Are you inspired to serve?

Are you inspired to serve?

Are you inspired to serve?

On the face of it, the defence forces offer a career that doesn’t pay too much. They also make you spend the best years of your life in places the rest of the world has never heard of and (if asked to take a guess) will probably identify as things that horses eat or plants are grown in. Take Ghaspaani, Kimin, Zero, Nachna, Dras, Kiari for example.

You often live in tents, bamboo huts and barracks that look like they could fall on you any moment, and sometimes even do. You stay away from loved ones for months at a stretch, and if together, get a lot of flak on the home front because your spouse seldom gets an opportunity to have a career. Neither do your children get the chance to be educated in a big city with all its big promises.

It sometimes gives you tea made of milk powder and puris that can be mistaken for papads, at altitudes where only birds fly. It wakes you up at unearthly hours and makes you sprint in biting cold in white shorts and tucked in T shirts (yes, probably the only place where smart young boys and dashing older men, still tuck in T shirts and run to stay fit).

It makes you work in blistering desert heat in thick combat wear and boots, taking turns to take a breather on a camp cot that has to be shifted with the rotating shade of the only tree in the area. And, for all this, it asks from you a slightly heavy price — that you will unquestioningly give, when required, your life for your country.

‘Who wants the good life?’

Why would anyone join the Defence Forces? Particularly in an age where most other jobs offer air conditioned offices, stay home options in case of bad headaches, better pay packages and the opportunity to lunch on Lebanese food and spend the weekend sipping Chardonnay at a stylish pub.

Mention this to any Defence Services officer —  from retired officers in their eighties to men/ women in their twenties — and you will hear a dry laugh (they are too well behaved to snort in public).

People don’t join the Defence Forces for shallow things like money, they say. They join it for things like dignity and honour, the privilege of wearing the uniform, of finding friends willing to live and die with you, and at the very least — the opportunity to impress the other sex with the charms of your work clothes.

For young people who actually think like this, we have this piece and here are the details that can help you decide if the Defence Forces are the career for you.

The Indian Army

The Indian Army is responsible for defending the territorial integrity of the country against external aggression and in times of internal disturbances. During war, the army is responsible for protecting the nation against external aggression, whereas, during peace time it provides aid to civil authorities during natural calamities like floods, famines, babies falling into pits dug for tube wells and helps in maintenance of law and order.

The army is mainly divided into combat arms and services. The combat arms are the infantry, the artillery, and the armoured corps, The Corps of Engineers and Corps of Signals. Whereas, services includes Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps, Army Postal services, Army Medical Corps, Army Education Corps, Intelligence Corps and so on. So you can be an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, an intelligence agent, a paratrooper and till be an Army officer.

Combat arms are responsible for actual combat, whereas, services are responsible to ensure continuous flow of required ordnance including food for men and animals, fuel for vehicles and tanks, and ammunition.

The Indian Navy

The Indian Navy is responsible for defending the extensive coastline of the country in times of war and peace. The navy is also responsible for safeguarding our maritime interests including defence of off-shore oil and gas installations, coastal shipping and fisheries rights, and to protect vital trade links.

The Navy has three main branches.

- The Executive Branch which manages the navy’s warships and submarines as instruments of tactical warfare.

- The Engineering Branch which is responsible for the maintenance and service of engineering equipment and the propulsion systems on board the ships including electrical and electronic systems, weapon systems, missiles, radar, and radio communication systems.

-  The Education Branch which ensures that the officers and men are updated in their technical and tactical knowledge.

The Indian Air Force

The Indian Air Force is responsible for the air defence of the country, ensuring both offensive and defensive roles. It is also responsible for the air defence of vital installations of strategic importance to the country. The Air force is divided into three main branches:

- The Flying Branch includes fighter pilots who fly combat or fighter planes carrying ammunition and missiles; transport pilots who fly planes which carry men and materials, and helicopter pilots who provide air support to a moving army, or are used for para-dropping men and supplies.

- The Technical Branch which includes engineering sections and is responsible for the engineering equipment and weapons systems of the air force.

- The Administrative Branch which includes all the departments that provide logistical, meteorological, educational and administrative support to the flying and technical branches.


There are number of types of entries in the Armed Forces in India — at 10+2 level, after graduation and after professional courses (graduate/ post graduate level). Basic entry for all the three forces is through National Defence Academy (NDA).
There are following entries to armed forces:

- Entry through NDA in all three wings, permanent commission, after 10+2 level through prescribed competitive examination known as National Defence Academy/ Naval Academy Examination.

- Entry after graduation through Combined Defence Services Examination, through Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun for Army, the Naval Academy, Goa for Indian Navy and the Air Force Academy, Hyderabad for Air Force as permanent Commission officer.

- Through Officers Training School as Short Service Commission officer.
All three services can be joined after completion of technical education i.e. Engineering degree, but requirement of each service is different.

Army Medical Corps, which serves all three services, can be joined after completion of MBBS degree, either through Armed Forces Medical College or from any other medical college.


General eligibility conditions demand that a candidate must be:

- A citizen of India (subjects of Bhutan, Nepal, Tibetan refugees or migrants from the rest of the Indian subcontinent with the intention of settling permanently in India can also apply).

- In addition, candidates must be physically fit in accordance with the prescribed physical standards.

= There is a Women’s Special Entry Scheme (officers) for women graduates in specified subjects between 19-27 years of age.

Selection process for NDA

If you are between the ages of 16½-19 and have completed the junior year of high school, you can write the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam which is meant for entry into the National Defence Academy (NDA). The exam is held every six months at various centres in India.

Out of the 50,000 to 60,000 candidates who write the UPSC exam, only around one-third pass.

Individuals faring well in this exam are called for a Services Selection Board (SSB)
interview which lasts for three to four days.

This includes medical and written tests, outdoor activity contests, personal interviews etc. Candidates, who want to join the Indian Air Force, have to take a Pilot Aptitude Test, which, once failed, can never be taken again.

All candidates have to undergo extensive psychological examinations and meet exhaustive physical parameters to appear on the SSB merit list, from which 300 join NDA as cadets for three years.

NDA takes in new cadets every January and June. There are no fees to join NDA, but for an individual wishing to opt out, as a small percentage do, it is an expensive procedure. An NDA drop-out has to pay the government costs incurred in training,which are calculated by the number of weeks that have been spent at NDA.

NDA courses

While in the NDA, a cadet earns a Bachelor degree in Arts, Science or Computer Science, which is affiliated to the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. The three years in the NDA are divided into 6 semesters. Five are general semesters which every candidate has to take, and in the sixth and final semester, each candidate specialises for the Army, Navy or Air Force.

Academics constitute around 57 per cent of the programme comprising 12 disciplines, which are eight languages, three pure sciences, two applied sciences and four social sciences. Also a part of the curriculum are Special Services Subjects like training in battlefield and peace-time skills, and operations specific to individual streams of the Army, Navy or Air Force. There is also outdoor training which includes physical training, drill and horse riding.

After three years in the NDA, Army cadets join the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun; Navy cadets join the INS Tir or INS Krishna at Cochin and Air Force cadets move on to the Air Force Training Academy at Hyderabad. These courses are of 18 months duration after which, individual gets a commissioned rank.

Graduate/Direct Entry

Individuals between the age of 19 and 22 and having a three-year Bachelor degree can appear for the Combined Defence Services Exam (CDSC), which is held every six months at various centres in India.

Again, there is an SSB interview and a medical examination. On clearing these, the individual is enlisted into the Indian Military Academy (if he opts for the Army), and gets trained for 18 months, after which he gets a commissioned rank.

Technical Entry

Those having an Engineering degree can apply for direct commission. They can directly appear for the SSB interview and medical exam. If the exam is cleared, they will be paid a stipend by the Indian Government during their senior years. After completing the degree, they are straight away enlisted into the Air Force Training Academy in Hyderabad (if they opt for the Air Force), without entering NDA, with a commissioned ranCk or in Army, through IMA.

Entry-level salaries

Monthly salaries start around Rs 40,000 but to this you can add perks like opportunities for adventure, foreign travel, living in well manicured, safe, clean and green Army cantonments (wherever in the country you are); with free access to swimming pools, gymnasiums, tennis, badminton and squash courts, subsidised canteens, libraries, clubs, a good social life and, above all, an access to like-minded people.

>> First-person accounts of careers in the Armed Forces, read A place where you can make friends for life