The Indian Air Force Chief’s piquant criticism of the rookie pilots – his organization’s lifeline, for the frequent crash of fighter jets is fraught with a serious risk of demoralizing the junior officials.
Air Chief Marshal Norman Browne’s sudden public clamour virtually exposes his lack of confidence in the quality of fresh recruits.
Perhaps, the Air Force’s conscious decision to rope in celebrities as brand ambassadors to promote the organization stems from such exasperation and is fraught with a serious risk of demeaning its own talents. Coronation of reputed civilians as image enhancer of Indian Air Force in the presence of veteran air warriors like Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh is rather disparaging and must have been demoralizing for many.
It is a virtual acknowledgement of Air Force’s dearth of heroes who can be successful role models in persuading younger generations to join the forces. While appreciating the contribution of civilian luminaries is one thing, projecting them as a celebrity face of the Air Force for motivating youngsters to become air warriors defies all logic.
The history of Air Force is replete with innumerable saga of gallantry displayed by legendary pilots which should form the motivational basis for the authorities to reach out to Indian youths. One wonders whether the forces are oblivious of the famous “know the way, show the way and go the way” dictum.
Perhaps in their eagerness to adapt modern marketing techniques overnight and metamorphose into professional talent hunters, the Air Force top brass have ignored the fact that flying is indeed a highly complex task. To be a successful aviator an individual should possess multiple and unique psychological attributes that cannot be judged on the basis of academic brilliance alone. A sound professional does not necessarily graduate into a high quality pilot.
The fact that the Armed Forces are perilously close to being drastically short staffed is a reflection of a malaise that lies inherent in the services itself. It is therefore completely erroneous to approach the challenge of officer shortfall in a tourism advertisement format of selling adventure and excitements.
In reality the life of a warrior hardly conforms to the one depicted in these sleek advertisement campaigns. Given the archaic service conditions it is difficult to visualize the forces being able to attract hoard of talents in the near future unless a revolutionary attitudinal alteration is brought about.
The real problem actually lies beyond the question of improved pecuniary benefits. Failure of feeder institutions like the Army Schools, poor quality of life offered to service personnel and their families, anachronistic man-management system, amateurish human resource development model are some of the systemic flaws that requires immediate rectification. This is the opportune moment for the defence establishment to acknowledge its guilt of neglecting the needs of junior ranks by improving the working environment and ethos of the forces.
It is a pity that while junior officials are required to endure all hazards in the form of substandard accommodation to questionable quality of rations, senior officers enjoys all comforts in their palatial bungalows and does chip in with some occasional public statements censuring the subordinates – a clear reflection of the absence of camaraderie and lack of empathy within the forces.
Moreover, institutional apathy has resulted in a sizeable chunk of officers being overlooked or superseded for promotion resulting in disgruntlement, loss of motivation and morale. Adding to the woe is a pathetic career planning and development system within the Armed Forces.
Since the hierarchical pyramid structure of promotion within the forces does reduce the possibility of upward movement after attaining a certain rank, the establishment must create opportunities for lateral expansion by enriching human capital. Diverting personnel towards the strategic sector of space and cyber technology as well as doctrinal study and analysis will surely offer a smooth transition to a parallel career that is equally rewarding. Then the institutional culture of discouraging innovative initiative or imaginative planning has throttled the growth of genuine merit within the system.
When a junior officer is hardly encouraged to conduct critical self appraisal, idealistic and enterprising youths will always remain skeptical of joining our Armed Forces. Above all the worst form of gender discrimination prevalent within the system and the differential treatment meted out to lady officers tarnishes the overall image.
It remains to be seen whether the Armed Forces with all its vested interests can adopt bold reforms in depreciating the officer shortages of 25% in Army, 13% in Air Force and 16% in Navy.
The top echelons of the tri-services must take the responsibility of kick starting the process of honest internal assessment instead of accusing juniors for all the ailments afflicting the forces and themselves indulging in policies that treat our warriors as bonded labour.