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D.B. Shekatkar Committee & First phase of reforms in India’s Armed Forces [Mains Article]

This is the first time that any government has undertaken such a move, which most analysts agree should have happened long ago. Some add that more could have been done. The measures are welcome but fall short of drastic measures that are required to enhance combat effectiveness of the army.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
November 02, 2017


  • Introduction
  • Aim of the reforms
  • What is ‘tooth-to-tail’ ratio?
  • Highlights of the first phase of reforms in The Armed Forces
  • Significance of the reforms
  • What is the meaning of Military change?
  • Deciding factors for reforms
  • What changes have taken place in India’s military domain?
  • Challenges
  • Sub-conventional Challenges
  • Suggestions
  • Conclusion

D.B. Shekatkar Committee & First phase of reforms in India’s Armed Forces [Mains Article]

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GS (M) Paper-3: “Security challenges”
GS (M) Paper-2: “Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.”



  • In a first ever exercise after Independence, the Ministry of Defence in consultation with the Indian Army has decided to reform the Indian Army in a planned manner.
  • These decisions were approved by the Defence Minister Shri Arun Jaitley after an extensive consultation with all stakeholders.
  • The reform initiatives were recommended by a committee headed by Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (retd) which had a mandate to recommend measures for enhancing of combat capability and rebalancing defence expenditure of the armed forces to increase “tooth to tail ratio”.
  • The Committee of experts had submitted its report to the Ministry in December, 2016, which was considered by the Ministry of Defence and 99 recommendations were sent to the Armed Forces for making an implementation plan. The Defence Minister Shri Arun Jaitley has approved 65 of these recommendations pertaining to the Indian Army for implementation.
  • These reforms will be completed in all respects by 31 December 2019.
D.B. Shekatkar committee iastoppers
Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (retd)

Aim of the reforms:

  • Restructuring by the Indian Army is aimed at enhancing Combat Capability in a manner that the officers/JCOs/ORs will be used for improving operational preparedness and civilians will be redeployed in different wings of the Armed Forces for improving efficiency.

What is ‘tooth-to-tail’ ratio?

  • The ‘tooth-to-tail’ ratio refers to the amount of supply and support personnel (termed as tail) for each combat soldier (tooth).

Highlights of the first phase of reforms in The Armed Forces:

Major reforms concerning the following have been approved:

  • Optimisation of Signals Establishments to include Radio Monitoring Companies, Corps Air Support Signal Regiments, Air Formation Signal Regiments, Composite Signal Regiments and merger of Corps Operating and Engineering Signal Regiments.
  • Restructuring of repair echelons in the Army to include Base Workshops, Advance Base Workshops and Static/Station Workshops in the field Army.
  • Redeployment of Ordnance echelons to include Vehicle Depots, Ordnance Depots and Central Ordnance Depots apart from streamlining inventory control mechanisms.
  • Better utilization of Supply and Transport echelons and Animal Transport units.
  • Closure of Military Farms and Army postal establishments in peace locations.
  • Enhancement in standards for recruitment of clerical staff and drivers in the Army.
  • Improving the efficiency of the National Cadet Corps.

Significance of the reforms:

Three areas that the reforms are expected to affect:

  • One, redeployment or demobilization of manpower will help in rightsizing, which in turn will enhance combat capability development.
  • Two, optimization of signals establishments as well as restructuring of workshops and depots will help the army shed superfluous assets. Many of these responsibilities can be handed over to private firms with adequate safeguards.
  • Three, the closure of farms could release vast land parcels, bringing in material value for the state.

What is the meaning of Military change?

  • Military change is defined in a number of ways.
  • In view of the conventional (state-on-state) and sub-conventional (counterinsurgency and terrorism) challenges faced by India, it may be best defined as “an attempt at developing a significantly more effective approach to existing or future military challenges.”

Deciding factors for reforms

The factors that ultimately determined the success or failure of each of these initiatives were:

  • An accurate long-term strategic assessment that became the basis for the change;
  • Support from the political establishment to steer the change;
  • A visionary and committed military leadership which provided professional advice;
  • Strong institutional structures that enabled implementation of the reforms;
  • Efficient follow-up action undertaken by both military commanders and successive governments.

What changes have taken place in India’s military domain?

  • India’s past experiences suggest that changes often witnessed in the conventional domain have been strategic, aimed at creating major shifts in the military’s approach to war fighting.
  • Change in the organizational domain is best illustrated by the structural changes that took place immediately after the failure in the 1962 India-China war.
  • An example of change in the approach to war fighting was the attempt at compellence during the mid-eighties after having followed a doctrine of offensive defence in the seventies.
  • The reforms after 1975 that revolutionised India’s war waging potential, particularly in the Punjab and Rajasthan theatres, did give India a perceptible strategic edge over Pakistan in the mid-eighties.
  • More recently, the strategy of ‘Cold Start’ or ‘Limited Pre-Emptive Offensive’ also qualifies as such a change.
  • Some of the major steps initiated in this regard included an increase in the size of the army from 5,50,000 to 8,25,000 as well as the raising of six mountain divisions and a new command headquarter.
  • The changes based on the 1975 Krishna Rao Committee report, which led to the mechanisation of the army along with strategic reorientation, is another example of change.
  • In the sub-conventional domain, the raising of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) is an important and relatively recent example of organisational change.


Lack of strategic vision and weak institutions

  • A constrained national strategic vision and weak institutional structures were responsible for the failure to improve intelligence collection, collation and analysis, take up systematic capability development, and create joint training, planning and fighting institutions.

Pitfalls in infrastructure

  • India failed to build infrastructure that could support a cohesive defensive battle, and logistic establishments to facilitate faster build-up. A quick reaction capability through better heli-lift resources remained a weakness decades after the war.
  • These limitations have continued, occasionally being exposed when the reality of the challenge emerged in all its manifestations in the face of China’s military aggressiveness at Depsang, Chumar and more recently Doklam, making change imperative.

Measures to enhance the combat effectiveness

  • Given the history of four major wars fought by India and its adversaries, the country has no option but to deter a future war and, in case deterrence fails, remain prepared to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Sub-conventional Challenges

  • In addition to these, external threats and responsibilities are sub-conventional challenges like terrorism and insurgency, which have necessitated the active employment of a substantially large force, both army and central police.
  • Some of these deployments are also focused towards Pakistan that manifests itself in a variety of forms to include terrorism.
  • Further, challenges like economic and cyber warfare go beyond the traditional realm of security. All of these necessitate the deployment of “soldiers” with different skill-sets to fight the adversary in these non-traditional domains.
  • The threat presented by Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) and cyber-attacks on security and critical infrastructure have therefore become a challenge for trained professionals fighting the adversary, often unseen and unheard by a vast majority of Indians.
  • The existing resistance within the services and the civilian bureaucracy is unlikely to allow reforms that affect their status and the size of their establishments.


  • The enhancement of the teeth to tail ratio remains critical, its implementation without addressing the simultaneous challenge of services functioning in silos will yield only limited benefits. The decision to cut down numbers must be linked with synergised efficiencies amongst the Ministry of Defence (MoD), affiliated Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the three services.
  • The cutting down of numbers from amongst the logistic support elements has to be accompanied by joint services establishments to achieve economies of scale.
  • The ongoing reforms cannot be limited to the three services alone. It must also include the MoD as well as the entire national security architecture with a view to building an overarching organisation that can cohesively address the challenge of hybrid wars.
  • The task of creating intelligence assets in potential combat zones and providing high quality inputs remains critical to the success of Special Forces. The emergence of threats in cyber and space, should therefore become the basis for creation of a cyber and space commands, with a capability of both defensive and offensive actions.
  • Reforms must be holistic and homogenous. Any attempt at piecemeal implementation is unlikely to yield the desired benefits and dividends. Even if the approach to reforms is sequential, the decision to undertake them fully in phases is a course that will allow flexibility of implementation and desirable readjustment.
  • Success has only been achieved when reforms benefit from the professional advice of the services and are backed by the willingness of the political establishment to enforce implementation. It is for the political leadership to take the onus and responsibility of leading such an effort.
  • The success of defence reforms hinges on the availability of financial resources. Therefore, the scope and size of reforms must be tailored to the needs of specific modernisation targets, even if these are achieved sequentially rather than concurrently. As an illustration, if limited wars and combating terrorism in J&K are identified as priority areas, the focus must be on the same, rather than thinly spreading precious and limited resources across the army.
  • The government must assess the pitfalls of similar reforms in the past. If this is done, it is likely to find that the process has often been constrained by the temptation to address limited peripheral issues, even as big core changes were deferred for reasons like lack of political consensus.
  • It is equally important to assess what remains pending for implementation because the seeds of major military change might just be found amongst recommendations that are yet to be taken up for implementation.
  • Army should not be permitted to engage in real estate business; rather such assets should be developed by civilian authorities


  • The Indian Army has 1.3 million personnel. This is the first time that any government has undertaken such a move, which most analysts agree should have happened long ago. Some add that more could have been done.
  • The measures are welcome but fall short of drastic measures that are required to enhance combat effectiveness of the army.
[Ref: IDSA, PIB, Times of India, Live Mint]


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