Scholar Warriors

Sub Title : Thoughts on Military Intellectualism and Progressive Military Education

Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 4 Sep – Oct 2021

Author : Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM & BAR (Retd)

Page No. : 62

Category : Regular Features

: September 30, 2021

Progressive Military Education  is of the essence in today’s world where the entire spectrum of warfare is being exploited and not just the traditional domains of kinetic warfare. There is a crying need for  officers to go far beyond the basics

I started writing this column seven years ago with the intent of exclusively addressing matters concerning administration, operational logistics and HR management. These are the domains I found unrepresented in military writing in important magazines such as South Asia Defence & Strategic Review. However, midway I too fell out with my own intent as I found greater interest amongst readers in geopolitics, technologies, modernization and acquisitions. So, while I am not going entirely against my intent, I am now trying to make this a hybrid column in which snippets of important multi-domain issues will be discussed.

A fantastic event is going relatively unreported and insufficiently discussed. It is the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering (MCTE) platinum jubilee being celebrated this year. I was invited to deliver the keynote address at a classic event related to the celebrations– the Platinum Flash Debate, last month. The theme for the debate was ‘Technology Proliferation in the Army should lead to reduction of combat troops in the Indian Context’. The event was unique in that the jubilee of one institution was celebrated through participation in it by various Category A establishments under HQ Army Training Command (ARTRAC). With two speakers from each such institution, one speaking for and the other against the motion it may not have been on the lines of a classic debate but nevertheless a fine adaptation of the concept of debating. Each speaker spoke for precisely five minutes and not even one of them exceeded the time. The Army AD School won it very deservingly, followed by the MCEME and the School of Artillery. However, it’s the event and not the results which fascinated me. The Army Commander ARTRAC in his exhaustive remarks at the end credited the idea to the Commandant MCTE and lauded in particular the thought that a jubilee could be celebrated through the conduct of such an event which essentially falls within the ambit of intellectualism. The usual concept of celebrations is limited to sports, adventure or social activities and an odd welfare related event such as a ‘Fauji Mela’. He appreciated the thought behind this event and desired that this should become a norm in the Army so that intellectualism is given its pride of place and must not be related only to hard core professional subjects.

I remember introducing debating as an activity in the Junior Command Course many years ago. The whole idea was to give officers an opportunity to express themselves beyond just sand models and blackboard exercises.

We limited it to professional subjects of a tactical nature, more earthy and grounded. All syndicates had a different theme and at least six officers per syndicate participated, one officer chaired and a couple of others commented. We could get almost 300 out of 425 officers to speak at the debates which extended to the division level before a final course debate. Initially there was much apprehension but then it caught on just like blogging did when we introduced that on our intranet. We introduced prizes for the best debaters and best bloggers. I did ensure that a couple of them had an endorsement in their course report which the MS Branch dutifully captured when I made a request to them. We were all looking ahead. Social media had just come into being, mobile internet was becoming a rage and smart phones were just taking off. Little did people realize that non-traditional ways of war would get such a fillip through the advancement of internet technology. Thus, five years later when the Chief of the Army Staff asked me whether I could quickly identify the right talent for manning the appropriate posts handling the domain of information warfare, I as the Military Secretary could immediately fall back on the captured data from the course reports of JC Wing. We could short list and post the most suitable officers for the job.

It’s not just debating but a plethora of other military intellectual activities that I wish to see promoted as a part of the knowledge domain of the Armed Forces. Knowledge of history, military geography, culture, faith, technology and geopolitics, makes the officer cadre sharper and by the time officers are at mid-career their interest levels and capability should have developed to a great extent. It has been happening courtesy the Higher Command Courses where the level of knowledge seems to rise year or year. The empowerment to put this knowledge to practice is the key to the success of the growth of military intellectualism. Unfortunately, it is the senior officer cadre which remains reluctant to apply anything more than staid old tactics learnt in military institutions. These institutions are designed to give you the basics of the art of war fighting and do so splendidly. However, in today’s world where the entire spectrum of warfare is being exploited and not just the traditional domains of kinetic warfare officers have to go far beyond the basics. This learning comes from reading, discussing, viewing and most importantly applying. The type of situations existing in Ladakh, J&K and the North East, for example, need a different kind of orientation and a very high degree of trust in subordinates. The understanding of second and third order effects of enemy and own actions need to be war gamed extensively.

That brings me to an observation about seminars and training events conducted with VIP presence, particularly at Delhi. Plenary and Valedictory sessions are so well attended with efforts to catch the eye of important people. However, the moment the VIP leaves there is large-scale attrition and you have the most non-interested personnel and those added to the audience to make it look large enough, staying on to sleep in air conditioned comfort.  It’s usually a sad commentary on the state of military intellectualism. We need shorter, smaller, and sharper events if we wish to deliver the knowledge package. The entire gamut of seminar style training events needs serious review on what they actually deliver. MCTE style debates are innovative and achieve much more.

The manner in which the Services, Corps of Engineers and the Corps of Signals in particular have responded to the situation in Ladakh is nothing less than outstanding. Without this the ability to keep troops deployed through the last winter would have proved almost impossible. Innovation and improvisation has always been the forte of our troops and it’s great to see that despite shortage of some resources there has never been a complaint. I would love to see more events revolving around infrastructure, logistics, equipment management and even winter management. These are domains which are huge challenges and I do feel we do not give them enough focus.

It’s ultimately all about Progressive Military Education (PME). This has to go beyond the structured system with more innovations in learning and knowledge enhancement. Perhaps it’s the concept of PME itself which first needs serious debate within the Armed Forces.