NEW DELHI — Indian Army chief Gen. Dalbir Singh has ordered a study to increase the ratio of combat troops to noncombat troops with the aim to find more funds to buy weapons.

The world's second largest 1.3 million-strong military cq: Army uses more than 55 percent of its allocated funds to cover salaries, leaving it with less than 45 percent to buy weapons, a senior Army official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Majority of the funds meant for buying fresh weaponry, in the Capital Head of the budget, are in fact consumed to pay for past contracts, leaving very little for fresh weapons and defense programs," the official said.

The study will find ways to improve the tooth-to-tail ratio (T3R) — the tail is the number of personnel required to support a combat soldier, or the tooth.

However, the plan to improve T3R is unlikely to materialize as the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) may not allow cuts for noncombat soldiers, some of whom are civilians, according to a second Indian Army official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The study ordered by the Army chief could take six months and will be considered by the bureaucrats in the MoD," the official said.

Analysts agree there's a need to improve the T3R ratio but say there is little room for improvement as the "tooth soldiers" have been reduced over the years and there is a shortage of officers.

"There are differing views on T3R. There is no standard laid down but the ideal T3R could be 3.5:1 to 4:1. Presently the Indian Army is possibly around this ratio as there have been many cutbacks in the past, further cutting down on the tail as the intention seems to be may not be viable," defense analyst and retired Army Brig. Rahul Bhonsle said. "I do not agree that noncombatants are oversized."

According to an MoD official, military has 12 percent fewer officers than the sanctioned strength, and it is projected it will take until 2021 to bring the shortfall down to 8 percent.

"There is a shortage of nearly 34,000 personnel, including 9,642 officers. There are 24,356 vacancies in other ranks of the Army, excluding those in the medical and dental research," the MoD official added.

The noncombat soldiers also include the personnel from the logistics arm and there is a need to improve Army logistics, which will not give much room to cut the tooth soldiers, the second Indian Army official said.

Bhonsle said that one route to reducing the tail is joint logistics: "In most major locations where there are tri-service units, each runs its own logistics establishment. If these are joint or unified, there would be considerable saving on manpower. In fact the MoD should by decree order joint logistics, which is not too difficult a decision with the services asked to justify reasons for separate setups at the same location. Unfortunately the MoD does not have the will or the temper to order even such a simple exercise.

Analysts say modernization of the Army does not necessarily mean cutting flab.

"Improving T3R is not the only way to achieve modernization of the Army as there is need to reorganize structures within the Army in line with the war doctrine," defense analyst Nitin Mehta said.

"Undertaking an exercise of merely adjusting the T3R delinked from modernization is likely to have disastrous consequences in terms of combat capability particularly in the mountains, which are logistics heavy."

Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.

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