The Indian Army is short 24 percent of its
officer strength, and is considering conscription as a solution. The air force
and navy are also short, but only by 12-15 percent. But it's not just officers
that are hard to get and keep. Technical specialists are in short supply, which
is a growing problem as the army adds more high tech gear. The basic problem is
that the army must compete with the civilian economy for highly trained or
educated personnel. The army maintains high standards for officers, thus trying
to eliminate the shortages by more aggressively recruiting young NCOs for
officer candidate school doesn't work because too many of the NCOs cannot pass
the entrance exam.
Moreover, India is at war, with troops
getting killed and injured in Kashmir, the northeastern tribal areas, and
fighting Maoist rebels in eastern India. The casualty rate is actually quite
low, but just serving in a combat zone is hard on the nerves, and not
attractive to many educated young Indians.The result is best demonstrated by looking at who applies to what
school. The elite Indian Institutes of Management gets 200,000 people applying
each year, for 1,200 slots. The Indian Military Academy got only 86
applications for 250 slots.
The Indian military has long been an
all-volunteer force, and had no trouble filling the ranks. But over the last
two decades, as the government dismantled controls on business, and privatized
many government owned companies, the economy has boomed. There are not enough
qualified technical and management people to fill all the skilled jobs. India has been looking at how other nations
solve these problems. They have noted American success (over the last four
decades) in outsourcing a lot of support jobs. This is almost a necessity with
some high tech specialties, where even civilian firms face shortages. Another
American technique, cash bonuses for jobs with shortages, is more difficult for
India, which much less money to spend on defense.
While many generals see officer
conscription (via mandatory officer training and service for university graduates)
as inevitable, many citizens and politicians oppose it. But the generals point
out that the problem has been around for a decade, and is getting worse. The
additional workload on the officers they do have is forcing many to quit
because of the overwork.
The source of the problem, in a nation
of 1.1 billion, is the corruption in the primary school system. Teaching jobs
in many parts of the country are considered political patronage. These teaching
assignments are handed out to political activists, with the understanding that
they are no-show jobs. So, despite a lot of money being put into primary
education over the last half century, the illiteracy rate is still 39 percent.