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Sunday, September 5, 1999
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JCOs, too, have a role to play
By Pritam Bhullar

A FEELING has grown among the officers over the years that the Junior Commissioned Officers’ (JCOs’) rank is redundant and should be abolished. The arguments advanced in support of this opinion are that the JCOs do not take any responsibility and that the link they provided between the troops and the British officers in the pre-partition days is not needed now.

Both these arguments do not wash. If the JCOs have got into the habit of not taking enough responsibility, it is because the officers have got into the habit of not giving them their due responsibility. Though majority of the JCOs in the British Indian Army were uneducated, yet they did a commendable job in administering and commanding sub-units even in war.

In certain regiments more responsibility is given to the JCOs and they are shouldering it well due to their long service and experience. The Tiger Hill battle provides a good example in which one company of 8 Sikh repulsed two enemy counter-attacks within a gap of half-an-hour on July 6. Twentyfive enemy soldiers including two officers were killed in these attacks. In this action, the 8 Sikh sub-unit lost 14 personnel, including three JCOs. According to the Commander 192 Mountain Brigade: "This was the only action where three JCOs sacrificed their lives."

The JCOs still provide an important link between the officers and the troops, especially in one-class regiments because they come from the same area as the troops. And we are now reverting back to one-class infantry regiments.

The JCOs rank also provides a good opening for promotion to other ranks. In the absence of it, they would be left with no incentive in their career.

A motivating monument

Barki-Sehjra Hall at Ferozepur depicting the enviable history and heroism of the Golden Arrow Division, which was raised in 1914, is a unique monument. The Hall that brings alive the epic of valour is the brain child of Maj-Gen K.C. Padha, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the division.

In the information section of the Hall, one can go through the brief history of the division and see the photographs of all the GOCs since 1964. In the hall of fame section are displayed the rolls of honour and photographs of the war heroes along with the number of decorations earned by this formation. Then there are pre-partition, 1965 war and 1971 war sections. The hall also has the heritage, Op Sahyog, training , adventure, sports and gun sections.

The division not only fought in both the world wars but also created history in the 1965 and 1971 wars. By capturing Barki in the 1965 war, it won both the Theatre Honour Punjab, 1965, and Battle Honour Barki, 1965. Again in the 1971 war, by capturing Sehjra, the division won the Theatre Honour Punjab, 1971, and Battle Honour Sehjra, 1971.

The creation of such halls by the formations, besides commemorating the sacrifices made by the valiant soldiers, can go a long way in motivating and inspiring future generations of soldiers.

Army’s bane

Pakistan army’s Main Battle Tank (MBT), Al-Khalid, for which research and development was started with Chinese assistance in 1990, has got a go-ahead for production at the Heavy Industries Taxila.

Al-Khalid, which is powered with 1,200 hp multi-fuel injection diesel engine and is mounted with 125-mm smoothbore gun, is considered to be one of the best MBTs in the world. That it could go into production in just 10 years after its inception shows the priority that is accorded to defence projects in Pakistan.

Now think of our MBT Arjun, the planning for which was started in 1974. And after we have wasted Rs 400 crore on this project, it has failed to come up to the expectations of the Army. The result is that the government is going into a Rs 50,000-crore deal with Russia to procure 300 T-90 tanks.

In Kargil, many soldiers died because of the Pak artillery fire which our guns could not counter because we did not have WLRs which the Pakistan army had procured in the eighties. The gun locating radar directs the return fire to destroy the enemy gun, from which the shell is fired.

Incidentally, in 1987, the American Defence Department had cleared the sale of WLR. But the deal was cancelled by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and instead the DRDO was asked to develop this project.

It is sad that our soldiers, who have the best fighting potential in the world, lose their lives, in battle because of poor equipment.

Defence budget

In his address to the nation on the eve of Independence Day, President K.R. Narayanan, underlined the need for strengthening the armed forces and equipping them with the latest weapons and force multipliers. He also said that "our expenditure on defence has been one of the lowest in the world in terms of percentage of GDP, much lower than our neighbours".

Why have the politicians and bureaucrats always hesitated to strengthen the armed forces? Because of the inherent phobia that strong armed forces will not augur well for them.

When Sir Robert Lockhart, the first Commander-in-Chief of Independent India presented to Jawaharlal Nehru a paper on the size and shape of the Army in the light of the perceived threats, his response was : "Rubbish, total rubbish, we don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is non-violence. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the Army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs". Again, in December 1962, when the Army embarked upon an expansion programme, Nehru in a letter to Bertrand Russel said that "the danger of military mentality spreading in India and the power of the Army increasing bothered him".

At present, Pakistan is spending about 6 per cent of its GDP on defence, whereas our defence budget is pegged at a lowly 2.5 per cent. No wonder then that Pakistani armed forces are better equipped than ours. Furthermore, our equipment is outdated and more than 30 years old on an average.

Has Kargil taught us any lessons? Will the defence budget be enhanced to modernise our armed forces? Perhaps marginally. But only time will tell.Back

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