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Sitrep | A typical inspection visit by Marshal Arjan Singh

Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh’s surprise inspections, sans frills gave him a deep insight into operational preparedness of airbases

punjab Updated: Oct 22, 2017 18:15 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Hindustan Times
Arjan Singh
With the first article. Caption – ‘Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh on one of his unheralded visits to airbases in the wake of the 1965 war.(Bharat-Rakshak.Com)

Inspection visits to airbases by IAF Marshal Arjan Singh, when he commanded the IAF’s Operations Command (he had two tenures there in the 50s and 60s) followed a set pattern. The first airbase concerned learnt of his impending visit when Arjan Singh contacted the air traffic control a few minutes before flying time out using the Air Officer Commanding’s call sign.

Naturally, everyone was anxious, putting things in good order. He was received by the station commander and the commanding officers of squadrons, got into a jeep and drove off for an intensive inspection of the base. Operations room, air traffic control, squadron dispersals, airmen’s mess, bomb dump, medical inspection room, guard room, orderly room – all operational, technical and administrative aspects of the station received his attention. The visit concluded with a relaxed conversation with the pilots in the crew room. There were no ceremonials, no ostentation or fuss whatsoever. Being the quintessential operational officer, he believed in absolute professionalism. The usual spit and polish was anathema to him. These visits had their impact on his command.

The surprise visits to check operational preparedness continued when he was air chief. After the 1965 war and Arjan Singh’s intensive analysis of the IAF’s performance, he initiated measures to fine-tune the service’s performance. He used visits to talk to personnel of all ranks about his reforms and how he expected them to be carried out. Direct and personal, these interactions took everyone into confidence and taught them what their role in the next war would be. The result was that Air Chief Marshal PC Lal inherited a very fine instrument with which he proceeded to win the 1971 war.

Shekatkar committee report

The government accepted sixty-five out of the ninety-nine recommendations made by the Shekatkar Committee on restructuring the armed forces. These mainly relate to improving the proportion of combat to logistic support personnel. It involves rationalisation and downsizing of administrative support establishments and redeployment of redundant manpower. Included are the repurposing of ordnance echelons to include vehicle, ammunition and equipment depots apart from streamlining inventory control mechanisms. Original equipment manufacturers will replace repair stratum including huge base workshops with their own facilities. Better application of supply and transport means including animal-holding units, which will result in major savings.

The 57,000 personnel thus saved must be utilised optimally. These should be used to fully raise the nascent mountain strike corps rather than being frittered away elsewhere. However, the most important recommendations namely the appointment of a chief of defence staff and the integration of inter-services staff have been given the go-by. Without reforms in higher defence organisation, these changes are meaningless.

Visit to my father’s regiment

Visiting one’s father’s old unit is always an emotional affair. Moving down from the Himalayan heights, where they’d earlier served with distinction in the 1965 war too, 851 Light Regiment invited me to visit them in transit.

I was received with great affection by the commanding officer and all ranks. On the railway siding where they were loading their special train, they arranged a short memorial service for my father in their makeshift temple. I felt like he was there in spirit blessing his beloved regiment and me, spurring us on to still greater heights.

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First Published: Oct 22, 2017 17:18 IST