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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Navy’s decision to curtail the tenure of naval cadets at NDA by one year : Views of an ex-NDA foreign officer on the issue

Col (Retired) T C Pang (NDA : 1974-1977, 11056, 52nd L Sqn, Class 52A, IMA : 1977-1978, YO’s Belgaum : 1979) is a well settled and well respected retired officer from Singapore who left active service in 1990 and the reserves in 2005. Now in a successful consultancy, trading and patents venture business, following are his views on the Navy’s decision which has evoked mixed reactions.

This is indeed not an easy subject. Numerous views there will be, be it sentimental, economic, national security or even emotional, but I doubt there can be one consensus. The statistics in the last paragraph is a cold reality. When I joined NDA in June 1974, I learnt that tens of thousands teenage boys compete fiercely for 300 places. Today, there are 300 places searching for another 100 "missing" candidates!Times have changed. The economic reality today and the wars that will be fought tomorrow are vastly different from those of 30 years ago. NDA cannot remain the same. Otherwise it will lose it's raison d'Ãtre. As it is, NDA is already losing "it" from the Navy's perspective. Worst of all, there are not enough qualified cadets to train, be it BSc, BA, or BTech in 2 or 3 years! Some soul searching is needed? National defence and security will always remain a strategic priority. The challenge is to find an economic balance in building the defence capability. Whatever the size and shape ofthe defence force may be, it still has to "compete" for the candidates within the harsh reality of market forces and society's value system. The weapon systems in use today and in the future will obviously require different skills from what NDA is teaching today. Apart from the "hard" technical skills, there is also the "soft" skills of leadership, management, communication and team building. There is no denial that 3 years in NDA forge a very special bond. The fact that I'm writing this email after 30 years from 3,000 miles away to an audience of 100 of my course mates, on a very emotional and difficult subject adds to that testimony. But, within that 3-year time window, given the group dynamics of 300 cadets, at best, we have found and formed very close friendships with 30 course mates, from squadron, class or sports/club/activity types. The rest remain very close social and professional acquaintances with very unique shared experiences.Transport such group dynamics into war, and we ask ourselves how crucial such bonds are? Is it so crucial that all commanders at the same level in the 3 services are pals on first-name basis? Are we arguing that if our commanders do not know each other well, we are less effective, or worse, ineffective, when fighting a common enemy together? So, then, what should be the mission and role of NDA? Is it merely to give the cadets a BA, BSc or BTech over 3 years plus 30 close friends? Isn't there something more? There must be. How can we describe the "something more" in very clear terms that 3 years is crucial and 2 years just don't make the cut.Ideally, NDA should cater to the changing needs of the services. How is it that only the Navy needs BTech? Are we suggesting that the Army and Air Force do not need new technical skills? Rather than dragging the Navy behind, why not allow all services to have access to BTech for their cadets? A more fundamental challenge remains unsolved. Declining recruitment rates and increasing resignations arising from poor salary and benefits. If there are not enough qualified cadets, BTech over 2 or 3 years is a moot point. My view is that improvement in terms and conditions of service is priority and crucial to address declining recruitment. At the same time, change and add on to what NDA can offer. But keep the cadets together, the longer the better. BTech degrees and faculties are portable. They can be persuaded or motivated to come to NDA. Just like SP Jain Business School and INSEAD are in Singapore. But the NDA and its environs is not. One has to be there physically and mentally, to be forged in its unique architecture, landscape, activities and routine, and the bonds arising from such group dynamics.Put it in another perspective, BA, BSc, BTech can all be packaged into "distance learning" programs today. It's the transmission of academic and technical information and knowledge. But the NDA experience cannot be transported. One has to be there, in mind, body and spirit.

TC Pang
52nd L Sqn
Class 52A

The above views were expressed by the author in response to an article on the subject by Ajai Shukla.
Messages / Comments to Col Pang can be sent to navdeepsingh.india@gmail.com and would be duly passed on to him.

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