The Indian Navy has been in choppy waters in the recent past. A string of 14 mishaps in the past 10 months, including the sinking of the INS Sindhurakshak, killing 18 personnel onboard, and the fire and resultant smoke in the INS Sindhuratna that killed two and injured seven, has led to a resignation, a promotion and a voluntary retirement.
Owning up moral responsibility for the accidents, Admiral DK Joshi resigned on February 26. The Vice Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Robin Dhowan, was named the new navy chief. He superseded Western Naval Commander Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, who, upset over the defence ministry’s move, opted for voluntary retirement.
Admiral Dhowan, after taking charge as navy chief, has said that his priority will be to see that there are no more mishaps. This is an uphill task, given the challenges the navy is facing. Some of which are: An ageing fleet of warships, some nearing obsoleteness, like the INS Viraat; a depleting submarine fleet and the delay in adding new ones; a force that is stretched threadbare — from the coastal security of the nation to anti-piracy patrols, the force is overworked, and insufficient manpower training — the personnel are not kept up to date with the latest equipment. The man-machine integration is not at its optimal level. That said, there are positives to look forward to.
The induction of the INS Vikramaditya makes India the only country in Asia to have two aircraft carriers in its fleet.
Over the months the image of the navy has taken a beating and it will have to be built from here.
The professionalism and high work ethic of the navy, and the armed forces in general, will help it in overcoming this phase. However, as pointed out by Admiral Sinha in his farewell address, it is important to find out ‘what went wrong’ rather than ‘who went wrong’ and there was a need to introspect the HR policies and training processes to select and train the right people.
The Indian Navy has to overcome these glitches, look ahead and keep its personnel and equipment fighting fit. Then only will it be considered a true blue-water navy.