World’s first tri-services training academy turns 60

July 26th, 2008 - 5:04 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil
By Ritu Sharma
This is the nursery where teens grow into officers and gentlemen. Over the decades, more than 30,000 cadres have passed through the corridors of the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Khadakvasla town in western India to become officers of India’s armed forces. NDA, which celebrates its diamond jubilee this year and is the world’s first tri-services training academy, started off as an interim Junior Inter-Services Wing. It has now graduated to an institute that instils in its students the rigours of academics and the discipline of military life too.

The idea of starting a tri-services academy stemmed from the empirical lessons learnt by the British during the two World Wars that pointed to joint military operations in future conflicts.

Since its humble beginnings, the academy has graduated to a hi-tech institution spread over 8,000 acres and has been churning out bright future officers for the Indian armed forces.

“NDA has been training the young ones to put ‘duty before self’. NDA takes the raw material and makes an officer out of them,” said NDA Commandant Air Marshal T.S. Randhawa.

After a three-year course at the academy and further specialised training, its cadets have gone on to become officers in the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. A fair number of cadets of “friendly foreign countries” have also been trained within its portals.

The genesis of the NDA dates to 1941, when then viceroy Lord Linlithgow received 100,000 pounds from the Sudan government for building a war memorial to commemorate the gallantry of Indian troops in North Africa.

The then commander-in-chief in India, Field Marshal Sir Claude J. Auchinlek, suggested an institute that would combine the tenets of military and academic training with an emphasis on an integrated system, apprising the cadets at that elementary level of the inter-dependence of the three services.

The layout plan materialised in 1946 and Khadakvasla was chosen as the location for the academy due to the presence of an operational airfield close by, a number of military establishments in the vicinity, a lake and a suitable training environment for cadets.

The foundation stone of the academy was laid by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1949 though the formal inauguration took place in January 1955. As an interim measure, a junior inter-services wing was established in the northern town of Dehradun.

Of all the buildings that grace the NDA, the Sudan Block is undeniably the most imposing and majestic. A three-storied basalt and granite structure constructed with Jodhpur red sandstone, the building is topped by a dome, giving it the grandeur and motif of Mughal times.

Admission to NDA is extremely tough, with some 100,000 students appearing at each of the two entrance tests that are conducted every year for the 350 vacancies in the two courses that are begun every year. Those lucky enough to clear the written exam are put through a vigorous physical and psychological test that literally weeds out the grain from the chaff.

For the last few decades, the academy has been imparting education based on a syllabus laid down by New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which awards the gentleman cadets a bachelors degree in the arts or the sciences.

As is to be expected at an academy that aims to convert teenagers into “officers and gentlemen”, the daily regime is a combination of classroom education, military training, sports and games and co-curricular activities like aero-modelling, horse riding, paragliding, sailing and photography - from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., five days a week.

At the conclusion of each course, there is a grand passing out parade at which one of the service chiefs or a political dignitary like the defence minister takes the salutes and awards like the Sword of Honour for the best cadet of the course are handed out.

This year being the diamond jubilee of the institution, it will be President Pratibha Patil, the supreme commander of the Indian armed forces, who will be taking the salute at the passing out parade in November.

The day a cadet joins the NDA he is allotted to one of the 15 squadrons in the academy, with which he remains till he passes out.

“This is part of the camaraderie-building process,” Randhawa explained.

There are plans to increase the NDA’s capacity by adding one more squadron to increase the intake by 200 cadets a year. This new squadron could also, theoretically, house the future batches of women cadets once they are admitted to the academy.

“If asked, the NDA is ready for training women cadets. After a decision is taken by the authorities we will need some time to build the necessary infrastructure,” Randhawa said.

Cadets passing out of the academy, after further specialised training of 18 months, receive permanent commissions in the armed forces and retire between the ages of 55 and 62, depending on the rank they achieve.

Women officers, who train at a separate academy in Chennai in Tamil Nadu, are granted short service commissions and retire after 14 years of service. There is currently a huge debate underway on granting women permanent commissions.

As it turns 60, the NDA will also celebrate change.

Towards this, it will be introducing subjects like nuclear physics, aerodynamics, computer sciences and the military structure of other countries over a period of time.

In an academy where tradition is sacrosanct, the increasingly hi-tech battlefield of the future has finally blown the IT revolution into its campus. Starting from this year, all cadets will be trading in their books for laptops.

All teaching material will be a click away for cadets and will be available on a high speed Local Area Network (LAN). Classrooms are being modernised to replace blackboards with display screens and computer-aided teaching.

“Once the cable laying process in the cabins is over the cadets will be provided laptops,” Randhawa said.

Foreign cadets training at the academy find it an uplifting experience.

“It has been a wonderful experience in the NDA. Back home we do not have a tri-service academy and it is not as big as the NDA,” said Safaro Khusro, a second term cadet from Tajikistan.

The academy has thus far trained cadets from 23 countries, including Afghanistan, Malaysia, Nepal and Tajikistan.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in India |