Veteran Expertise to Man Military Centres of Excellence

There is an urgent need to establish new Centres of Excellence for the Indian Military, manned by veteran specialists, to transform the Indian Military into a battle ready, future proof fighting force

By Col Ram Athavale

Army Day Feature

The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools: Thucydides

The Indian Armed Forces have some of the best training facilities at its institutions spread across the country. These training establishments cover many teaching aspects from Operational doctrines, tactical procedures, technical aspects covering all arms and services and some logistics training centres. Many of these have also got their courses accredited and recognised by premier universities in India. Training is imparted from basic level to highly advanced level to meet recurring requirement of qualified instructor pool.

For the last few decades, due to increased terrorist threats and manmade disaster situations, many military institutions are also training officers and personnel from Para Military Forces (PMF), Central Police Organisations (CPO), Disaster Management (DM) and civil defence agencies in military-related fields. This has put a strain on the military in terms of qualified instructors, domain expertise and training wherewithal at these institutions.

Another area that needs to be addressed is dedicated research and higher studies in Defence and Security subjects. As of now, most research is sublet to select think tanks in the Capital manned by veteran officers. Such research is therefore constrained to seek expertise from local experts in the NCR while the vast veteran expertise available in the rest of the country goes untapped.

The Need for Military CoE

India is a vast country. With strength of over 1.4 million active personnel, it is the world’s second-largest military force and has the world’s largest volunteer army. It also has the third-largest defence budget in the world. The Global Firepower Index lists it as the fourth most-powerful military. Keeping such a large force optimally trained for operations over land, sea and air needs extensive training at successive levels.

The Armed Forces have many training establishments of repute. Such institutions range from National Security and Higher Defence colleges, specialised operational and tactical training schools for all branches, advanced engineering and technical training institutions to basic training academies and depots. There are many Military Colleges devoted to services like Ordnance, Supplies, equipment repair and maintenance.

Training personnel from Para Military Forces, Central Police Organisations, Disaster Management and civil defence agencies in military-related fields strain many military training institutions

Policy development, doctrine and concepts are handled centrally at the Training Command and Line Directorates at Service Headquarters. Though, such tasks can be delegated to the specific training institutions while reducing staff and burden on the Service Headquarters.

As far as research and higher defence and security studies are concerned, these establishments have little to offer. The turnover of instructional staff is frequent and leaves domain specialisation wanting. While some select institutions do have civilian experts as faculty (on contractual basis), most are manned by uniformed personnel.

The Armed Forces have allocated specific research areas to some select think tanks in New Delhi. These think tanks have few military veterans on their panel and some young research associates who are interested in Defence and Security subjects. All are based in New Delhi.

Further, being associated with specific offices at the Service Headquarters, there is a limited scope to carry out research. And if we have highly qualified specialists in other states, they are constrained to generate their thoughts through papers published by these few New Delhi based think tanks. We need to broaden the horizon and expand the research realm of the military experts.

While these institutions run very specialised courses, there is a constant need to create qualified instructor staff. This is a continuous process and adds to the operational expertise of the units too. However, posting more instructors to such training establishments is a drain on qualified manpower at unit level. Creating domain-specialised centres with continued institutional, subject matter and expertise-based staffing will help in making these better institutions.

Civilian professors and expert technicians from the DRDO are already teaching at some military training establishments. However, despite contractual provisions for outside instructor staff and consultants in the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) and the Government e-Marketplace (GeM), this avenue has remained relatively low key.

Military Centres of Excellence

It is proposed to enhance the status, capabilities, and facilities of key military training institutions to Military Centres of Excellence (CoE). It aims to network all key military training establishments of the three Services into hubs of domain excellence while each retaining its field of expertise.

For example, the MCTE can be the Military CoE  (Telecom, Information Warfare and Cyber Security) or the Centre of Marine Engineering and Technology (CMET) as Military CoE (Marine Engineering and Maritime Technology), Air Force Technical College (AFTC) as Military CoE (Aviation and Aerospace Technology), Armoured Corps School as Military CoE (Armoured Vehicle Operations and Technology), Faculty of CBRN Protection at CME as Military CoE (CBRN Defence) and so on.


The enhanced additional charter of such Military CoE would entail the following:

  • Be the Nodal agency for policy, doctrine, and concepts development for the specific Arm/Service/Branch, field of operations and area of interest. Reduce load on service headquarters.
  • Be the National think tank on matters concerning specialised Arm/Service/Branch. Organise seminars to generate mature thinking.
  • Be a comprehensive repository of manuals, books, regulations, drills, SOPs and guidelines. Digitise most material.
  • Provide research and academic facility for all ranks and civil researchers. Under the NDU, accreditation for academic qualifications can be instituted.
  • Develop specially graded and standardised training curricula and training facilities for training. Such graded training will vary from basic, hands on, advanced and specialist levels. Training shall include select training of PMF, CPOs, industry and academia.
  • Be the nodal agency for trials and testing of specific equipment and for validation of new operational concepts.
  • Liaise and interact with other similar Military and Technical CoE’s for operational matching and joint development. Avoid duplication and ensure standardisation and levels of training.
  • Be the nodal agency for international joint training in respective specialised fields.

There is an urgent need to merge different military training institutions into new CoE, thus managing resources more prudentially. We need to broaden the horizon and expand the research realm of the military experts

Manning the CoE

Some technical training institutions, like the College of Military Engineering (CME), Centre of Marine Engineering and Technology (CMET), and pre-commission training institutions, such as the National Defence Academy, have civilian faculty members. This is primarily for Officers training. The directing staff (DS) at Professional Military Education (PME) institutions is largely serving personnel, such as at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC).

Currently these training institutions are mostly manned by serving officers and personnel. It is felt that a healthy mix of serving and veteran staff and personnel should man the CoE. There is an abundance of superlative veteran expertise going waste as they have hung their uniforms. We have many expert veterans who can effectively contribute to all the above-mentioned charters to enrich the CoE.

To get the best output, it is recommended that expert veterans with requisite domain specialisation, including select NCOs and JCOs, be contracted to be instructor staff at these CoE. This will help relieve some valuable serving personnel for unit duties and help gain value from veteran expertise.

Additional Focus Areas

Modern concepts of war fighting in the ever-changing global geopolitical scenario must be kept in mind while formulating training goals and curricula. Conflicts are changing the nature of war and our forces, must adapt to these new concepts.

The CoE should also focus on emerging areas of science and technology. While current weapon systems and logistic measures need to be studied and mastered, we also need to look at the future and draw important lessons from the on going conflicts and how they affect our military concepts and doctrines.

Due emphasis is required on emerging technologies like robotics and automation; integrated advanced weapon platforms; autonomous weapon platforms; artificial intelligence; missile systems; information warfare and information security; wireless communication; tracking and surveillance; war fighting in toxic environments (CBRN scenarios); maritime platforms, underwater vehicles; flight systems; space technologies; environment and energy system technologies; supply chain management; communications skills, soft skills and so on. While the DRDO – Industry – Academia CoE (DIA CoE) programme is already underway, we need to integrate the same with the Military CoE.

New Military CoE should be the nodal agency for policy, doctrine, and concepts development for the specific Arm, Service or Branch, field of operations and area of interest. Military veterans with requisite domain specialisation, including select NCOs and JCOs, should be contracted as instructor staff at these CoE

In addition, the institution of the Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) scheme by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has seen great interest by young entrepreneurs and defence industry. These ideas need to be adopted by the Armed Forces for transforming into tangible force multipliers.

Military CoE programme should take the lead for area specific R&D accruing from such initiatives. We should use all available assets to help the Armed Forces metamorphose into a truly credible future ready force.

These CoE should also plan training of all stakeholders in Border Security, Internal Security in respective fields of operations. Today, PMF have their own training institutions and so do the CPOs. State Police Forces work on their own system.

Hence, training curricula should be standardised for PMF and CPOs too. This will help in common working platforms for border protection besides counter terror and internal security operations.

Such a wide spectrum of interest will call for research in many areas. Pooling of Service personnel with expert veterans, select veterans from CPOs and PMF, domain specialists from civil academia and industry will be a great step towards strengthening links between veterans, academia, and the military to create a truly future ready Armed Forces. This will also strengthen National Security. Such veteran and civil experts can be on contract as visiting or adjunct faculty.


The planned CoEs should be based at existing training establishments of the three services. There is adequate infrastructure in terms of classrooms, laboratories, and training grounds in most of the existing training establishments.

Additional research facilities, libraries, auditoriums and staff rooms may be required to upgrade the establishment to CoE status. A special effort is required to equip these CoE with state-of-the-art training aids, simulators, Virtual Reality (VR) training systems, models, and testing systems.

While the DRDO – Industry – Academia CoE (DIA CoE) programme is already underway, we need to integrate the same with the Military CoE. Military CoE programme should lead for area specific R&D, and all available assets should be utilised to metamorphose the Armed Forces into a truly credible future ready force

Managing Turf Ownership

With jointmanship as the future of warfare, services need to get over turf ownerships.  CoE for say Higher Defence Management, Operational Logistics, Aviation Training, Air Defence, CBRN Defence, or Maritime Operations should be common for all forces expected to participate in such operations.

Similarly, we should shed the need for separate communications or information warfare training establishments for each service. A true CoE should be common for that specific field of application and should be manned as such. New CoEs may be needed for Autonomous Platforms, Cyber Defence, or Space Defence and so on.

It is time the Armed Forces shed the cocoon of in-house specialised training at their high-end training establishments to become National nodes of specialisation.  A lot of work has already been done to enhance the capabilities and stature of the Military Training Establishments in India.

Metamorphosis of these institutions into CoE would enrich all aspects of specialised military and security training with the vast experience and expertise of our veterans.  Let us prepare our Nation for future wars and create a secure Bharat. Jai Hind!

-The writer is an 81 batch veteran Armoured Corps officer. He has been a Key Adviser to the Government of India (MoD and MHA) on CBRN Security. He was also a Key CBRN Expert for the EU CBRN Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence initiative in Eastern and Central Africa. A Visiting Faculty at select Indian and overseas universities, prolific writer and a speaker in international seminars and conferences on CBRN subjects, he holds a PhD in CBRN Security and Incident Management. He has authored a pioneering book titled “Toxic Portents” on ‘CBRN Incident Management in India’.  Presently he is a freelance CBRN Security and Risk Mitigation Professor and Consultant based at Pune, India. His personal website has more details