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Indian Army plans to ditch canvas footwear

New training shoes for the nation’s soldiers.

Image © Antônio Milena

The thin, brown canvas physical training (PT) shoes that have for generations been given to Indian soldiers could soon be replaced by sports shoes. The Army plans to do away with the vintage canvas shoe and replace them with an existing sports shoe manufactured by a multinational brand. A variety of products are currently being evaluated by selected units, with the Army looking to sign a contract soon.

The quality of the canvas PT shoe has not been improved since it entered the service during World War II. According to a Colonel commanding an infantry battalion, today’s jawans (soldiers below non-commissioned officer rank) do not like to wear the existing footwear. “They are paid good salaries and wear smart sneakers when they are in civil dress,” he said. “In fact, we give our unit’s basketball and cross-country teams branded sports shoes from our own regimental funds,” he said.

A chance to change

A senior military official confirmed that the Army needs to manage the perception of the jawans better, in tune with changing times. The priority, he stated, is to provide a better quality uniform, proper shoes and functional equipment is our topmost priority.

The Army currently purchases some 2 million canvas shoes every year from the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB), which it buys from civilian suppliers. Each soldier receives two pairs of these shoes each year. The new sports shoes are expected to have a much longer lifecycle than the canvas shoes – possibly around 12-15 months.

A few years ago, the Army commissioned a study at the Indian Military Academy with the intention of designing three different items of footwear for cadets to wear during training – a drill boot, a sports shoe and a running shoe.

"Physical training-induced injuries are mainly overuse injuries, whereas injuries incurred during playing a field sport are acute in nature," remarked a sports medicine-qualified Army doctor who was involved in the study. "The aim of a good running or PT shoe is to prevent and reduce stress-related injuries caused by overuse," he continued. "Technical parameters – like vertical ground reaction force peak impact, ground reaction force loading rate and peak tibial acceleration – will need to be considered while selecting a good shoe."

An earlier attempt to procure modern sports shoes was halted in 2008 when animal rights activist and MP Maneka Gandhi objected to the use of cow leather in trainers being bought by the Army to replace the basic brown canvas PT shoes. At the time, the Army had chosen cow leather instead of synthetic materials as it had been deemed the best to withstand the anticipated usage. The defence minister of the day cancelled the procurement order in 2011.

A fresh effort to purchase shoes the following year also failed to gain any momentum. However, with a new political alliance in power since the 2014 general election, and because of the personal interest being shown by the current defence minister, the Army is hopeful of overcoming what it terms 'the usual price and specification issues' likely to be raised by the Defence Ministry during the procurement process.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 6 of the September 2015 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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