The thin, brown canvas PT shoes used by Indian Army soldiers could soon make way for sports shoes.
After an earlier attempt to replace the World War II vintage canvas shoe failed to take off a couple of years ago, the Army now plans to go for an existing sports shoe manufactured by a multinational brand. The Army had previously asked shoe manufacturers to design a completely new sports shoe for soldiers.
Different shoes are being evaluated by certain units and the Army is hopeful of signing a contract soon.
The canvas PT shoe has not seen any improvement in quality since it entered the service. “Today’s jawans don’t like to wear those shoes. They are paid good salaries and wear smart sneakers when they are in civil dress. In fact, we give our unit’s basketball and cross-country teams branded sports shoes from our own regimental funds,” a Colonel commanding an infantry battalion told The Indian Express.
A senior military official said the Army’s top brass realises that “we need to manage the perception of our jawans better, in tune with changing times”.
“Providing better quality uniform, proper shoes and functional equipment is our topmost priority. The present defence minister is equally committed to the cause,” the official said.
The Army currently procures around 20 lakh canvas shoes every year from the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB).
The OFB no longer manufactures canvas shoes itself, but buys them from civilian suppliers to provide to the Army. Each soldier is issued one pair of shoes every six months free of cost by the Army, along with other items of uniform, as part of the ‘life-cycle clothing’ arrangement.
The new sports shoes, once introduced, would have a much longer life-cycle than the canvas shoes — perhaps around 12-15 months, sources said.
A few years ago, the Army had carried out a study at the Indian Military Academy to design three different shoes for cadets during training — a drill boot, a sports shoe and a running shoe.
The study had shown that running or PT shoes need to have a different structure and cannot double as shoes for playing games such as basketball or hockey.
“Physical training-induced injuries are mainly overuse injuries, whereas injuries incurred during playing a field sport are acute in nature. The aim of a good running or PT shoe is to prevent and reduce stress-related injuries caused by overuse. Technical parameters — like vertical ground reaction force peak impact, ground reaction force loading rate and peak tibial acceleration — will need to be considered while selecting a good shoe,” a sports medicine qualified Army doctor, who was involved in the study, said.
The Army’s earlier attempt to procure modern sports shoes was scuttled when animal rights activist and the then BJP MP Maneka Gandhi objected to the use of cow leather in sneakers being bought by the Army. The Army had started the process of selecting new-generation sports shoes to replace the basic brown canvas PT shoes in July 2008. Based on user trials of about a dozen shoes, it had recommended two options. Both shoes used cow leather.
The Army had said it chose cow leather instead of synthetic leather or other items because “cow leather was unanimously approved as the most appropriate material, being most versatile and tough to withstand anticipated usage by soldiers”.
Following Maneka’s objection, the then defence minister A K Anthony cancelled the procurement order in 2011. The next attempt to procure shoes in 2012 also failed to see the light of day.
Because of the personal interest taken by the defence minister this time, the Army is hopeful of overcoming the “usual price and specification issues” likely to be raised by the Defence Ministry during procurement.