The Army is 18 per cent short of its sanctioned strength of officers, and it is projected to take until 2021 to bring the shortfall down to 12 per cent. The current situation, is, however, an improvement on the situation in 2010, when the Army was 26 per cent short of its sanctioned strength of officers.
The shortage of officers has been a longstanding problem, to overcome which the government has over the last two decades commissioned advertising campaigns that have sought to attract urban youth to the Army. The Sixth Pay Commission raised salaries significantly, and further raises are expected with the Seventh Pay Commission next year. But these measures have yielded only limited results.
The Defence Minister told Lok Sabha in July that the major reasons for the shortage were increases in authorised strength due to accretions in force levels from time to time, and availability of attractive alternative career avenues. Other reasons cited by the Minister included stringent selection criteria for officers and difficult service conditions, and the perception that the job involves high levels of personal physical risk.
There are other reasons — including the lack of adequate training capacities for officer cadets, which constrains the intake into the Army every year. This is even after the increase in capacity at the tri-Service National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla near Pune.
The Army has an Officers’ Training Academy (OTA) in Gaya for commissioning short service officers, apart from the older OTA in Chennai, and the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun.
The Army cannot commission a large number of officers to make up for the shortfall in one go. That is bound to cause problems in promotions, and at the time of retirement. A ramped up plan for incremental intake is, therefore, the only option available.
The shortages are at the cutting edge of the Army, in the ranks of Lt Colonel and below. Not having the required number of officers means fighting units work below strength, which affects their operational efficiency.
While the Army hopes to bring down officer deficiency to 12 per cent by 2021, it is struggling to subscribe to all the vacancies in its various training academies. 435 of the 2,642 vacancies for officer cadets have not been filled this year, raising questions about future projections.
And yet, shortages are not due to a lack of applicants. More than 4 lakh candidates apply for around 900 seats at the NDA. The ratio of applicants to officer cadets is similar for other entries — technical/non-technical — in the Army.
The shortage of officers has achieved critical importance as the Army continues to raise new units for the China border, which demand more officers. The Army’s plan is to get approximately 1,000 officers annually.
While a tri-Service roadmap on reducing officer shortages is with the Defence Ministry, the Army’s Directorate of Recruiting is also carrying out a study on intake of officers. The matter is also on the agenda of discussion during the ongoing Army Commanders’ conference in Delhi this week. They are bound to be encouraged by the Defence Minister’s plans to induct more women into the combat arms of the armed forces. Any step that helps make up for officer shortages is likely to be welcomed.