'Agnipath' explained: What is the Armed Forces' new recruitment model?

To be clear, the military is not abolishing its current long-term service model. Rather, the former will co-exist side-by-side with the new short term service model

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Wednesday, June 15, 2022, 06:52 PM IST

On Tuesday, the Indian Armed Forces, comprising the Indian Army, the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, announced a new model for recruitment path for soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in the enlisted ranks.

Named the Agnipath recruitment scheme, candidates hired under this will have to serve in the defense forces for four years only.

This a big departure from the military's current recruitment model, wherein recruits serve for a full twenty years, before becoming eligible for retirement and a pension.

The Agnipath Recruitment Scheme will facilitate the induction of more troops for shorter-term tenures. The scheme has been planned and is being implemented by the Department of Military Affairs.

The reason the new model is being implemented is due to major shortage of personnel in the forces, due to a two year freeze on recruitment imposed by the COVID pandemic.

The problem facing the forces

To be clear, the military is not abolishing its current long-term service model. Rather, the former will co-exist side-by-side with the new short term service model.

At present, salaries and pensions eat into a huge chunk of the Armed Forces' budget, accounting for a huge chunk of the defence budget.

Till the recent standoff with China, there existed a strong narrative in academic and policy circles that the two-front threat was a myth created by the armed forces in their quest for larger resource allocations. Our current predicament with China and the continued hostility with Pakistan should set these arguments at rest.

It is perceived, rightly so to some extent, that we continue with our force development plans based on an outdated attritional war model. Doctrinally, we have yet to take cognisance of “limited wars under nuclear overhang” or the concept of non-contact or hybrid wars.

Consequently, our organisational structures and force deployments remain manpower-intensive, entailing huge revenue expenditure. The Indian security environment, however, is also characterised by the existence of long disputed boundaries with China and Pakistan which entail the physical deployment of troops along borders.

What the new recruitment model will entail

The soldiers recruited under ‘Agnipath’ will be released from service after four years, though the new system will have a provision for retaining around 25% of them after another round of screening. They are likely to be given a severance package of over ₹11 lakh, though they will not be entitled to pensions. However, the ones retained will serve in the defence services for another 15 years, and will be entitled to pensions.

The recruits under ‘Agnipath’ will draw a salary of ₹30,000-40,000 per month, officials said, adding that they will also get a non-contributory insurance cover of Rs. 48 lakh. They will also get an ‘Agniveer skill certificate’ that will help them find jobs after release from service, the officials said.

Tradeoffs: Are benefits worth the costs?

On the one hand, shifting to this new recruitment model will undoubtedly free up a large amount of the budget to be spent instead on capital acquisition (i.e. the procurement of new equipment), emergent technologies such as UAVs, modern ISR capabilities, sensor fusion, Artficial Intelligence, etc.

However, critics of the proposed model say that this will be deletrious to the standards expected of the men and women of the Armed Forces. However, it is a fact that most countries in the world, including the United States (the world's foremost military power) all follow a short term recruitment model, which includes a minimum service period of four years.

At the end of the day, there are no perfect solutions. The fact is that the military's budget is finite, and therefore, tradeoffs have to be made.

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