Lt Gen Sanjiv Talwar, AVSM, Engineer-in-Chief

Editorial Team
Friday, June 24, 2016

The Indian Army Corps of Engineers has a long and gallant history dating back to the 18th century. With ‘Sarvatra’ as their motto, the Sappers are a key element in all operations of war and play a pivotal role in peacetime engineering support to the three services and have contributed immensely in Nation building.

The Corps of Engineers has four pillars, the Combat Engineers, Military Engineer Service (MES), Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and Military Survey, with each pillar providing varied facets of engineering support as also continuously getting involved in new vistas, as the requirements and expectations of environment continue to grow. A step in that direction is the creation of the Married Accommodation Project (MAP) to provide adequate accommodation for all three services, which is making rapid progress.

Combat Engineers perform a plethora of critical tasks in battle to include mine warfare, combat bridging, trail blazing for advancing troops, demolitions, construction of field defences, camouflage & deception and a major role in CBRN warfare, to name a few.  Sappers also undertake survivability tasks in peace time with critical infrastructure development projects being executed through operational works along our Northern borders. Contribution of the combat engineers in providing succor to the populace in the wake of natural disasters is well known to the Nation.         

MES and BRO as part of the Corps of Engineers happen to be the largest organisations in their respective fields in the country with the MES providing works services to the three services, Indian Coast Guard, DRDO and OFB. Employing a huge proportion of civilian work force, these organisations are a fine example of combining military ethos & discipline and proficiency of their civilian counterparts in a successful team effort.  They represent a well-balanced arrangement which has stood the test of time and served the Nation well. With a number of projects of strategic nature coming their way, the MES and BRO must continue to perform in a mission mode, even as changing times through up new challenges and demand greater versatility and functional efficiency. 

The Military Survey has also consistently performed commendably by keeping pace with the dynamic changes in technology in GIS, digital mapping and cartography.

In our endeavour to acquaint our readers with multiple aspects related to the defence services, we present excerpts of our interview with the Engineer-in-Chief (E-in-C), who by dint of his mammoth responsibility and multiple roles, also happens to be a Principal Staff Officer to the Chief of the Army Staff. Lt Gen Sanjiv Talwar, AVSM addressed a range of issues that concern the various “Pillars of the Corps”.

Read on…

Defstrat: The nature of Combat Engineer Support, the primary function of the Corps of Engineers, has altered significantly over the two centuries since 1780 to when the Sappers trace their origin. How do you envisage the future role of the Corps in meeting emerging battlefield requirements?

E-in-C:  The basic role of the Corps remains the same i.e. to provide mobility to own forces, deny mobility to the enemy and ensure survivability of own forces.  However, the means to achieve the same have changed. Battles will invariably involve mission-oriented combined-arms Battle Groups for specific operational objectives. Engineers will invariably form part of such groups in all aspects of planning and execution. Engineers will operate in combat situation wherein movement, deployment and flow of information are transparent to the enemy with the availability of the modern surveillance means. This entails execution of Engineer tasks in a faster time frame. Consequently many aspects of combat engineering tasks will be mechanized/modernised to reduce the time of task execution.

Defstrat: The evolving nature of warfare also entails regular review of Engineer Equipment and Stores. In your perception, what would be some of the major new inductions the Corps would need to make in order to effectively meet its future needs?

E-in-C:  The process of modernization is an ongoing process. Technological upgrades of existing items to achieve better operational characteristics, reduction of operational timings and reduction of fatigue to troops is an ongoing process. We are looking at light weight mechanically operating equipment. Some projects have fructified while others are progressing. In all major tasks of Mine Laying, Bridging, Track Construction & Water Supply there will be an increased focus towards assimilating new techniques and induction of lighter equipment which incorporates contemporary and futuristic technology.

Defstrat: The contribution of Sappers in providing rescue and relief assistance has been immense and much applauded. It however involves contingency planning, envisaging and procuring specific stores besides attrition of both equipment and stores when deployed.  How does the Corps plan and prepare systemically to meet such situations?

E-in-C: The primary responsibility of providing rescue and relief during disasters is of the National Disaster Relief Force as mandated by an Act of Parliament. However, the same Act also mandates that all Government agencies are to be prepared to assist should the situation so desire. Corps of Engineers has certain inherent equipment in its inventory to meet the challenges of such disasters. There is close coordination on ground between National Disaster Relief Force and Army wherein the equipment of National Disaster Relief Force can also be used by Indian Army personnel if necessitated. In essence, while NDRF is mandated to be the first responder in the event of any disaster, the Army always remains prepared to supplement the relief and rescue effort using its existing resources both in terms of men, material and expertise.

Defstrat: Sappers also carry the responsibility to plan for providing NBC cover and protection to the

Armed Forces.  What are the major requirements of special equipment / protective gear that would be required for providing protection in the future? Is there a prospect here for Private Industry to consider as a design and development opportunity under the ‘Make in India’ initiative? 

E-in-C: Response to CBRN warfare is provided in three tiers i.e. Reconnaissance, Protection and Decontamination. The future requirements in this regard will be Unmanned Reconnaissance Equipment and Stand-off Detection Systems. Ample prospects exist for Private industry under “Make in India” initiative. Interaction with private industry to identify their potential and draw a road map for their participation is ongoing through ‘Make in India’ initiative. Decontamination, Provisioning of Safe Drinking Water and NBC Shelters are some specific fields where private industry can easily participate to meet military needs. 

Defstrat: Intake of Officers into the Corps of Engineers are inter alia through ‘direct entry’ streams.  To upgrade intake quality, do you feel the need for specific / tailor-made courses being included in University curricula that would give professional advantage to aspiring entrants besides meeting organisational requirements?

E-in-C:  Intake into the Corps of Engineers are through Technical Entry and Non Technical Entry schemes which are as under:-

Technical Entry.

•             Technical Graduates Course (TGC).

•             University Entry Scheme (UES).

•             Short Service (Technical) (SS (Technical)).

•             Women Entry Scheme (Technical) (WES (Technical)).

Non Technical Entry.

•             NDA.

•             Direct Entry (DE).

•             Short Service (Non Technical) (SS (Non Technical)).

•             Women Entry Scheme (Non Technical) (WES (Non Technical).

•             ACC.

Officers inducted into the Corps of Engineers need to be engineering graduates in specific disciplines. The officers coming through Technical Entry as mentioned above acquire their engineering qualification from various engineering colleges/institutions before commissioning. Those coming through Non Technical Entry undergo engineering courses in College of Military Engineering at Pune. The curriculum covered in engineering colleges/institutions outside is the same as is being taught in College of Military Engineering.  Therefore, officers from both the entries acquire the same engineering knowledge.  Specific/tailor made courses in outside engineering colleges will not give any advantage to aspiring entrants wanting to join Corps of Engineers.  However I must add that combat engineering training required for performing various engineering tasks in war and peace is separate from degree engineering qualification. Combat Engineering training is imparted to both the type of entries after commissioning and cannot be included in university curriculum since it may not be relevant.

Defstrat: It is a known fact that the erstwhile traditional ‘functional balance’ between Civil and Uniformed engineers in organisations like MES and BRO has been impacted by past Pay Commission awards.  Are you content that obtaining functional relations between cadres in these organisations is congenial and stable?

E-in-C:  MES & BRO are manned by Military personnel as well as civilian employees both at officer as well as at subordinate levels.  For functional efficiency it is essential that professional harmony and a healthy relationship and mutual respect is maintained between the two distinct cadres.  However, equivalence issues between the two cadres have arisen due to anomalies in pay and allowances granted by successive Pay commissions & Cadre Reviews of the civilian cadre.  These anomalies have been taken up at the highest level and we hope that these would be resolved by the Govt to improve the functional efficiency and working environment in the MES as well as BRO.

Defstrat: MES today has opportunity to design and maintain an increasing range of ‘specialist’ infrastructure projects and establishments such as jetties and ports, helipads, runways etc.  How are professional skills of MES and Corps officers being honed up to meet the emerging professional challenges?

E-in-C: The MES has been involved in construction and maintenance of Jetties and Runways besides other Strategic Assets for the Armed Forces for many years now.  The MES personnel involved in construction and maintenance of these works are imparted training to handle such tasks at multiple levels. 

Every year, we subscribe to PG courses run at IITs for 25 to 30 officers, which include two to three courses each for Ocean Technical/Marine Engineering and Transportation/Pavement engineering.  Post Graduate courses are also run at CME for Civilian and E/M Engineering for 15 to 20 officers.  Other disciplines include Structural Engineering, Underground Structures, Geo Technology and Energy Sciences. These courses prepare the MES officers to understand and design such structures. 

Executive Development Programmes of short duration (2-3 days), run by Training Institutes like IITs, National Council for Cement and Building materials (Hyderabad), Engineering Staff College of India (Hyderabad) and Indian Building Congress (Delhi) are attended by MES officers on wide ranging topics to hone their managerial and functional skills.  There are 15 to 20 such courses every year and 4 to 5 officers attend each of these courses. 

MES executives are kept abreast of the latest developments in these fields through technical seminars held annually at each of the six commands where the MES officers from all over the country get an opportunity to learn about new technologies, to discuss their experiences through case studies and to interact and discuss solutions to the challenges faced with experts from within MES as well as experts from outside agencies like IITs, other reputed training institutions and persons associated with construction industry.

Defstrat: Personnel of the Engineers Corps have a reputation of being fiercely loyal to their respective Groups- Madras, Bombay and Bengal Sappers. Muted voices are occasionally heard that such Group bonding, howsoever cherished and valuable, comes to precede a ‘Corps’ spirit.  In your view, is the Corps of Engineers in any way a victim of its own heritage?

E-in-C: All the three Groups of Corps of Engineers i.e Madras, Bengal and Bombay Sappers have a rich heritage full of valour and sacrifice which still continues as is evident from the tremendous contribution made by these three Groups in support of the Indian Army both in war and peace since independence. This Group bonding is a strength of Corps of Engineers as it inspires and motivates the men to put in their best in accomplishing the assigned role and task. We have a healthy competitive spirit between the three Groups to outdo each other in sports and games within the Corps.  However we are united as one Corps in the battlefield.  Our motto ‘Sarvatra’ epitomises both work ethos and never say die spirit.