New Delhi: The scope to cut down the manpower in the Army does not exist, a top commander in the Army has told NDTV. Just last week, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had said "there is need to cut down on flab" given the steady increase in salary and pension bill of the military.
The Army, about 1.2 million strong, is the obvious target of the cut down. An internal exercise of the Army, on the contrary, has shown that over the years, the responsibilities of individual soldiers have doubled as has the individual load carried by them in battle situations.
"Across the world soldiers on an average carry one third their body weight, the Indian solider far exceeds this, and it has started to impinge on maneuverability," the senior commander said.
The exercise, shared with NDTV, shows a section - 10 men per section - of the infantry now carries with it two Light Machine Guns (LMG) , one Rocket Launcher, besides personal weapons. Each LMG has about 700 rounds on the weapon and another 500 rounds is distributed and carried separately by soldiers of the section.
In all, soldiers in a section carry 1400 rounds of LMG ammunition packed in 34 magazines on them. Besides, four rockets carried with the launcher, the section carries another six rounds on them.
"Apart from this, each solider carries his personal weapon - either an AK-47 or INSAS and ammunition on himself. All these add up to about 40 kg carried by each solider," the commander said.
More importantly, out of 10 soldiers, four are required to man the LMGs and the rocket launchers, leaving six men to carry out an assault.
"The bayonet strength - soldiers available to charge or storm into features - is about six soldiers per section, the bare minimum required to carry out an assault," the commander said.
At the Platoon level or at the Regiment Level, comprising four combat companies - one Support and Logistic Company and Headquarter Company - this ratio gets even more skewed.
Each regiment carries with it battle field surveillance radars, snipers with at least 200 rounds of ammunition, three Multi-Barrel Grenade Launchers (MBGL), three Automatic Grenade Launchers (AGL) and ammunition besides Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs). Each infantry unit also carries an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and heavy communication equipment.
"At the regiment level the manpower crunch is starker and pressure even more severe," the commander said. "Over the years, vehicle drivers for instance have been trained as electricians, or to fire ATGM, man radars, double up as nursing assistant for injuries since number of battlefield nursing attendants have been cut down. Some are trained as mechanics to repair vehicles on the spot," the officer said and added "every infantry unit has been skinned, flab doesn't exist."
Similarly, artillery and mechanised units have been crunched and the number of men in non-combat supply and service arms - like Army Supply Corps, Ordnance - have been cut over the years.
"Unless there is a quantum jump in the fire power and real time surveillance equipment with each unit it is difficult to imagine where the cut down can happen," the commander said.