The Indian Economy Blog

June 19, 2007

The Indian Army Part 3

Filed under: Basic Questions,Human Capital,Miscellaneous — Pragmatic @ 10:04 am

Safety in numbers

Indian Army’s record has many parallels with that of the Indian cricket team; one unmitigated disaster (1962), one unqualified success (1971), two stalemates (1948 and 1965), a cataclysmic foreign policy blunder (IPKF in Sri Lanka) and a pyrrhic PR victory in Kargil (1999). The pusillanimous display by the top brass and their strategic and leadership failures have been offset by bravery and courage of young officers and soldiers (For a pithy insight into the Kargil war, see A Soldiers Diary, Kargil: The Inside Story by Harinder Baweja, Books Today, 2000). In the history of modern warfare, human casualties have reduced drastically since the Second World War and these days, it is only in internecine and tribal wars in Africa and the Middle East that such heavy casualties take place. It is ironic that these heavy casualties have been brandished around by the Indian army as tales of valour and sacrifice, that divert attention from and gloss over major strategic and organisational deficiencies. The Charge of the Light Brigade would be an apposite comparison – individual bravery and sacrifice amidst inept handling by the top brass. The official Indian army website makes a virtue out of necessity.

A common indicator of the type of leadership extant in the Army are casualty ratios. In all our wars, officer casualties have been high. This is an internal assessment criterion. Management experts point out that high casualties bespeak of poor command. The point, however, is that Officers of the combat arms lead from the front and do not manage from the rear.

The quality, unfortunately in this case, is directly related to the quantity. While the world has flattened, the Indian Army has added to its hierarchical structure along with a significant increase in numbers. Protecting one’s fiefdom and enlarging its scope has been the hallmark of most government bodies and the army is no exception. The US army has been blindly aped by creating an Army Training Command more than 15 years ago, with no reduction in the training directorate at Delhi. South-western command and a new corps have been raised to ostensibly improve the operational effectiveness of the army. But many insiders believe that it is to create more avenues for promotions at the middle and higher levels. A new operational logistics and a public information directorate were also created in the recent past, adding to the existing layers of military bureaucratic structure. While all this has happened, there has been no talk of reduction in numbers ala the western armies. The US, UK and French military training schools are either outsourced or largely manned by civilian employees. No modern army worth its name runs its own logistics; their logistics is totally outsourced. The Indian army, on the other hand, still waxes eloquent about its teeth-to-tail ratio and takes pride in the large inventory of its ordnance corps – from a shoe nail to a tank.

Can we have a leaner army that is as effective an insurance for the nation’s future? Arguably, yes. General Malik reduced 50,000 in his tenure as the army chief, but it all went away in the aftermath of Kargil. The political willingness to correct this anomaly is distinctly lacking. After all, there is safety in numbers. The annual report of the ministry of defence (2006-07) puts forth this grandiose justification in buckram prose.

India’s national security environment is determined by a complex interplay of its geographical attributes, historical legacy, and socio-economic circumstances as well as regional and global developments…The security environment that has been highlighted above clearly brings out four key elements that are fundamental determinants of our security planning. These are:

  • The Indian Armed Forces have a two front obligation, which require them to safeguard the security of our borders with Pakistan as well as with China;
  • India is not a member of any military alliance or strategic grouping, nor is this consistent with our policies necessitating a certain independent deterrent capability;
  • Due to external abetment, India’s Armed Forces are involved in internal security functions on a relatively larger scale than is normal requiring a force structure that will be able to cope with it; and
  • India’s interests in the North Indian Ocean, including the security of our EEZ and Island territories, highlight the need for a blue water Naval capability commensurate with our responsibilities.

Notwithstanding this pontification, acquisition of modern military equipment and implementation of latest military strategy in the current geopolitical scenario should have led to a concomitant reduction in the strength of the army. This reduction can not be to please the peaceniks or to score brownie points at international platforms; it should be based on current geopolitical realities, acquisition of latest weaponry and equipment, concurrent organisational changes and a coherent military strategy. The modernisation plans have not even been finalised in the past, as with the tenth plan, and it would be naive to hope for any improvements with the eleventh plan. In any case, these capital acquisition plans need money and three-quarters of the army budget goes towards salaries and other revenue expenses. So, where does one start? The hawks may seek larger allocations to the army for modernisation but the cogent argument is that the numbers must reduce for greater capital acquisitions. It has to be a well thought out process, backed by deft political and diplomatic manoeuvres, and implemented after a fundamental change in the noesis of the top military brass. This is not to make a case for a cadaverous army, but to trim the extra fat for a well sculpted lean and fit fighting machine; else the organisation will continue to be wanner by the day.

Besides, the happenings after the parliament attack and the détente with Pakistan are a pointer to the geopolitical situation that befalls the Indian army. Kargil could not escalate into a full fledged war due to international fears of a nuclear showdown. In his book ‘The world is flat’ Thomas Friedman has highlighted the pressures at the highest levels on the Indian government that prevented the détente with Pakistan from escalating in 2002. A full-fledged war with Pakistan and China seems far-fetched at the moment, but it would be imprudent to rule out its possibility altogether. In any case, it has been acknowledged in most quarters that the army was unable to mobilise in time after the parliament attacks and thus the small ‘window of opportunity’ was lost. The current army chief thus came up with a new strategy to mobilise faster and score short term gains (read occupation of enemy territory) before international pressure leads to a ceasefire. But even this hortatory thinking and bold strategy hasn’t been backed by any talk of reducing the strength of the army. What you hear in turn is the huge shortage of officers in the army – this is again a myth that needs to be demolished.

To be continued…


  1. In my profession (medicine) anyone may say anything – but what counts finally is credentials which are an indicator of the possibility that a person may actually know what he is talking about – as opposed to being a good talker.

    Who are you? More to the point, what are you?


    Comment by shiv — June 21, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  2. Shiv

    Fair question. Backing an opinion with a name makes it more credible. Unless, of course, you are reading The Economist.

    Notwithstanding this, one advantage of anonymity is that it allows us to separate out the author from his argument. Especially in the Indian context, an expert in one field immediately acquires the status of an expert in all others: certain Nobel and Booker prize winners come to mind.

    In this case, I’d say that anyone who has treated the topic in such depth should know a thing or two about it.

    Comment by Nitin — June 21, 2007 @ 7:27 pm

  3. Is this the same lean mean machine advocated by Rumsfeld.

    We know how that eneded.

    Much of modern warfare consists of holding actions, no lean blitzkrieg force is going to accomplish that.

    Also remember that the rules of engagement will change with your force structure and levels.

    This is why we have America dropping daisy cutters on childrens schools. Compare that with the IA’s careful door by door engagement in Kashmir. Can they level the place, yes, but their rules of engagement tell them no to.

    Careful what you ask for. I would give the benefit of the doubt to the Soldier every time.

    As far as disparaging the officer corp, look at the casualty list of officers to enlisted men. It is one of the highest for any conflict in the world.

    Comment by Theo — June 21, 2007 @ 11:45 pm

  4. Theo,

    There’s no comparison between the US and Indian armed forces: the former relies on technology and hardware while the latter, regardless of shedding some weight, will remain manpower intensive for a long time.

    The point is not about trying to make the Indian Army more Rumsfeldian. Rather, to note that the Indian army can be made more efficient—by taking the non-core elements out. As this series of posts points out, not all the 1 million+ personnel in the army are involved in combat/combat-support.

    The (justifiable) pride we have in our army should not make us blind to the pursuit of greater efficiencies. Btw, elsewhere the author makes a nuanced point about the casualty ratio of officers to enlisted men. It’s a fair point. That our young officers are leading from the front is commendable. But casualties shouldn’t be something we should be boasting about.

    Comment by Nitin — June 22, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

  5. Let’s face it. The Indian army is untested. It has not fought a war with US or European foes, unlike China.
    The Chinese republic was born in 1949 and in 1950, they were fighting the US in the Korean War. They suffered huge casualties but succeeded in getting the US to withdraw from the N Korean border. Since then their army has been active in the Vietnam war and has earned a formidable reputation. there is a thriving arms export industry.
    Poor India by comparison has only clashed with a puny Asian neighbour (Pakistan) or its own disgruntled minorities. India no doubt has assembled some awesome hardware bought from the top aggressors – US, EU & Russia. So who will be used against? They dared not challenge China.
    That leaves good old Pakistan. Pathetic, isn’t it?


    Comment by Eddie — June 23, 2007 @ 11:42 pm

  6. “Separating the author from the argument” is great fro arguments, but is of little practical use for anything serious.

    Neutrality in writing and opinions cannot be taken for granted and separating names from statements in fact add several confounding arguments about neutrality and possible lack of knowledge. The article above is full of rhetoric – and I will post questions that I have about the article, which I believe is written by a person who does not know much about the subject, but writes rhetoric well enough to come out sounding like he knows something:

    “While the world has flattened, the Indian Army has added to its hierarchical structure along with a significant increase in numbers.”

    I would like to know what is the connection between the first half of the sentence and the second half. A great piece of meaningless rhetoric.

    “While all this has happened, there has been no talk of reduction in numbers ala the western armies. The US, UK and French military training schools are either outsourced or largely manned by civilian employees.”

    Military training outsourced? Examples please. Also an analysis of how these nations might have such a large body of capable civilian military trainers based on their history and what they have been up to in the past 20-50 years to acquire and nurture such a civilian skill base.

    “No modern army worth its name runs its own logistics; their logistics is totally outsourced.”

    Please name some armies that are worth their salt. I would like to be educated on how the effectiveness or role of an army can be measured in terms of salt? Is this some new kind of currency that is being mooted on an economy blog? No substance. Mo meat of facts to buttress the bare-bones rhetoric.

    “Can we have a leaner army that is as effective an insurance for the nation’s future? Arguably, yes.”

    And arguably NO. If you study the needs of counterinsurgency operations, you find that there may be a need for more men. And the “outsourced” army that is worth its salt, the US army is hiring too. Shouldn’t we of the aforementioned flat world be copying that? Or is it only the author’s, one sided anonymous opinions on a non peer reviewed blog count?

    “Notwithstanding this pontification, acquisition of modern military equipment and implementation of latest military strategy in the current geopolitical scenario should have led to a concomitant reduction in the strength of the army”

    “Should have”? “latest military strategy”? What is he/she talking about? Whose strategy? Under what circumstances? Details. Details. Where are the details? Ignorance of military strategy and history is so easily covered up by bluster and more of the very pontification that author claims to oppose.

    Comment by shiv — June 24, 2007 @ 10:04 am

  7. Shiv,

    Many thanks for analysing the post so critically and in such great depth. You have raised certain legitimate queries and maybe I need to improve my writing style to match your exacting standards. The issues of identity, expertise, rhetoric, opinions and facts are subjective and can be debated endlessly.
    The moot point is “How do you get more bang for the buck?”.
    If you check the first post in the series, the parliamentary standing committee on defence has made the same point – Can we have an equally effective army, by reducing wasteful(your definition and mine of wasteful might not be the same!) numbers and this has to be done in the light of modern management practices, current geopolitical situation and by introduction of modern technology and acquisition of latest military equipment. It is, to use a cliche, the eternal Productivity vs Production debate.
    Despite its special and a preeminent role, Army is also, in many ways, like any other organisation and one neeeds to explore ways to make any organisation better. It is an area that concerns everyone – most defence observers have written about it, there have been in house studies by the Army itself and by the ministry of defence. There are many ways to look at it and I am trying to look at the whole issue through a different perspective.
    I am certain, you more than anyone else, would want more resources for the beleaguered soldier and lesser Indian casualties in conflict. With the increase in defence budget unlikely and the revenue to capital expenditure ratio showing no signs of improving, this seems to be the only logical way out. I rest my case.

    Comment by Pragmatic — June 24, 2007 @ 11:11 am

  8. Again, What you are talking about is the teeth to tail ratio. In the US army this right now about 10% teeth to 90% tail. Not exactly the most efficient at first sight.

    Also remember the rules of engagement. The American reliance on hardware and technology is what improves the T-to-T ratio, but this means that they have to stand back and blast away.

    Also the ‘outsourced’ logistics teams have no conception of rules of combat or a real ability to defend themselves, and contrary to expectations they are NOT cheap. Witness the $80 a gallon of gas debacle in Iraq. The americans can afford this, we can not.

    If you wish to reduce casualties then prepare to change the rules of engagement. You can not have one without the other.

    Comment by Theo — June 26, 2007 @ 11:39 pm

  9. I would agree with Pragmatic that there is a need to re-examine our staffing pattern of the Army to enhance its capability. Are we dynamic in thought, action, and more importantly attitude to respond to changing requirements of warfare. I think there is a major gap there.

    If we analyse military history we find that often armies continue to remain rooted in outdated mindsets. military setbaks then provide the impetus to change.

    There is merit in issues raised by pragmatic.

    Comment by zalim — July 4, 2007 @ 9:56 pm

  10. [...] The subject of resources for the military is very close to Pragmatic’s heart and has been covered earlier (here, here and here). It is heartening to observe that the government is waking up now and taking some cautious baby steps to redeem the situation. [...]

    Pingback by » Indian military trims its flab | Pragmatic Euphony — October 12, 2007 @ 1:07 pm

  11. [...] It is about cutting wasteful expenditure – to get more bang for the buck [related posts here, here and [...]

    Pingback by Pragmatic Euphony » Blog Archive » The seats at academy are always full — January 14, 2008 @ 10:05 pm

  12. [...] readiness to die for their platoon-mates extends to the officers who command them. A look at the officer casualties in the Kargil war and in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere [...]

    Pingback by The Acorn » Between impressiveness and delusion — January 26, 2008 @ 9:23 am

  13. It is with a sense of disbelief that one hears the Indian minister of state for defence, sitting in his cozy air-conditioned seminar room, pontificating that ‘it is unbecoming’ of former soldiers to protest against the treatment meted out to them by the government. So here’s a non-soldier making a public protest. One hopes that it is not below the dignity of the minister to read this.

    The minister would not have dared to make such a comment had the protestors been a part of his or his party’s vote bank. The fact that the Indian armed services do not go public with their grievances does not mean that they do not have any concerns and the fact that they have been forced to come to the streets should make the minister and his government acknowledge how desperate the situation might be.

    The Indian government is fooling itself if it thinks that by dragging its feet on the issue of the armed forces dissatisfaction with the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, it can make the issue go away.

    A country that refuses to respect its armed forces will eventually end up getting forces that will not respect the nations’ aspirations. A country makes a sacred contract with its soldiers that while he/she will lay down his/her life when called upon to do so, the nation will take good care of his/her and his/her family’s needs to the extent its resources would permit.

    This contract underpins the very survival of a nation as when its territorial integrity and political independence are under threat, the nation looks upon the only instrument that can protect it — its armed forces.

    While all governments have to look for a considered bargain between their commitments and power and between power and resources, a responsible government will always be aware of the serious implications of not spending adequate resources on defence.

    The debate as it has been made out to be in some quarters between defence and development is a spurious one. Unless adequate provisions are made for defence, no state will be able to pursue its developmental agenda. This is much more important for a country like India that faces a unique security environment with two of its ‘adversaries’ straddling it on two sides of its borders and problems on all sides of its periphery.

    A government can keep spouting pious rhetoric about global peace and non-violence but it realises fully that force is the ultima ratio in international relations. Politics among nations is conducted in the brooding shadow of violence. Either a state remains able and willing to use force to preserve and enhance its interests or it is forced to live at the mercy of its militarily powerful counterpart.

    Even Nehru, after neglecting defence for all the years after independence had to eventually concede in 1962 that India’s military weakness ‘has been a temptation, and a little military strength may be a deterrent.’

    The Indian public and press remain apathetic on defence issues. We make Kargil into a television spectacle, an opportunity for our journalists to try to show their temporary bravery by going to the frontlines for a few hours and getting the excitement of covering a war from the inside. And then when it is all over, our soldiers have been interred into their graves, we move on to new and more exciting spectacles — to our song and dance reality shows and saas-bahu sagas, forgetting that soldiers are still on guard.

    This is a nation that will cry with Lata Mangeshkar [Images] when she sings Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon but will not make any effort to understand the real problems and concerns of its soldiers. It is a sign of the highly skewed priorities of the Indian media that the rising turmoil and dissatisfaction within the ranks of nations’ armed forces is being given only perfunctory coverage.

    It is an issue of nation’s very survival yet the media seems busy with its devotion of superficialities. Every rave and rant of Bollywood actors is religiously covered, detailed dissection of seemingly never-ending cricket matches are conducted, exorbitant pay rises in the corporate sector make it to the headlines but the one issue that can make or break the future of this country is consigned to the margins.

    We continue to pray at the altar of our false heroes while our real heroes continue to face neglect and scorn.

    The armed forces feel they have never got their due from various pay commissions over the years but the government in its wisdom decided to keep the armed forces away from any representation in the latest Pay Commission. The dominance of bureaucrats meant that while the interests of the bureaucrats were well-recognised, the armed services once again ended up getting a raw deal.

    The discontent is so serious that some of the best and brightest in our services have refused to go for the Higher Command Courses and more and more are seeking an early retirement. Indian armed forces are desperately trying to fill vacancies as other professions are luring the young of the country.

    Against the sanctioned strength of 300 per batch, the National Defence Academy finds that it can only attract 192 cadres this year. The same story repeats itself in the Indian Military Academy. A country that purports to be a rising power is facing a shortage of more than 11,000 officers.

    The reason is pretty obvious: One can’t think of any major power in the world that treats its soldiers the way India does. It is indeed a sorry sight when India’s bravest have to literally cry out for help from a callous politico-bureaucratic elite.

    Our politicians remain more than willing to waste tax payers money by routinely boycotting Parliament and have never shied away from increasing their own pay and allowances, claiming that they remain underpaid. Yet those who defend the sanctity of Parliament are given a short shrift.

    The abysmal knowledge of defence issues that pervades the Indian political class probably gives them an illusion that the country is being protected by divine blessings.

    Political apathy and bureaucratic design are rapidly eroding the self-esteem of our forces. A functioning liberal democracy needs a loyal soldier that can take care of the state’s security, allowing the state to look after its citizenry. In India, the State is gradually withering away, all that’s left is the loyal soldier. How long will this soldier, under siege from all sides, remain steadfast to its commitments, is a question all Indians should seriously ponder on.

    Dr Harsh V Pant teaches at King’s College London

    Comment by Patriot — June 8, 2008 @ 3:06 am

  14. I agree on the main theme – indian military, para-military and police services need urgent re-organization.

    However, are approach varies. I wouldn’t call for budget or job cuts – on the contrary I would call for a re-assessment of CPC report and better understanding of the plight of service personnels.

    As you have pointed out correctly, the Indian defense forces suffer from major leadership problems. To say the least the quality of officers is going down shockingly – there are various reasons to this. We must answer them.

    Today the defense or police promises neither money nor prestige – the only thing they ever really had. Then tell me why would a smart, intelligent and sincere person join the forces? And if you do happen to answer this question please don’t be idealistic – be practical and rational.

    Comment by VelaSwami — June 19, 2008 @ 11:54 am

  15. Hello Pragmatic,

    I will try to briefly summarise your points and answer them. Please bear with me.

    1. The Indian Army’s record is as mixed/Chequered as the Indian Cricket teams record.
    2. The top brass has been incompetent.
    3. In an age when casualties have been going down IA’s officer casualties have been high, a fact that is (wrongly) a source of pride for the Army.
    4. We need a leaner army and should outsource non core functions like “for profit” corporations do.
    5. The Indian army has created commands and offices merely to facilitate the promotions of senior officers.
    6. The huge shortage of officers in the army is a myth.

    My Points

    1. The IA’s record needs to be looked at in the context of the flexibility that it has been offered by the bureaucratic and political classes. 1948 was mixed because Nehru gave the go ahead for entry in to Kashmir when the Pakistani forces (which had been preparing the invasion for quite some time) were 20 miles from Srinagar. Considering that we still hold 2/3rds of Kashmir and the cease fire was declared only because Nehru wanted to go to the UN, it is unfair to call the war in 1948 a stalemate. We were justifiaby defeated in 1962 by China, but this cannnot be divorced from the ill advised policies followed by Nehru and Krishna Menon (“Kaul”isation of the army brass, Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai, “The only Security Force India needs is the Police, i would rather not have an army” – Nehru, throwing an unprepared army against a motivated enemy). In 1965, inspite of the army recovering from the defeat of 1962, superiority of the the equipment at the disposal of the PAF and the pakistani Armoured Corps, and the general unpreparedness with which operation gibraltar caught it, the army fought marvelously (please read the TIME report which clearly says that India won the war, and also the wikipedia section on the gains and losses during the war. It will give you a better idea about whether it was a stalemate or not).1971 was a victory without paralel. I dont know why you call Kargil a pyrrhic PR victory. The objective of the army was to throw out the intruders without crossing the IB at any other place. This they did admirably with lesser casualties than the Pakistanis inspite of the fact that they were at a huge disadvantage due to the terrain. IPKF was a disaster both in terms of casualties and the diplomacy accompanying it, but it was more due to the muddleheaded policies of Rajiv gandhi than the army. Also it was the only time when a force was able to bring peace and stability to the Jaffna peninsula. A little more research in to the nature of the conflicts and the conduct of the armed forces given those contraints would have made your article more credible instead of sounding like an Arundhati Roy wannabe piece.

    2. May be and maybe not. It would be better if you could give more compelling evidence.

    3. I think you have failed to understand that the proportion of officers is much higher in the IA compared to the Pakistani Army and the US army. This may be because of the fact that India follows a british model where the bulk of the work is done by the Commisioned officers while pakistan follows the US model where the bulk of the work is done by the JCOs and NCOs. This model has worked well for the IA in the past there is nothing wrong in being proud of the fact that the Officers have led from the front and fulfilled their duty. Also deployment of the army in COIN ops has increased the ratio of officer casualties since the insurgents are often trained to target officers. The thought of changing this model is fraught with risk since it has been seen many times in the course of previous wars that pakistani soldiers have wilted easily due to the absence of officers leading them from the front (as in Kargil).

    4. Napolean once said “An army marches on its stomach”. This adage is as true now as it was then. The functions that seem non core to you are as important as the function of combat. Without logistics an army is as good as a sitting dodo. Outsourcing such functions will make the army vulnerable to the incompetence of the vendors and also to their inability to face enemy fire. While I agree that the army needs to be modernised the very nature of the potential and current conflicts that it faces makes it imperative to have a large number of “boots on the ground”. No amount of technology will be as effective as the door to door operations in Kashmir. No amount of technology will give the IA a distinct edge in the Mountainous Regions where the most potential for conflict lies.

    5. This again is unsubstantiated. please be more thorough with your research before making value judgements about what the army needs or does not need.

    6. Please expose this myth if you have been able to collect data and have done a comprehensive analysis of what the army needs in terms of man power. Doing an Ivory tower, consultant style, efficiency analysis might work when it comes to the corporate sector, it most definitely has no place in an Institution like the IA where the cost of failure is our freedom.

    Please let me know if I have missed anything.

    Many Thanks


    Comment by Sunil — July 8, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

  16. Prag,

    U made me loose a bet on this blog (i knew i had lost the bet moment i saw ur name). we had a bet that this was a positive blog on the Indian Army, but alas.

    still ur perception needs to be cleared (though u r pretty firm in ur convictions).

    The indian army website talks of the casualty ratio (not number of casualties ; hope u comprehend the difference). it is the ratio of officers killed versus the troops killed. so a higher ratio definitely is a measure of bravery and ability of the officers to take risk themselves rather than delegate the risk to their subordinate.

    the numbers that u talk about. there is definitely a scope of reducing the numbers significantly. but it is because of our economic condition that it cannot be done. the military world over measures power in terms of firepower and bayonet strength. for reducing the bayonet strength, the firepower has to be increased. also the ability to move troops from one sector to another reduces the requirement of reserves in each sector. to attain this capability we would have to have at least six squardons of IL 76 and 29 AN 32 aircrafts with at least one squardon of medium lift heptrs in every division of the indian army. Air force should be concentrating on the strategic front while the army aircrafts take on the tactical battle.

    when we are not able to maintain the present authorised strength of equipment (which already is equivalent to a beggars holding when compared to other similar countries), how do you proposed to increase the authorisation (army and air force’s requirements have been clubbed together so, when the army requires the equipment and it is being used by air force, army has to wait till air force has finished its task. some of the better equipped countries laugh at this arrangement.

    since manpower is cheaper than equipment in the Indian context, our bureaucrats don’t mind additional manpower if they don’t have to spend much on them. so feel better, otherwise u would have to be taxed much more for a much smaller army. it is safety in numbers for you, not the army.

    Comment by Yash — February 12, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

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