupy it are inevitably aware of the responsibility they carry, the critical scrutiny they remain under and the necessity of having a clear vision about what they wish to achieve and where they intend to take their organisation. Suhag has almost 30 months, a long time by recent standards, to achieve institutional and thereby personal glory. Where must he start and what areas must he emphasise? A generalist approach, instead of a focused one, is unlikely to pay dividends. He must articulate his vision and resolve very early, taking a leaf out of the new government’s book.

Some years ago, the army adopted the concept of “transformation”, borrowed from the US lexicon. The equipment challenges of the army and setbacks in the acquisition process have prevented the progress of transformation, which must also be a comprehensive change in thinking, doctrine, concept and execution. Given the lag in human and technical resources, any pursuit of transformation will at best be departmental, not comprehensive. It may therefore be prudent to debate this extensively in the first few months. The second piece of advice is related to the growth of ideas. The modernisation of any army is such a complex process that without a range of ideas it will not progress beyond a point. Therefore, it would be good if the army’s public interface were given a boost. Suhag needs to tell the ministry of defence that the archaic system managed by its public relations office cannot meet a modern army’s information and interface needs. The MoD needs to accept this early.

It is usual to commence all discussions about modernisation with references to equipment and technology. Managing manpower is the less glamorous of responsibilities. Suhag would do well to call his adjutant general (AG) and military secretary (MS) to demand deep thinking on the quantum and quality of manpower. A gamechanging innovation, such as the veterans cell under General Bikram Singh, could set the tone for energy and dynamism in this particular sphere. Suhag needs to examine how to ensure that the potential capital budget of the army is not eaten into by undue expenditure on manpower through the revenue route. For the AG-MS combine, …continued »

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