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Online courses, non-contact sports — how military training is taking on Covid challenge

Despite Covid-19, however, there has been an increased interest among defence officers from foreign countries to attend training courses in Indian military institutions.

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New Delhi: Online lectures, in-squadron physical training and curtailing of several crucial events — these are some of the ways the Indian military has resorted to in a bid to minimise the impact of Covid-19 on the training of cadets and officers. 

Training is an essential part in the officers’ career progression and is essential to keep them abreast with the changing trends in warfare. 

While the cadets undergo training at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune and subsequently at the service academies, officers undergo joint training at different stages of their career at multiple institutions.  

Top defence sources told ThePrint that Covid-19 poses a huge challenge that will require the entire training curriculum to be modified.  

While the pre-commissioned training of cadets across the three defence services entails a focus on the physical training, as the officers grow in service, the emphasis largely shifts to the knowledge domain.

Majors, lieutenant colonels and officers of equivalent ranks in other services undergo training at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) in Wellington, but the officers of colonel and equivalent ranks are trained at the College of Defence Management (CDM) in Secunderabad and parallel service institutions. 

Other tri-services officers at the same level also train at the Military Institute of Technology (MILIT), Pune, which conducts technical courses.  

At the brigadier and service equivalent levels, the officers undergo another training course at the National Defence College (NDC) in Delhi. 

ThePrint had earlier reported that the Army has drawn up a fresh plan to reorganise all its training courses, a number of which have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Also read: Ladakh standoff continues, India ‘prepared for long haul if needed’

In-squadron training of cadets in NDA

A top defence official told ThePrint that the NDA is conducting its academic courses mostly online, through intranet connections. 

The official said lectures and even the exams have been taking place through the campus intranet at present. 

However, for the physical training, the respective squadron parade grounds and battalion areas were being used as against the central PT grounds and drill square. 

“The training schedule has been modified and some games and drill competitions have been put on hold, even as non-contact sports activities, such as horse riding, volleyball and hockey will be started in the next term,” the official said.  

“Other trainings such as weapon handling and visits to the ranges for firing are being carried out in a staggered manner,” the official added. 

In fact, this is why the passing out ceremony — a landmark event in a cadet’s life — was a quiet affair without the traditional parade and guests on 30 May. 

The cadets are also not being granted their term break and would be moved directly to the next term. NDA has a strength of 2,000 cadets at a time, of whom 20-25 are foreign cadets per term. Nearly 300-350 cadets graduate every six months from the institute.

Sources said other social distancing norms are being followed strictly within the NDA campus and the entry of outsiders has been restricted.

Also read: ‘April status quo’ discussed as India, China generals hold 7-hour meeting over Ladakh

The new officers’ training module

For officers, different training institutions are following different ways to continue the training amid Covid-19. For instance, much of the academic part of the training for officers at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington is being carried out online.  

Mid-career officers across the services with around 10-12 years of service undergo training at the DSSC in Wellington. Usually, 480 such officers pursue the course every year. About 40 vacancies are there for student officers from foreign countries.  

“Here too, the officers have been provided with a campus area network on which training material is shared for the officers to go through in seclusion. The intranet is being used since it is a secure network as the training material shared is confidential,” the second official said. 

Officials said personal interactions have been minimised and all guest lectures are held through video conferencing. 

However, some inter-services trips, which are part of the 10-month long course, are a challenge that needs to be worked on, the official said.

“We are looking at changing the dates and making them towards the latter half of the year, but if the situation does not improve by then, there would be selective trips organised in small batches,” the official said. “The focus would remain on cross-services training, where Army officers would go to IAF and Naval establishments and vice versa.”  

The reporting of officers, when the course starts, will also be in a staggered manner, in groups of 40-50. “They will also be going for self quarantine for 10 days in their allotted accommodation, during which they will go through online packages of training material provided to them by the institution,” the official said.  

Sources say being an open cantonment, there are, however, administrative challenges to keep the officers attending the training and their families secure from Covid-19. 

A similar problem is faced by the CDM in Secunderabad, where housing of officers remains a challenge, given that the usual norm was that at least 40 per cent of officers would rent accommodation within the local civilian population.  

“Given the social distancing norms in place, this is going to be a challenge. As a result, the intranet would be a major problem,” the officer said, adding that they will also report in small batches of 15-20 people and follow the same protocols at DSSC. 

“All the housing for training would be allotted syndicate wise as against the earlier practice of allotting seniority wise to contain any spread in case there is an instance,” the officer said. Other institutions would be following similar protocols according to their peculiarities, the officers said. 

‘Plans afoot to increase foreign officers’ vacancies for training’

Sources in the defence establishment say that despite Covid-19, there is an increased interest among defence officers from foreign countries to attend the training courses at the various institutions. 

“In fact, that is a reason why a month’s extension has been given to foreign officers to join the courses given that they could be delayed because of the Covid-19 lockdown with an ongoing ban on international travel,” the first officer quoted  above said.

“Over a period of time, the defence academies have carved a niche for themselves and are also comparable to some of the best in the world,” the officer added. “Some courses offer value addition and exposure to our counter-insurgency operations to the foreign officers. Hence, there has been a constant demand for these courses from among foreign courses.” 

While some of the courses are funded by the MEA, others are self financed.

According to top sources, there is also a proposal to increase the number of vacancies available for foreign officers across the institutions. 

“There are plans to increase the 25 seats in NDC available for foreign officers to 40. Even the number of vacancies in CDM could be increased to 18 from 12 and to 50 from 40 at the DSSC, to cater to the increasing demand  from foreign countries,” a third official said.

“However, that would first require building of adequate infrastructure in the institutions,” the source said, adding that all 40 vacancies are likely to be filled soon.

Similarly, the earlier guidelines of stopping all foreign training for Indian officers till September will also be advanced. 

Also read: Ladakh standoff shows ‘unwritten’ LAC will continue to be a thorn between India and China


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