New Delhi, 19 Feb 2001

On the left is Iranian ship Alvand and at right the French nuclear submarine Perle at the International Fleet Review, Mumbai, 17 Feb 2001 



If proof was needed to show that the Indian Navy was once again in ascendancy, after some years of neglect, there could be no better display of seamanship, weaponry, organizational skills and attention to detail, than what was offered at the Mumbai anchorage for five days from 14th February 2001. Jam packed with 100 warships, it was a powerful sight for civilians and a treat for those aficionados who love to research men of war. The latest in weaponry from Exocet missiles to cruising Tomahawks, a variety of sonars, drum tilt to bassnet radars and an array of antennae were on view, with 4000 professional officers and men from 19 navies of the world bragging about their prowess, especially after some spirited evenings. Much secrecy was shed as nations were hawking their wares.

Rare Bonhomie

There was friendship and fun in the air as the Indian Navy had made excellent arrangements to regulate Liberty –– shore leave –– from the Tiger Gate at Ballard Estate. Even the Australian and American women sailors decided to team up for a girls’ evening out and as they confided to IDC at the Taj bar, "we are having a ball but we will not get pissed, don’t worry". That was true bleu sailor talk!

IDC also experienced meeting Indian sailors and junior officers who handle the Uran and Kashmir missile systems –– talking with a confidence not seen before, and that speaks volumes of the Indian Navy's morale –– notwithstanding the jolts of the Ramdas, Jain and Bhagwat affairs, which had stained the purity of the white uniform.

As if to score a point, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat launched his book ‘BETRAYAL OF THE DEFENCE FORCES’ (Manas), on the eve of the IFR. Shishir Gupta in his review in Hindustan Times has graded it ‘worth a read’ as it makes a case for healthy national debate on India’s strategic and security concerns. IDC however feel that Bhagwat could have avoided his criticism of the IFR -- as avoidable expenditure and showmanship (in Rediff). We maintain that ex-Chiefs should refrain from crticising their successors in public.

Bhagwat’s successor Admiral Sushil Kumar who is also the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and Vice Admiral Madhvendra Singh, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Naval Command, successfully hosted and steered India's 8th Fleet Review, to honour the country’s ‘Golden Anniversary of Freedom’. in a grand yet professional style. Under their helmsmanship the Navy exuded confidence and went International.

Over fifty countries were invited to participate and the response was overwhelming. It was evident that the Navy had the wherewithal and operational readiness to think big even in the air, despite US sanctions hitting their Sea King and Sea Harriers’ operational availability. However with cannibalization, the Naval Air Wing managed to overcome the crisis and came out stronger, especially in difficult gear box technology for the Seakings.

Foreign Participation and Funfare

The event attracted senior naval delegations from thirty countries, 25 foreign men of war from 19 of them and there were 17 Chiefs of Naval Staff/CNOs on hand, which included a five star Admiral of the Fleet Kuroyedov from Russia, Admiral Sir Nigel Essenhigh from UK and Vice Admiral John Shackleton from Australia, who is himself hosting a Review in October. He paid a tribute to his Indian counterpart by announcing at the press conference that he was seeking assistance from the IN experience, which he said had done an outstanding job. Possibly never has any country in the East except perhaps Singapore (hosting of air shows), attracted the assembly of so many 'white brass' and bristling men of war.

The visitors attended the six diverse and immaculately organised functions. These included the Review itself by the President on 17th Feb, the Maritime Seminar (IDC will report it separately in detail as it was path breaking), the Band Concerts, the first ever International Beating of the Retreat Ceremony by massed bands at the Gateway of India, which was a truly impressive and touching ceremony, (conducted by Cdr Anchees of the IN), the colourful International City Parade, from Nariman Point on Marine Drive to Chowpatty beach, in which Army units and IAF show teams of the Surya Kirans and SU-30 participated and the final open collar Admirals’ Dinner at the manicured lawns of the Navy House on the Sea Front alongside the Yacht Club.

Maritime Exhibition

A Maritime Exhibition was organized concurrently by the Indian Maritime Foundation (IMF) in the Atomic Energy Centre at Apollo Bunder and attracted some 20,000 visitors. Mumbai harbour was a spectacle and never before in history wore such a festive look. 

The Army and Air Force Chiefs Gen S Padmanabhan and Air Chief Marshal AY Tipnis attended all functions on 17th and 18th Feb. There was a melee of flag cars with so many pilot trains of VIPs moving about in South Mumbai and yet to the amazement of Mumbaikars, the vehicular traffic was not overly disrupted and remained sane. The comment was that 'NEW DELHI COULD LEARN A LESSON OR TWO'. All rehearsals were completed before 8 am, and the foreign navies co-operated without hesitation.  

Indian Naval Participation

The host Navy known as India's Cinderella Service, fielded 75 ships and 54 aircraft, out of its repertoire of around 102 each. The star attractions were:

  • Aircraft Carrier INS Viraat recently refitted with the vertical launch BARAK SAM missiles, new RAWL and RAWS J radars and Italian EW cum communication suites

  • Delhi class destroyers – Delhi, Mysore and Mumbai. These three new gas turbine propelled home made 6700 ton guided missile warships showed off 16 URAN missiles and the Shitil SAMs and were anchored just ahead of

  • The three Rajput class Kashins –– Ranvijay, Ranvir and Rajput . Though these 4905 tons powerful units are top of the line, yet they looked dwarfed. The surprise mixed with admiration was writ large on the faces of the visiting foreign sailors when they learnt that the former were built in India.

  • Godavari Class Leanders, which included the steam driven INS Brahmaputra with URANs sans the SAM system, as Indian DRDO's Trishul has not yet been cleared. The Baraks are being fitted in lieu.

  • INS Magar the big GRSE built amphibious LST enlisted interest and all these large ships are capable of operating the Seakings MK-42 A/B/C, Kamov-28 and the Allouettes. 

  • Three 1800 HDW Class submarines of the Shishumar class and the Kilos which are bigger and have tear drop hulls amazed those who had not seen such an assembly of submarines before.

  • The Fleet of missile boats, minesweepers and the two tankers INS Jyoti from Russia and INS Aditya were all decked up and dressed overall.

  • INS Sukanya the Tacoma designed platform converted into the President Yacht proceeded through the lines of ships at 14 knots following the President's Standard. 

  • A unique feature of the two-hour long review was the picturesque mobile column review, when 10 missile boats doing 18 knots crossed the President's Yacht at close quarters. The relative speed was 32 knots and created wakes with mild rolls and pitches. The Prime Minister Atal Behari  Vajpayee and Defence Minister George Fernandes could be seen applauding and the President kept acknowledging the salutes quite steadily.

The IN's traditional salute of ‘Rashtrapati Ki Jai’ three times rent the air in the roll and pitch. The Governor of Maharashtra Shri P V Alexander who in fact commissioned INS Viraat at Portsmouth as High Commissioner in UK, was next to the Presidential dais along with the Home Minister L K Advani and seven other Cabinet Ministers. The 17 CNOs, former Indian Naval Chiefs and other dignitaries including Mr Mukesh Ambani were on the President's Yacht. Ladies were seen enjoying the day and sported Naval caps with ‘Bridges of Friendship’ embossed across. Fashion was in full view and the charming Mrs Madhavenra Singh the hostess, who hails from a Royal Nepali family, tucked her saree pallu around the head and then put on the cap to shade from the sun. Most ladies followed suit including Mrs Sushma Swaraj on the top deck. It was comforting and stylish.

Foreign Ships

Among the visiting big ships the attractions for sheer show of naval systems and power of weapons  were the French Amethyst class nuclear submarine Perle (1983); nuclear Tomahawk cruise missile capable USS Cowpens of the Ticonderoga class with Aegis system, where the whole hull is a radar receiver and transmitter; the two Russian Udaloy class Admiral Vinogradov and Pantaleev with long range missiles; and HMS Cumberland, a Type 22 fitted with Harpoons and laser systems. Amongst the smaller men of war, was the latest and most powerful small ship from Malaysia the Jebat, with the thirty-year old frigate Alvand from Iran. Interestingly a visit to Alwand showed how well maintained the ship was and the Iranian Navy, which failed to bring the Kilo Class submarine Nooh, need not be under estimated as it is a rising naval force in the Persian Gulf.

With this backdrop, the significance of this extraordinary event was registered all round. There is no doubt that India's economy is more robust than ever before with unemployment figures especially in software related and technical industries at an all time low in most metropolises. Women employment ratios are also up and so is the employment of Indians in USA and the Gulf. The Defence budget has zoomed with major deals totalling US$ 5 billion.

The International Fleet Review was undoubtedly a booster to India's image and diplomacy and for that the cost was minimal. The CNS and FOC-in-C West deserve a BRAVO ZULU (the naval term for ‘well done’) and the officers and men that took part and supported the show need to be allowed to "SPLICE THE MAIN BRACE", another naval term meaning a celebration that allowed an extra tot of rum in days of yore, for a job well done.

Indo-Russian Naval Co-operation

The Russian and Indian Navies should strengthen co-operation at all levels, including in fighting modern maritime menaces like piracy on the seas, Admiral Vladimir I Kuroyedov, Chief of Staff of the Russian Navy, said on Monday 19 Feb 2001. In a rare appearance before the press on board the Admiral Vinogradov, one of the Russian ships participating in the International Fleet Review 2001, the Russian Admiral questioned the presence of foreign submarines and fleets in the Indian Ocean. "There are so many foreign submarines in the Indian Ocean. I don't know what they are defending," he remarked.

The Admiral, who survived the storm caused by the Kursk disaster last year, refused to discuss the Indian Navy's proposal to lease a nuclear submarine from Russia or buy the aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov. But he said the two navies were looking ahead to strengthen the ties that have existed for 50 years. He pointed out that modern navies face several threats, primary among them being gun-running and sea piracy. "We have already put an end to such activities in the Malacca and Singapore Straits. To do this we must use co-operative efforts. Only when navies undertake co-operative, anti-piracy, anti-criminal operations can they be successful. I have told our Indian friends this," he said.

Admiral Kuroyedov said his talks in Mumbai with Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sushil Kumar, focussed on several aspects, including training exchanges for their sailors. "Indian naval officers and sailors have been training with us for almost 40 years," he pointed out. The two chiefs discussed the possibility of future joint exercises and exchanges of ship visits. As a follow-up, a Russian team called on senior Indian Navy officers on Monday to decide on the combined exercises on Tuesday as they sailed out.

Asked about safety measures taken in the wake of the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk, Admiral Kuroyedov said it was not the appropriate moment to talk about all that. "It is my private grief," he said as he shied away from the subject.

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