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Posted at: Jan 23, 2019, 6:43 AM; last updated: Jan 23, 2019, 6:43 AM (IST)

Sensible to shift Army Training Command HQ

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)
Most training establishments of the Army are located in South or Central India. The headquarters at Shimla are perched in the mountains, where accessibility is always a problem. If located somewhere more centrally and with better connectivity, the HQ can optimise its functioning far more efficiently.
Sensible to shift Army Training Command HQ
History: The Army Training Command was established in 1991. It moved to Shimla in 1993.

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)
Former GOC, 15 Corps, Kashmir

THE Headquarters Army Training Command (HQ ARTRAC) is not something unique as far as large armies are concerned. Most armies divided into regional field commands have an additional training command to take under its wings various training establishments. These are usually chartered to formulate concepts and doctrines of warfare in the fields of strategy, operational art, tactics, logistics, training and human resource development, besides simulating real-time scenarios for higher-level war games where its personnel also act as a research-based and well-informed adversary. However, it did take its time coming as far as the Indian Army is concerned; it was established in 1991 and finally moved to Shimla in 1993, where it has been ever since. 

Before its raising, all issues concerning training were handled by the Directorate General of Military Training (DGMT) at the Army HQ. Enhancing levels of technology, dual-front threats, rise in sub-conventional commitment and the sheer size of the Army, which needed expanded levels of individual and collective training, all combined to give HQ ARTRAC the necessary importance it needed.

Shimla was chosen for its location not due to any deliberation but due to adjustment and availability. The Himachal Pradesh capital, a beautiful hill city, was once the summer location of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army. That gave it an array of heritage buildings as far as the Army’s facilities were concerned. With very little additional ‘buildability’, the expansion of the facilities was never possible; everything had to be based upon the principle of adjustment and HQ ARTRAC found itself there because that is where the Western Command HQ existed from 1954 to 1985. Prior to HQ ARTRAC, for some time the headquarters of the Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana Area were also located there as a replacement for the Western Command HQ.

Geographical location, which includes proximity to areas of deployment and accessibility, sufficiency of existing accommodation, training areas and availability of defence land for expansion are some of the key issues which are considered for location of operational formations, training establishments and large headquarters. In 1975-76, Gen TN Raina, then Army Chief, carried out large-scale movement of formations, HQ and training establishments to bring the Army’s mobilisation capability closer to that of Pakistan’s. Various Regimental Training Centres were then moved from Meerut and Dehradun to locations in Central India to make way for at least three to four division-sized formations. A mass exchange of locations has not taken place on that scale for some time. It was surprising why General Raina then did not consider moving out the Western Command HQ — then the most operationally active command — from Shimla. The latter was only its peacetime location. In 1965 and 1971, it had functioned from its tactical location in the plains, but that move itself would have involved fair amount of turbulence. With its deeply tucked-away location in the hills, unpredictable climatic conditions and at times difficult accessibility by both surface and aerial means, it wasn’t the best of places for a large operational field command HQ which would be required to move at a short notice.

Finally, in 1985, Gen K Sundarji took the decision to move the headquarters to Chandimandir. HQ ARTRAC moved to Shimla eight years later. So why is a non-operational HQ being moved out from Shimla now?

Two reasons seem to be behind the move. First, most training establishments of the Army are located in South or Central India, with one hub being at Mhow (Indore) and the others widely distributed. The headquarters at Shimla are in the North and that too perched in the mountains, where accessibility is always a problem. If located somewhere more centrally and with better connectivity, the HQ can optimise its functioning far more efficiently. Second, with the recommended ambitious restructuring of the Army, the DGMT at the Army HQ, which performs the job of coordinating training aspects with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), is going to stand merged with HQ ARTRAC to save manpower. All the more necessary therefore that the location for HQ ARTRAC should be somewhere closer to Delhi or at least a location from where commute to Delhi is easier for its personnel. 

Of course, the feasibility of a completely new key location plan at its new site is impractical as that will take years to fructify. Meerut is one of the cities being looked at. It could be the location of one of the logistics establishments and not the operational formations existing there. If the intent is to replace one of the active formations, it should only be if a suitable location near the western border is identified for the formation divested of its location. Given the proactive doctrine in existence, any effort to locate an operational formation closer to the western border would always be a welcome move. There are other options of moving operational formations from other locations and getting them to forward locations in Punjab and Rajasthan. While commanders and troops are expected to be flexible in their approach, there is much discomfort to troops and wear and tear of equipment when they are billeted at ad hoc facilities, awaiting more permanent fixtures. Such fixtures can take many years to fructify with budgetary constraints constantly quoted as the reason. The location at Meerut will definitely facilitate coordination of HQ ARTRAC’s charter far better with both the MoD and the Service HQ, being more easily accessible.

The example of HQ Strategic Forces Command (SFC), located on a campus of its own for the obvious functional purpose, is also a good model for HQ ARTRAC being located in Delhi itself, on one of the available pieces of land in Delhi Cantonment. However, with the intent being to decongest Delhi, this may not be an acceptable proposal. Ambala is also a well-connected location, although the move there again would be at the cost of an operational organisation.

In most options, there is unlikely to be a clean exchange with HQ ARTRAC not being replaced at Shimla by the organisation it displaces at its final destination. However, under no circumstances must the heritage infrastructure be lost to the Army because it is part of its history. Hopefully, this is high up in the minds of the top brass even as complex issues of restructuring are being tackled by them.

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