The Army has decided to shelve all new raisings for a China-specific Mountain Strike Corps due to financial constraints, an official source told The Print Thursday.
The decision effectively puts the corps, as envisaged, in cold storage.
The decision comes five years after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved the creation of practically a whole new army with 90,000 troops at a cost of Rs 60,000 crore.
The decision also comes a year after Indian and Chinese troops faced-off at Doklam in Bhutan near the point where the international boundaries of the three countries intersect.
But at the end of April this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met at an “informal summit” in Wuhan and decided to reduce tensions on the frontier and craft new confidence building measures.
The instant order to stop “new raisings” – create battalions with fresh recruits – has, however, been prompted by financial constraints, one official said.
“The next big thing for us is a drive towards ‘optimisation’ of resources, do the best with what we have. You will hear this word (optimisation) a lot from now on. What is the point in recruiting new soldiers if we cannot give them guns and bullets?” the official said.
The CCS approved the raising of the corps in 2013 when A.K. Antony was the defence minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. It was an idea that was in the works for years.
One officer offered a perspective to The Print Thursday that raises questions on the rationale of new raisings.
He said a cabal of the officer cadre was interested in the formation of the MSC because of the lure of more offices in higher ranks of Brigadiers, Major-Generals and Lieutenant-Generals that would be created. Such an argument pre-supposes that operational logic may have been subsumed by careerist considerations.
The Mountain Strike Corps or 17 Corps is headquartered in Ranchi with divisions headquartered in Panagarh, West Bengal, (59 mountain) and Pathankot (72 mountain), Punjab. Aviation, artillery, armoured brigades were to be integrated into the corps that was planned with entirely new raisings of nearly 30 mountain infantry battalions. In addition, it was also to be reinforced with teams of high-altitude special forces.
Focus on ‘Optimisation’
The order to stop new raisings by Army headquarters coincides with a study that is being conducted by the Shimla-headquartered Army Training Command (ARTRAC) headed by Lt. Gen. M.M. Naravane.
Naravane has been asked to submit a report by the end of this year with suggestions for “optimisation” – utilisation of troops and equipment without raising costs.
The study will examine whether it is necessary to carry on annual recruitment at all centres to fill all the spaces created by total annual retirements. About 35-40,000 soldiers retire from the 1.3 million strong Army each year. The total number of recruits vary from region to region as it depends on the number of vacancies in each regiment and arm.
The raising of the Mountain Strike Corps meant that the Army was adding to its manpower when many (mostly Western) countries are reducing theirs. Units for the mountain strike corps have already been raised in the Northeast. Since the past year, a lazy focus was on staffing the planned Pathankot division but the sense of the funds crunch was already seeping in.
The 17 Corps was also being armed with BAE Land System’s M777 ultra-light howitzers imported from the US. The howitzers can be under-slung from heavy helicopters (Chinooks from the US are contracted) for transporting in the mountains.
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