Educating our security chieftains - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 5 October 2023

Educating our security chieftains

The armed forces need to focus more on professional military education that prepares officers for modern warfare


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 6th Oct 23


In May 2013, at Binola, Gurgaon, in the vicinity of the national capital, then Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone of the Indian National Defence University (INDU), an academic institution that was intended to focus primarily upon subjects related to national security. This was after the Kargil Review Committee, headed by noted strategic affairs thinker K Subrahmanyam, observed in 1999 that the military needed an academic institution to deal primarily with subjects related to national security. The PM noted the importance of training both military and civilians in national security studies and quoted from the biography of British General, Charles George Gordon: “The nation that insists on drawing a broad line of demarcation between the thinking man and the fighting man is liable to find its fighting done by cowards and its thinking done by fools.”


It was decided that a serving three-star general from the army, navy or air force was to head INDU, which was to be modelled along the lines of Indian Institutes of Management and Technology (IIMs/IITs). Two-third of INDU’s students were to be from the military, with the rest drawn from government, police organisations and civilians. The teaching faculty was to consist equally of military officers and civilians. The PM said that INDU would not just teach “our thinkers and policymakers to understand the complexities of war and conflict,” but also educate military professionals about “the interplay between all attributes of national power.”


More than a decade later, there is no sign of INDU. The proposal for this institution, which was to have educated the brightest and best amongst our soldiers, sailors and airmen, gathers dust in the files of the Headquarters of Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS). It is placed under a brigadier posted in the HQ IDS, but this officer has little to do besides contracting with a security company every year for watchmen to prevent any encroachment into its neglected and forlorn campus. Meanwhile, another similar institution, the Rashtriya Raksha University (RRU) has been set up in Gujarat. The RRU has been given the grand title of an Institute of Eminence, but there is little eminence in the few subjects and topics taught there by professors of average ability.


Meanwhile, militaries such as those of the US, UK, Russia, China and even Pakistan, expend time, effort and resources in establishing institutions for “professional military education” (PME). The US joint staff defines PME as “learning that focuses on the cognitive domain and fosters breadth of view, diverse perspectives, critical analysis, abstract reasoning, comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty, and innovative thinking, particularly with respect to complex, non- linear problems.”


The Indian military’s PME system has little content related to strategic studies. Instead, it is focused on the tactical level at all stages of professional development. Consequently there is inadequate exposure of its senior leadership to strategic studies, which inhibits the provision of strategic-level advice. Our PME is mostly under military control with instructors on short tenure appointments, talking about tactics and operations, thus imparting “training” rather than “education”. 



PME in India has been steered mostly by the military with a few civilian committees chipping in with their wisdom. At the entry level, cadets who complete the three-year training course at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Khadakwasla get an undergraduate degree from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Officers who complete the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) course at Wellington, Tamil Nadu, get a masters degree from Madras University. Mid-career officers who excel at unit command are selected for the Higher Command course. Next, after command of a brigade, the brightest are chosen for the National Defence College (NDC), New Delhi.


However, numerous officers who have undergone these courses report that they are more like course reunions, with emphasis on parties, picnics and sports contests, rather than on absorbing the elements of statecraft and national security that would enable them to provide the country’s political leadership strategic advice that would be essential in any national security crisis. A comparative study by US military officers who attended the staff college courses in India and Pakistan over several years reached the conclusion that the Indian course in DSSC Wellington was far less taxing, with student officers relying heavily on notes from previous courses that had been passed on in the form of “previous course knowledge” (PCK).


The military does not have a well-developed academic tradition or structure, even in national security studies. Officers are allowed “study leave”, which is a one-year or two-year academic sabbatical on full pay. However, the qualifications they obtain are seldom used purposefully by the Indian military, nor do they lead to professional advancement.


The current government contends that the military environment has undergone a significant change, symbolized by the PM’s agenda of “transform, reform and perform.” This requires officers to function effectively in a “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous” (VUCA) environment. Advanced and modern militaries are empowering their officers with the grounded education that equips them to understand the big picture in national security affairs. Each year, some 30 Indian military officers are sent abroad to attend staff college courses with foreign armies. They are expected to absorb current doctrines on modern weaponry, including the new roles of drones, grey zone warfare, new methods of counter-insurgency, atma nirbharta (self-sufficiency), human rights issues, acquisition processes, construction works, upkeep of military lands, and similar topics. 


However, most officers admit that PME lacks imagination and tends to create operational stereotypes. There is little room for group discussions by a knowledgeable student body that arrives at argued, contested and eventually agreed upon solutions. Instead, the PME is oriented to preparing officers for their next assignment, instead of preparing for a host of senior, strategic appointments in the foreseeable future. The PME should be entirely restructured to expand officers’ cognitive space, which will facilitate their understanding of macro issues. India’s armed forces must focus more seriously on this question. 


  1. This is completely untrue..."numerous officers who have undergone these courses report that they are more like course reunions, with emphasis on parties, picnics and sports contests, rather than on absorbing the elements of statecraft and national security that would enable them to provide the country’s political leadership strategic advice that would be essential in any national security crisis"....I do notice a bias...your observation on binola are correct though...

  2. There is another problem.
    The IQ level of the officers.
    Average IQ of Indians is 81 where as
    it is 100 in case of developed countries.
    Even if selection process takes officers
    with IQ 81 and above most of the officers
    will be with IQ less than 110 ( 95%)There
    are hardly any officers above IQ 135
    whom one can sharp. In the study of
    IQ bell curve it becomes obvious
    One should not expect much original
    Geo strategic thought process from
    these dumbos.t
    Few who have some noticable
    capabilities are going to be destroyed
    by the autocratic thought process.
    Ultimately mediocracy will rule

  3. Insightful article. Agree there is need of dedicated institution for PME at tri-service level which is also open to Civilians. It should also focus on weapon Technologies which is changing very fast.


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