Sindhuratna mishap: Seven reasons why the Indian Navy is in troubled waters

By Kapil Chandni

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times for the Indian Navy.

Flush with recently inducted sophisticated warfighting platforms over the past two years, it has now come face to face with an alarming level of operational incidents during routine missions. The death of two officers on board the Sindhuratna is the latest in a series of tragic incidents involving Naval vessels.

 Sindhuratna mishap: Seven reasons why the Indian Navy is in troubled waters

INS Sindhuratna after the submarine returned to Mumbai on Thursday. PTI

Besides the INS Sindhuratna and before her the INS Sindhurakshak, other Naval vessels that have been in accidents in recent times include the tank-landing ship INS Airavat, guided missile frigate INS Betwa, kilo-class submarine INS Sindhughosh,  INS Talwar, INS Konkan, among others.

The mishaps, and their frequency, are actually symptomatic of a deeper malaise in the Indian Navy. Here are seven factors to address urgently:

1. Our Submarines Are Aging: The Submarine arm of any Navy is its elite component. It takes supreme physical and mental conditioning to live on board a metal tube underwater for days on end. The Indian Navy has a professional submarine cadre that is well regarded around the world. However, even the best warriors need good weapons to use. The government,various ministries and even the Navy itself have not been pushing for the acquisition of new submarines. This has led to the existing submarines being pushed to their limits. Someone has to go beyond being a safe file pusher to being the aggressive decision maker.

Procurements are also besieged with delays -- the procurement cycle needs to be monitored with timely cutoffs, penalties for stalling. Delays not only push up costs, vendors also charge us more for keeping manufacturing lines open till we take a decision.

2. Inadequate Sea Time: 'Sea time' is the period when an officer/sailor is assigned to a warship or a submarine. All officers have to do sea time to acquire warfighting skills and to move up in their careers. They serve on different classes of ships at various ranks at different stages of their career. They go for specialist courses and come back to a ship to use those skills.

However, there appears to be a trend of sea time tenures being reduced.Today, an average officer would spend less time at sea than he would do a few years ago. Newer ships with automation means crew sizes are now smaller. However, the complexity of managing a ship has increased and all crews are stretched. Perhaps there is a case for longer tenures on board a ship to ensure better familiarity with ships and better bonding among crews.

3. Training: Lacunae in training will have to be addressed. The training syllabus has to be re-assessed and overhauled if needed. Further, the training and evaluation of cadres must be  augmented so that they can match the enhanced requirements of the Navy.

4. Honesty: It is tempting for commanding officers to run unnecessary risks while doing even basic manoeuvres. Such an attitude needs to be stopped as it can cause damage to ships. The culture of not owning up to mistakes should be discouraged. More openness and transparency will do the navy a world of good.

5: Enough of VIP culture: This cannot be understated -- functions and frivolous events end up being full of political VIPs and those from the bureaucracy. Organisers of such naval events are so busy ensuring a perfect unit that all other regular activity comes to a grinding halt for those two-three days. Officers' Annual Reports too are often focused on how well they organise events, arrange sponsorships and get publicity.

6. Increase sailing deployments: A navy is supposed to be at sea instead of frequently being in home port. Now that we have the ships suitable for regular deployments,we should do so often for longer durations. This increases the crew's confidence about their ship and the ability to handle emergencies.

7: Assess workloads: The Navy is the smallest of all the services and has been rightly called the Cinderella Service. But its manpower requirements far exceed what it has available. Add to it the fact that the Navy seeks sailors who are matriculates in science and its recruiting pool becomes so much smaller. New posts need to be sanctioned, or workloads reduced.

The Indian Navy is a superb navy and does an impressive job of operating some of the most cutting edge systems and equipment.   Its roles range from  preserving democracy in the IOR, to supporting UN Peacekeeping missions, sanitising pirate-controlled seas, sailing around the world and yet being alert and on station as  India’s first line of defence.

The recent incidents have been depressing and tragic,but the Navy will emerge stronger from them. Maybe it will be like the IAF's Mig-21 problem: Incidents+ adverse publicity leading the force to pull together and fix the problem through various innovative and yet common-sensical approaches. Our duty as citizens should compel us to question our elected representatives about why they ignore India's soldiers, sailors and airmen.

(Kapil Chandni is the Naval Editor at enthusiast website Bharat-Rakshak.com. The views expressed here are his own.)

Updated Date: Feb 28, 2014 11:04:12 IST