Overhauling Indian military structure, HR is vital to tackle future challenges - Hindustan Times

Overhauling Indian military structure and HR is vital to tackle future challenges

Jul 31, 2023 06:07 PM IST

Incorporating disruptive tech and innovative HR policies will be vital in building a lean and effective Indian military that readily tackles future challenges

The Indian Armed Forces are at the cusp of one of the most significant and transformative changes that are being undertaken towards ensuring synergy, jointness and reorganisation, apart from military modernisation with an underlying emphasis towards Atmanirbharta or self-sufficiency. With the advancement of technology, and the ability of nations to use non-kinetic tools to destroy or deter an adversary, the nature of war remains constant while the character of war continues to evolve and change.  

Military history is replete with examples when disruptive thinking by leaders in campaigns has led to resounding victories despite heavy odds. (PTI) PREMIUM
Military history is replete with examples when disruptive thinking by leaders in campaigns has led to resounding victories despite heavy odds. (PTI)

From trade sanctions, energy, and food grains, to social media, information and non-state actors, the tools of war and therefore the character of war change constantly.  The ability to retain the edge and mitigate the threats being unleashed by the modern tools of warfare, original, innovative and disruptive thinking and action is not only necessary but also inescapable for survival. Disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence, cyber and quantum computing are being increasingly utilised across the traditional domains of warfare with the militaries the world over recognising their importance.  

The military organisational structure and its human resources (HR) policies, however, invariably continue along traditional paths with policies that loathe change. Once recruited in a branch or stream, uniformed personnel invariably continue in the same stream gradually gaining expertise and experience as they grow in service. Changes in the branch or stream rarely occur and if they do the primary reasons for the same are either medical issues or poor performance. 

Steeped in hierarchy and a pyramidal structure, with rules and regulations that discourage critical thinking, militaries often find themselves at a loss in coping with the changing character of war. Inherent structures and HR policies play a major role in discouraging changes that are considered disruptive. The manner in which a state or military organisation is shaped invariably governs the character of war that it wages. Military history is replete with examples when disruptive thinking by leaders in campaigns has led to resounding victories despite heavy odds.  

The competing and conflicting demands on a military organisation to operate within defined boundaries and existing policies for recruitment and career progression, career advancement of personnel with equal opportunities being accorded to all personnel, and the mandatory appointments/courses that personnel have to undergo, often result in suboptimal utilisation of an individual’s core competency or potential to excel in a particular domain. With the character of war continuously changing wherein anything can be weaponized it becomes even more important to have domain expertise with individuals who have the proclivity to excel in a stream which may not be the one that they had signed up for. 

More often than not the officers of the executive branch invariably move on to lead the force. Their original core competencies are limited to tactical and to some extent, operational. As they move higher up in the chain, the roles and responsibilities continuously change and therefore mastering the nuances and the ability to prosecute modern wars that require a whole national approach become indispensable. The role of military leadership and HR policies becomes important as the flexibility desired to have subject matter experts may not be possible due to existing regulations and policies.  

Disruptive HR management with policies that provide the required flexibility to military leaders to identify and tap into the potential of its personnel who display an interest, keenness and willingness to work in specific domains that may range from cyber security, space, military strategy, airpower, Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, data science etc, is not only important but inescapable in today’s competitive, complex and contested environment.  

The progress of science, emerging technologies and their incorporation in the military domain have resulted in meaningful changes and this would only continue to take place at a faster pace than ever before. To keep up with these changes and also retain the edge in any future conflict it is important to have the best trained, motivated and professional personnel manning domains that require core competencies. There cannot be a better situation wherein the aspirations of the individual and organisational interests segue seamlessly. 

At the end of the day, it is not technology or equipment that will win future wars, but the man or the team behind it. It is therefore important that the organisation makes a concerted effort to ensure that square pegs are not put in round holes. Military organisations are inherently steeped in routines and policies resistant to change. While there is no denying the fact that it is essential and necessary to an extent, there also exists a requirement to break from the silos when required. It is this flexibility that would arm and equip the leadership to incorporate changes when considered necessary and take bold decisions in the organisational interest.  

Lateral induction of domain experts on a long-term contractual basis with competitive remuneration could be considered to ensure continuous availability. Lateral inductees could also comprise a separate branch within the service whose promotion board could be independent of regular personnel. This would prevent heartburn or acrimony within the military if someone were to be appointed in the senior hierarchy from elsewhere. 

HR heads at various levels need to be identified irrespective of the branch/stream, to carry out these appointments. The entire assessment system would need an overhaul to facilitate this. This need not be limited to the military, but also the research and development structures that enable the Armed Forces with state-of-the-art technologies. Disruptive technologies and their effective use would invariably give an edge to any military in a future conflict. Disruptive HR policies that ensure a motivated, dedicated and professional force would certainly lead to victory. 

As the Indian Armed Forces undergo organisational realignment and transform into a lean and mean fighting force, there exists a necessity to simultaneously review the HR policies and incorporate changes that are the need of the hour. 

As William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, 

“There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.”


Anil Golani is additional director general Centre for Air Power Studies. The views expressed are personal




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