India is ‘right-sizing’ its military as part of a plan to make defence spending more efficient

  • Four strategic studies are being carried out by the government to pinpoint ways to optimise the size of the military forces.
  • As part of the restructuring of the army, overlapping divisions will be cut down while a host of new positions will be created.
  • In August last year, the government approved the reformprogramme – which involves the redeployment of 57,000 officers, merger of garrisons and the shutdown of redundant military support units and farms.
  • Personnel costs are a significant drain on the army’s operating budget, accounting for 63% of costs while the modernisation of equipment accounts for only 14%.

At the end of last month, the Indian government continued work on one of the largest reform programmes of its defence forces in its history as a independent country.

In fact, four separate assessments – which were given by a greenlight by the Army Commanders’ Conference in the second week of October – are being carried out by the government to pinpoint ways to “right-size” its military, with reforms being implemented gradually over the next couple of years.

The individual studies will each focus on separate issues — reducing the size and organisational structure of the Army Headquarters and optimising the number of junior commissioned officers and other ranks of officers.

As part of the restructuring of the army, overlapping divisions will be cut down while a host of new positions will be created, according to a Hindu report citing sources. These include a new Deputy Chief of Army Staff, in addition to two existing deputy chiefs that handle planning and intelligence systems, and a new Director for Strategic Communications, which will report the third Deputy Chief.

The goal is to increase the army’s teeth-to-tail ratio, which refers to the amount of combat-ready soldiers that can be supported by one military support officer.

The government approved the reform exercise in August last year. At the time, it was reported that 57,000 junior officers would be redeployed to functions where their skill sets were better suited. In addition to this, the reform exercise involves the merger of military units and the closure of redundant logistics units like signal operators as well as the military farm service and postal departments.

Military farms, which were established during colonial times, are tasked with supplying milk to military units across the country. Once all 39 military farms are shut, the land will be given back to the defence ministry, which will then re-allocate them to military units.

The reform exercise is part of a larger plan to optimise defence spending by redirecting it from personnel expenses to equipment procurement. This has been evident in the slew of big-ticket military deals closed this year so far.

In May this year, it was reported that India had broken into the ranks of the world’s top five countries by military expenditure, overtaking France. The country’s defence costs rose by nearly 6% to $63.9 billion in 2017 owing to higher salaries and pensions for army personnel and weapon imports.

Personnel costs are a significant drain on the army’s operating budget, accounting for 63% of costs while the modernisation of equipment accounts for only 14%. This is why the reorganisation and “right-sizing” of the military forces has become an urgent priority.

Separately, in recognition of the high cost of importing weapons, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also encouraged the domestic production of military equipment under the “Make in India” programme. However, the foreign investment in the defence industry has been meagre in recent years.