Part – I
After 15 years in the Indian Navy my experience as a junior leader has been superlative. The most significant enlightenment has been with regards to the people of my breed. The Non-Commissioned Officers. These young men arguably make the most difficult transition of all defence Personnel, from follower to leader. Current institutional support for this transition is inadequate and demands immediate attention. It is for the Non-Commissioned Officer, shouldering a tremendous load for the Indian Armed Forces and our country.
The Armed forces of the modern day will soon have to develop and sustain a flexible force that could operate across the entire spectrum of hybrid conflict. The onus is on the capacity of small units and their leaders. Preparing small unit leaders for this complex, dynamic environment is an institutional challenge that has not been adequately advanced. This is a considerable oversight as the demands and expectations placed on small unit leaders continue to expand in the current operating environment, the Global War on Terror and in future concepts such as Distributed Operations.
If the Indian Armed Forces are to maximize the potential of its “Tactical Havaldar,” a holistic training and education gamut must be designed and implemented to support their development. A systemic training and education continuum for the NCO will produce a technically and procedurally proficient leader with the inherent ability to apply desired judgment in decision making, thus achieving the consistent capability of a “Tactical Havaldar”.
The armed forces have to prepare for the “Two Front War” and future conflicts. It is no surprise that battles against insurgency are seeing no-end. Of the transformational proposals from both inside and outside the Ministry of Defense, most focus on concepts associated with force structure, overall capability, and technology, while little attention has been dedicated to the individual servicemen who will continue to play the most vital role. In reality, as the likelihood of limited, asymmetric or irregular war increases so does the role of the infantryman. This role increase is evident in Counter Insurgency Operations in which the light infantry shoulders the majority of the operational load.
CI Ops have exposed the challenges endured by ground forces required to operate across the entire spectrum of hybrid conflict during deployments in the Jammu & Kashmir and north east. The challenge today is to remain capable of beating an opponent using traditional methods while simultaneously enhancing our ability to overcome irregular, catastrophic, and disruptive methods. This is an extraordinary endeavor if taken in its entirety; however, an obvious starting point exists for the Infantry at the small unit level – the non-commissioned officer.
The NCOs are the first echelon of leadership in an infantry unit, they are responsible for the smallest units employed or maneuvered independently on the battlefield, and they will be in contact with the enemy regardless of the type of conflict in which ground forces are
employed. As I am penning this, the strategic NCOs are operating in combat zones, impacting operational success and making decisions that may have strategic and political implications. So why focus on the NCO? His development may be the single greatest priority in the Armed Forces.
Acknowledging the criticality of NCO development is not an original concern. In 1999 General Krolak, then Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, coined the term “Strategic Corporal.” This term captured the challenges to be faced by small unit leaders in a “Three Block War”:”contingencies in which Marines may be confronted by the entire spectrum of tactical challenges in the span of a few hours and within the space of three contiguous city blocks.” This definition should sound familiar as it closely resembles situations that the Soldiers are facing in today’s Counter Insurgency Operations. “The Strategic Corporal is the small unit leader fighting on the increasingly hostile, lethal and chaotic battlefields. As General Krolak stated, “Success will hinge, as it always has; on the leadership of our junior Marines and we must ensure they are prepared.
Inferring that small unit leadership is an obvious starting point for transformation is not intended to disparage today’s NCOs. NCOs continue to perform exceptionally well in the dynamic, unpredictable operations in which they recently have been employed. This exemplary performance, however, is often in spite of their institutional development. Transformation, in this effort, targets the dated NCO development process known as the Training and Education Continuum. In actuality, the urgency of this transformation continues to escalate as the Armed Forces place increased demands on small units and their leaders.
However, actions to date, associated with this transformation, are surprisingly none.
( To be Continued )
Based on a 2007 declassified report of Major G. R. Boyce, United States Marine Corps
Relevant Indianisation by Petty officer Manan Bhatt, Veteran
Manan Bhatt is a Retired Petty Officer of Indian Navy. This article has been posted with the author’s permission. The views expressed are personal.