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Monday Morning Presentation on Cultivating and Sustaining Subject Matter Experts in the Indian Army

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  • March 20, 2023
    Monday Morning Meeting

    Col. Guriqbal Singh GillResearch Fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), spoke on Cultivating and Sustaining Subject Matter Experts in the Indian Army” at the Monday Morning Meeting held on 20 March 2023. The session was chaired by Col. Vivek Chadha (Retd.), Research Fellow. Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP-IDSA and scholars of the Institute were in attendance. 

    Executive Summary

    The need for specialists in armed forces was first felt at the turn of the century. However, the current organisational matrix in the armies world over may not be conducive to fostering specialists. This includes issues like lack of talent identification, limited opportunities for specialists based on talents identifed, an overemphasis on operational domain, a lack of a talent management information system, a lack of a more versatile approach to differentiation and promotion of officers and a lack of growth opportunities for specialists. The speaker undertook an environmental scan of the best talent management practices in armies worldwide. He proposed recommendations based on the scan and his experience in the Army. 

    Detailed Report

    Col. Vivek Chadha (Retd.) opened the session by emphasising that the debates around specialisation are relevant not only to the Army but to various fields such as the corporate sector, civil services and sports. The debates revolve around training people in a niche area of expertise instead of generalised training that may be utilised in different positions but consequently will be less intricate. Col Chaddha then handed over the stage to the speaker  Colonel G.S. Gill. 

    The speaker stated that the cultivation of subject matter experts has become prominent only in the last two decades for armies of different nations. Drivers include resource constraints, changing nature of jobs that require specific skills, and the changing nature of security threats. 

    The speaker defined subject matter experts as individuals with a deep understanding of a particular job, process, department, function, technology, machine, material or type of equipment. They have existed in all three services of the Armed Forces, in different measures, with the Air Force and Navy having a higher proportion of experts. The Indian Army utilises experts in procurement, equipment management, indigenisation, and technical development. Expertise will increasingly be utilised in domains like cyber warfare and space, the new niche domains. The Indian Army needs many more subject matter experts, especially in top echelons of the force. 

    The speaker noted that talent management is critical for developing subject matter expertise in the Army. Talent management is having the appropriate amount of individuals, with the appropriate skill sets and levels of motivation, at the appropriate location and time. Critical factors to talent management for the Indian Army are developing talent, retaining talent and secession planning. In order to develop talent, talent needs to be identified, and mechanisms are needed for the same. Successive deployments in their specific fields can then develop the individual s talent and expertise. The Indian Army needs to develop mechanisms to retain talent as it often misses out doing the same by not deploying individuals in the fields they have expertise in. The Army also needs to provide a vision for domain experts in terms of policy. 

    According to the speaker, the US Armed Forces lead the world in efficient talent management practices, which includes a talent management information system test bed which was followed by the Joint Officer Management (JOM) program, a career long program dedicated to developing experts for joint force structures. The UK launched its own talent management program, the Unified Carrier Management program, one year before the US in 2021. The program was created to enhance the military s capacity to retain and train soldiers in specialised positions and is currently also in the testing phase. The UK s program like the US system is also based on a career management information system; the Indian Armed Forces currently lack a similar system. Surprisingly, the oldest talent management system belongs to the Singapore Army, which has different entry, rank and pay structures for domain experts.

    The speaker noted that historically, the Indian Army manages its officers to increase their ability to compete for promotions and leadership. This strategy fosters a command-centric, operationally-driven culture. Non-operational postings are avoided despite the fact that they can help one get the specialised knowledge necessary for most senior officer positions, the bulk of which are non-operational. Hence, the organisational culture in the Army maybe detrimental to specialisation. 

    The training methodology also inhibits the nurturing of specialists. This is so because most courses are designed to prepare an officer for command, as a platoon commander or as a company commander. There do exist certain courses that are designed to impart specific domain knowledge like information warfare or financial planning. Unfortunately, officers are often not utilised in the specific domains they receive training in. 

    First and foremost, the speaker recommended the setting up of a policy framework with respect to the creation and continuation of subject matter experts. This needs to be followed by the setting up of an elaborate talent management information system. The speaker further stated that the career path for non-operational specialists needs to be widened to make it a lucrative choice. Lastly, there is a need for a differentiation methodology that is conducive to specialisation. Currently, we have a differentiation methodology of bimodal distribution produced by comparing all officers to a command-centric or operational yardstick only by means of the Annual Confidential Report System. The excessive emphasis on promotion needs to be reduced in selection boards for the promotion of officers and a methodology focusing on each officer's individual growth, qualifications and best employment matching their talents is required.

    The moderator, Col. Chaddha then opened the floor for questions and remarks. The Director General, Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, contributed to the discussion. He noted that the need for specialisation is also extremely relevant to the Indian Civil Services, apart from the Army. Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.) and scholars of the Institute contributed to the discussion. Col. Vivek Chadha concluded the session.

    Report prepared by Mr. Aayush Maniktalia, Intern, Defence Economics & Industry Centre, MP-IDSA.