Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

Agniveers Would Emerge as Force Multipliers for Industry and Society

Short Service Commissioned Officers of Indian Armed Forces, and their post retirement success in corporate and entrepreneurial world, have shown that Agniveers too would follow the same path to become royal flag bearers of new India

Let us start with a stark reality. The dimensions of modern warfare have altered drastically. In the present era of technology driven, artificial intelligence based non-contact warfare, increasingly, machine is taking the place of the man on the ground. While it is not to say that the men in uniform have no role to play in modern warfare, precedents of the recent past have vindicated that a single long endurance UAV armed with missiles moving stealthily into enemy territory can wreak more havoc on personnel of the adversary, even when the adversary’s manpower is heavily armed, than what an infantry company sent on the same mission could have achieved.

Similarly, a single thermal imaging long range surveillance system can keep eye on illegal intrusions across several square kilometres in a border that otherwise would need scores of personnel round the clock to keep an eye on. A drone-based payload carrier can in the near future deliver hundreds of kilos of arms, ammunition and food supplies to the men stationed in inhospitable border terrains, more effectively and in much shorter time than what otherwise a large contingent mules and horses, and animal transport staff would take to achieve. Also, it goes without saying that a battery of precision tactical or strategic, cruise, ballistic or hypersonic missiles can rattle the adversary more than the presence of hundreds of thousands of personnel on ground.

Likewise, the opposite is also true. Investments in a battery of anti-drone systems can be more effective against a swarm of incoming armed drones, or an air defence system that can take on incoming ballistic or cruise missiles is more important than spending on maintaining a standing army of say around two million personnel. Needless to say, that as warfare becomes more non-contact in nature, it would entail bigger investments in research and hardware acquisition. And therefore, for any country, it becomes imperative to rationalise spending in some places and find means to spend more on technology, for the present and future, for the purpose of securing its territorial sovereignty.

Warfare of Present & Future Would Not Be Fought Like Those of the Past

Consider this, for any country which needs hundreds of billions of dollars in investments on weapons acquisition as well as on investments in future technology, there is a pertinent need to realise that the manner in which the World Wars were fought or even the manner in which the wars up till the fag end of the last century were fought, the patterns of the future conflicts may not be the replica of the same. And for a country like India, which also has to take care of agricultural subsidies, electricity subsidies, food security for masses, oil import at volatile prices, its armed forces have little option but to rationalise in some or the other way to spend more on technology and weapons acquisition, than to expect the government to spend unlimited resources by diverting money from other spheres.

Indian Armed Forces Need to Spend More on Capital Expenditure & Less on Revenue Expenditure

Consider this, a deal for 36 Rafale fighters cost India Rs 59,000 crore while Indian Army’s total pension payout for 2022-23 would be around Rs 1.20 lakh crore. Presently, Indian Army’s total payout for pension and salaries is more than 50% while the pension component is now almost 125% of salaries. This is unsustainable in the long run especially when armies across the world, and even of some of India’s adversaries, are undergoing major metamorphosis and are getting prepared for future warfare by trimming down manpower, inducting personnel for short durations, and spending much more vigorously on technology acquisition. Also, it is important to note that owing to a huge proportion of revenue expenditures, including salaries and pensions, India’s existing spending of defence R&D is miniscule when compared to around 12% of defence budget for the US and an estimated 20% for China. Time has come for India too therefore to spend far more on quantum computing, artificial intelligence, intelligent unmanned systems, better aerospace engines and turbines, instead of adding on to the ballooning pensions and salary bills.

Agnipath, Like GST, is Here to Stay. Let’s Contribute to Make it Better

Therefore, under present circumstances, where landscapes of warfare itself is undergoing a revolutionary transformation, fundamental restructuring and metamorphosis of armed forces is inevitable. The Agnipath scheme is one of them. For those having reservations on the Agnipath policy, it is important to realise that this scheme is here to stay and is not going anywhere. Therefore, what can be done is to work with policymakers to make the Agnipath scheme even better as has been the case with GST, one of India’s most fundamental structural reforms ushered in by Modi Government, wherein, the Government has shown considerable flexibility in terms of being receptive to good suggestions and incorporating them to make GST a success story for India that has significantly streamlined indirect taxes for the nation, unified the country as one single market and considerably enhanced the revenues of states.

The Benefits: Explained Again

By now it is clear that by the time a young person ideally starts his or career at the age of 23 or 24, an Agniveer, would by then emerge out of Indian Armed Forces, armed with incomparable experience, an on-the-job training of four years, which is in certain respects even better than what some of the best four-year degree courses in India can teach, a well-built character brimming with confidence and sound health, as well as a bank balance in excess of Rs 12 lakhs to the least. When others start their journey to seek a career, an Agniveer would be way ahead in terms of being far more employable than most others.

While Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Ministry of Shipping have evinced considerable interest in recruiting Agniveers, with MHA and MoD reserving 10% of the vacancies for Agniveers in Central Police Forces, Defence PSUs, there is a very strong possibility of Agniveers, those seeking jobs in the corporate world, getting a headstart which would be way above most others. This is especially more significant as the Agniveers would get quantifiable academic certifications for their training and experience during their tenure in the armed forces.

An Agniveer Would be More Productive and Employable than the Rest

Armed with rigorous training, hands-on real-time experience, and academic certifications, Agniveers would be far more employable in the field of operations, logistics, marketing and sales & service than most others. Needless to say, they would be more productive too, given the quality of training in the armed forces. For example, in the civil aviation sector, there is a huge requirement of personnel for ground operations in airports or take the example of the logistics industry especially in the realm of boom in the ecommerce industry wherein there is a huge requirement of manpower trained in logistics and operations and are quick learners. The same is the case with the booming sector of the merchant navy. Agniveers would readily fit into all these. In the realm of private security industry as well, which already employs more than nine million people in India, it is for certain that the trained Agniveers would be a great asset for critical infrastructure and VIP protection, and would for surely join the industry as security supervisors or operations executives who would manage a team of private security personnel under them.

Likewise, in the vast field of sales and marketing, Agniveers, devoid of any inhibition and brimming with confidence, would be great assets who would for sure be recruited in the FMCG, Consumer Durables, Automobile, Retail or Services sector in executive roles to cater to India’s $3.5 trillion economy.

The Employability Factor in India and How Agniveer Scheme Comes as a Solution

In fact, one of the biggest impediments in the realm of employment in India is the sheer lack of employability of rural manpower and even those among urban manpower, including those who have completed formal education even to the level of post-graduation. Most suffer from sheer high levels of inhibitions, lack interpersonal, communication and team skills, are reluctant to relocate beyond native place and are often nervous to take up new challenges.

In this regard, the Agniveers, whose recruitment would be tripled from the usual levels of recruitment that happens currently, would do a yeoman’s service in terms of training manpower and making them more employable for future challenges. An Agniveer would be a confident young man brimming with confidence, never scared of taking up new challenges, given his experience in armed forces, and would be an asset for the industry. Those who have worked with armed forces personnel inducted in private sector after their retirement from uniformed service, know how determined, disciplined and responsible they emerge as a workforce.

Also, once character is built by armed forces, it remains unshakeable for ever and such manpower become great assets in terms of responsible citizens for the nation forever. Such manpower with strength of character would be India’s biggest asset to fight against the anti-national forces attempting to create anarchy within the country.

(The writer is a policy analyst and commentator who writes extensively on policies, governance, defence and strategic issues. Views expressed are personal)