An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 04 May 2006

This year’s Naval Commander's Conference comes at a time when the Indian Navy is seeing a low. Many things have gone wrong. INS Trishul collided with a merchant ship a few months ago off Mumbai and a naval ship's weapon system gets a terrible jolt in alignments, by a hit taken in the midhsips and the Krivack was the Navy's pride.

Then came the much publicised War Room Leak episode followed by the expose of the Scorpene deal, and a former CNS went to the Supreme Court with a PIL to torpedo the deal. Some higher ranking Admirals wrangled with each other. Some officers, even a Vice Admiral suffered due to the war room leak case, which the CBI now claims is deeper with honey pots thrown in. A petty issue is being blown up out of proportion and we are intrigued and fail to see the Navy connection in the Scorpene deal, as arms dealers get involved. The CBI has never taken less than a few years to solve any case, so this one too will be a long drawn out drama with warrants, witnesses and travel by CBI officials all over the world no doubt and will hound many in the Navy. The HDW deal saw so many hounded in the Navy, though the people who took the commission were never tracked down. It was like the Tehelkha expose, where armed forces officers were dismissed and the bureaucrats and politicians went Scot free!

As if all this was not enough for the Navy's woes, came news of the sinking of missile corvette INS Prahar off Goa on the night of 24 May, luckily with no loss of life and there were no liquid fuelled P 20 missiles loaded in the tubes which apparently got knotted into MV Rajiv Gandhi. It has taken the Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee at the Commanders Conference to ask the Navy to look inwards and the press release is posted below.

We are constrained to say that it is mainly poor HRD which is to blame –– the Indian Navy is still one of the finest services in the world but HRD has been neglected since the late 80s, and if not looked into could sink its massive plans. A service runs on morale.

First the Supply branch was disbanded –– to improve some senior officers’ promotion prospects  and the poor substitutes who fill in fail to read and follow the rules given in Regs Navy, Navy Act and the plethora of Navy Instructions and Orders. Senior Chief Petty Officers of the writer branch did that for a while but they too have lost the art, as the good ones leave early for more lucrative civil jobs. This needs correction perhaps by an in depth study and we have ideas if approached.

The JAG branch has also become a tool in the hands of the senior officers and even Art 310 of the Constitution is being used without adequate thought or study about what it is actually meant for. Therefore the Court is now seized with two cases against the Navy in the War Room leak case and CNS has said a Tribunal will be established. A common code of rules for the three services collects dust in South Block. This is a sad commentary as even the rules for conduct of Boards of Enquiry are disparate in the three services. In fact with no threat of war many say the Armed Forces can run in auto and so the Leadership has to attend to HRD and good housekeeping and go on tours. Pilots too are fleeing the IAF and will do so in the Navy too as opportunities are vast outside. If technical officers leave the Navy in numbers a big void will have to be filled with replacements and it can be done with HRD plans.

Historically the Navy flouted rules from the late 80s when a CNS decided to make a template for the future of all senior officers of the Navy and Vice Admiral Sukmal 'Tony' Jain was asked to wait to become CNS and many say he agreed. Admiral JG Nadkarni VCNS was given an extension by Rajiv Gandhi as recommended by CNS Tahiliani just before retirement to enable him to become CNS. That opened up the chances for also ran term mate Admiral L Ramdas and the Navy saw the anointing of Ramdas as CNS after a bitter fight, and later the Vishnu Bhagwat episode of a 400 page writ in court against many other contenders.

The Navy was then too at a low but appeared to bounce back. Admiral Jain of the First Course of NDA/JSW had to retire, and the episode left its legacy when Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat was sacked in December 1998, again by use of the draconian Art 310. The Navy should have learnt to play by the rules and attended to HRD and house keeping but it seems it failed as it was riding a high. Recently the High Court promoted a Commodore to Rear Admiral as rules for promotion were blatantly violated. In India the court protects rules and now the case is in the Supreme Court.

The Navy has not learnt from the IAF's Air Marshal Masand case, when Chief ACM S Kishnaswamy arbitrarily adopted a 20% up or down grading of points in confidential reports. Even a novice HRD man would have said it was unfair and untenable but senior IAF officers knowing the power of a Chief did not raise a voice and surprisingly MOD acquiesced –– ultimately the IAF had to back down.

In any case a service (system) is always stronger than the people in it who are not worthy and a few bad eggs will always exist. The Navy today has a fine band of senior officers with rich experience, who if they can "pull together" (a naval term derived from boat pulling), the storm can be easily weathered. HRD means Human Resource Development not just vying for promotion and perks of office. The Navy must be helped to overcome this little low.


The Defence Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee expressed grave concern at the number of accidents taking place at sea and in the air during the past few months, some of them involving loss of life. Inaugurating the three-day Conference of Naval Commanders here today, he urged the top brass to deliberate on a strategy to ensure that such incidents are prevented and there is a sense of accountability and responsibility fixed at higher levels to contain these incidents. “I am deeply concerned at the sinking of INS Prahar in Arabian Sea near Goa. Appropriate measures should be undertaken forthwith to ensure that the stipulated Standard Operating Procedures are followed by the personnel involved in the operations of ships. Deviations shall be treated seriously and appropriate punishment should be awarded to the erring personnel”, Shri Mukherjee said. The minister also noted with concern the incident of leakage of classified information that took place in the Naval War Room. “The leaked out information has the potential to put the national security at peril. Serious efforts should be undertaken so that such incidents are not repeated in future. A zero defect system has to be devised to ensure secrecy and security of sensitive defence information. Related to this is the need for counter espionage measures and sensitization campaign among the lower formations. The Naval Commanders need to sensitise the personnel under their command to plug all possible loopholes in this regard”, he said.

Mr Mukherjee also brought out that over the years his Ministry has been emphasizing transparency, the need for enhancing probity and integrity in defence acquisitions. Touching upon the emerging global security scenario, he stated that the world expects India to play a major role in the region, given the economic growth the country has made in the last one and a half decades. “The transfer of a patrol vessel to Seychelles last year and the recent handing over of similar crafts to Maldives and Sri Lanka are steps in the positive direction in inter-weaving of mutual security requirements”, he said. The Minister appreciated Navy’s initiative in conduct of bilateral exercises with friendly navies and the multi-lateral exercises like 'Milan' and labelled them as important moves to enhance inter-operability and build mutual confidence in our region.

He lauded the commendable work being done by the Navy’s hydrographers, whose skill and professional acumen have placed them in great demand from the countries of Indian Ocean Region. “The excellent work done by them in Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives in the recent past have earned the country much goodwill and also strengthened diplomatic relations”, he said.

Earlier addressing the conference, the Naval Chief Admiral Arun Prakash emphasized a ‘shift in focus from autonomous, open sea operations like sea control or blockade to a direct linkage with land battle/littoral operations’. The concept, termed as the 'Operational Manoeuvre from the Sea', can favourably influence the progress of land-air battle. Besides, two other doctrinal themes that dominated his address were the concept of ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’, that focuses on being fully aware of all entities that are operating within our area of maritime interest and ‘Network Centric Operations’, which would enable sharing of this information within the force, in real time. The three concepts, when applied in unison, would empower the naval forces to achieve spatial and temporal dominance over the adversary in any conflict, whether between nation states or otherwise. Referring to last the Commander’s conference when he had talked about augmenting Navy’s heavy sealift capability, the Admiral stated that amphibious ship Trenton would be inducted into the Navy by this time next year.

Charting a course for the Navy of the future, revaluation of threats and focus on certain vital warfare areas are some of the other important issues that would be deliberated upon over the next three days. The Chief of the Air Staff and the Chief of the Army Staff would also address and interact with the Naval Commanders on 03 and 04 May respectively.

The conference is the highest decision making body of the Navy that deliberates upon major operational issues with regard to the defence of maritime interests, operational planning, coastal security, defence of national assets at sea, naval strategy and review of weapons and platforms towards achievement operational plans.

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