In May this year, the Indian Army announced it was planning to introduce a novel programme on a pilot basis that will allow civilians to serve within its ranks on a three-year short-service ‘Tour of Duty.’ The tri-service establishment is currently mulling expanding the breadth of the nation’s ‘Tour of Duty’ recruitment model to include the Indian Air Force and the Navy as well, according to a report from The Print. 

In May this year, the Indian Army announced it was planning to introduce a novel programme on a pilot basis that will allow civilians to serve within its ranks, either as officers or jawans, on a three-year short-service ‘Tour of Duty.’ However, it was quick to clarify that the model was not similar to military conscription as witnessed in other nations like South Korea and Israel.

Commenting on the proposed voluntary three-year stint, India’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat had noted in mid-May that the recruitment model was still at a nascent stage. At the time, a proposal to fill 100 officers and 1,000 jawans was being considered. 

Simply put, the defence establishment’s Tour of Duty recruitment model has been conceptualised to address the shortages of personnel, including officers. The Army has also branded this as an opportunity for India’s youth to experience military life without having to join the armed forces on a long-term basis. 

The recruitment model has also been proposed as a means to generate increased employment opportunities within the country with the ultimate ambition being to ensure that nearly 40 per cent of the Indian Army’s personnel are recruited via this channel. 

Currently, the only option available to civilians to enlist in the Army apart from the regular permanent commission route is the Short Service Commission (SSC). Under this path, officers are recruited for a period of 14 years, after which, subject to eligibility, an officer has the option of switching to permanent commission. 

However, the Army has drawn attention to the rising defence pension sums that now, reportedly, account for a staggering 30 per cent of the nation’s defence budget. The Department of Military Affairs had determined that an officer recruited via the 3-year Tour of Duty scheme will set the Army back by a sum of between Rs 80 to 85 lakh, including pre-commission training, gratuity, severance packages, pay, allowances, leave encashment and any other expenses. 

Currently, the Army, reportedly, spends roughly Rs 5.12 crore in total on an officer under the SSC route who retires after ten years. For officers who serve the full fourteen-year term, the costs rise to Rs 6.83 crores. The proposal also outlined that the total savings on jawans could amount to Rs 11,000 crore – a sum that could be used for defence procurement or elsewhere. 

According to reports, the Army currently has roughly 43,000 officers – 80 per cent of whom are in the permanent commission class – and an additional 11.8 lakh forming other ranks. 

In order to make the proposal attractive to prospective recruits, the Army is also considering making all individual earnings tax-free for the three-year period, with preference given to such recruits in public sector jobs as well as post-graduate courses. The nation would benefit from “trained, disciplined, confident, diligent and committed” youths who may gain an edge in the corporate sector when they finally leave the Army to take up new work, it said.