Admiral Sunil Lanba, PVSM, AVSM, ADC, Chief of the Naval Staff, Indian Navy
On the occasion of 45th anniversary of the Navy Day on 04 Dec 2016, we were privileged to get an interview with Admiral Lanba. In a freewheeling QA session with South Asia Defence & Strategic Review (Defstrat), the CNS was forthcoming with answers to our queries in a frank and forthright manner. The questions were wide ranging, covering a large canvas, as would befit the occasion. Excerpts from the interview:
Defstrat. Maritime relations with our wider neighbourhood has come to be a cardinal plank of our national policy. The ‘Look East’ policy has now transformed into the ‘Act East’ policy. The Navy, with its reach and strength is integral to the success of this strategy. How does the Indian Navy view its role in making the execution and success of this strategy?
CNS. India’s ‘Look East and now ‘Act East’ policies are now an essential part of India’s foreign policy engagement matrix. The key to ensuring long-term security and stable equilibrium in Asia lies in the collective ability of Asian countries to build mutual economic stakes with each other.
The Indian Navy being one of the ‘Key Instruments’ of India’s ‘Act East’ policy, is integral to the success of this strategy. Towards this, the Indian Navy has taken the lead in many significant Foreign Cooperation (FC) initiatives which are based on the four pillars of capacity building, capability enhancement, constructive engagements and collaborative efforts.
The long term strategy of the Indian Navy’s Foreign Cooperation initiatives is ‘To shape a favourable and positive maritime environment, for enhancing net security in India’s areas of maritime interest’. The strategy also enunciates principles and actions for ensuring net maritime security, which shapes the Indian Navy’s FC endeavours. As a result of the FC endeavours in consonance policy at maritime engagement, the Indian Navy is emerging as a ‘Net Maritime Security Provider’ and ‘the first port of call’ for maritime security needs of friendly nations in the Indian Ocean Region.
DEFSTRAT. India’s 12 major and around 200 other ports have a very cardinal role to play in trade and economic development. The perception in the strategic community is that India is planning for a ‘Two Hundred Ship’ Navy over the next decade. There are also apprehensions of critical operational voids in terms of numbers of platforms/ capability in respect of Aircraft Carriers, Submarines, Helicopters, Mine Counter Measure capability and amphibious capability/ Landing Platform Docks. How is the navy proposing to address these shortcomings to ensure a robust defence of the nation?
CNS. Modernisation of the Navy is dictated primarily by the capabilities to be achieved, threat perceptions, prevailing external security environment, emerging technologies and availability of resources. The ongoing modernisation aims to create capabilities for accomplishing a range of missions across the entire spectrum of threats and challenges. Accordingly, the Indian Navy has adopted a ‘Threat-cum-Capability Dominant and Mission’ based approach to meet its future capability requirements. Indian Navy has kept pace with the developing security situation in the region and the present force levels are being augmented and modernised as per the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan for undertaking the full spectrum of roles and tasks defined for the Indian Navy.
Whilst the Navy’s modernisation programme is continuing apace, there are some areas in which owing to unforeseen developments replacement/ induction has been delayed. However, the Government is seized of the issues and steps are being taken to ensure that capability shortfalls are overcome at the earliest.
Notwithstanding, the Indian Navy remains a well-balanced, multi-dimensional force with modern surface, sub-surface and air assets, for protecting and safeguarding our national interests in our maritime areas of interest. The current force levels will also gradually increase to ensure that adequate assets, both in terms of capacity and capability, are available for the maritime security of the nation.
Defstrat. As Platforms increase, so does the requirement for adequate and trained manpower. The Indian Navy has seen very little accretion in its overall Human Resource base. Is this concerning? How is the situation being addressed?
CNS. Our manpower induction plan is progressing in tandem with our force level accretion and infrastructure development plans to attract the best talent available in the country, a strong thrust has been given to the enhancement of awareness amongst the youth, with regard to the Indian Navy as a career option. Extensive publicity campaigns are being undertaken to attract the right kind of youth to join the Navy. You would have seen the campaign titled ‘Ocean of Opportunities’, which has been very well received by the youth. The naval recruit today comes from India’s aspiring classes and looks to the Indian Navy for a way of life unrivalled in professional and personal growth.
The Navy is getting adequate response to its recruitment drives from the youth of the country. Entries are fully subscribed and call letters are issued to only those deserving candidates who are above the cut-off merit. After the selection process, a final merit list is drawn up and candidates as per available vacancies are inducted. Therefore, the Navy is able to select the best amongst the eligible volunteers.
As you would be aware our basic training for officers in carried out at the Indian Naval Academy and for the sailors at INS Chilka. The training capacities at both these institutions have been steadily increased to cater to our growing intake.
Defstrat. It is a matter of common concern amongst retiring naval personnel that the Ministry of Shipping does not offer any credits in the selection process to them for trades such as Cargo Handling, Ship Management and Merchant Ship Stability and that they are required to undergo qualification tests just as any other candidates. Are these issues being resolved so that the rich sea faring experience of our Naval Officers and personnel is given due weightage in these and other trades?
CNS. The Indian Navy today operates state-of-the-art ships of varied tonnage in international waters, across the globe. Needless to say, naval personnel who operate these warships are fully equipped with the requisite skill sets and experience levels to operate ships of any class or tonnage anywhere in the world.
While the Seafarers Training, Certification and Watch keeping Code (STCW) Rules to be complied with by all signatory countries do not prohibit recognition of naval service, the STCW Rules also specify the details regarding qualification and experience, which is mandatory in assessing the capability of the seafarer at each level for award of certification for the appropriate level. The Navy’s request is, therefore, to recognise naval training and experience obtained whilst in service and then arrive at way ahead by way of minimum essential courses and sea time requirements that need to be undertaken by naval personnel for being certified appropriately.
The Indian Navy has been in continuous dialogue with the Ministry of Shipping and Director General Shipping to facilitate smooth transition of naval personnel into merchant fleet, post retirement. We are pursuing setting-up of a JWG comprising members from the Ministry of Shipping, DG Shipping and the Indian Navy to address and are hopeful that the same would be set-up at an early date.
Meanwhile, Merchant Shipping Act 1958 is currently under revision and the Draft Merchant Shipping Bill 2016 has been circulated by the Ministry of Shipping for comments. The Indian Navy has forwarded specific proposals regarding absorption of retired naval personnel in merchant navy, to be incorporated in the Bill to provide for a legislative framework to enable smooth lateral induction. The proposal is presently pending with the Ministry of Shipping.
Defstrat. The signing of the LEMOA with the US entails a reciprocal arrangement for providing logistics support to each other’s’ forces in transit. Are there plans to upgrade logistic arrangements at various naval dockyards to meet contingencies if and when LEMOA is invoked?
CNS. As you would be aware India and the United States signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in August this year. LEMOA is a facilitating agreement that establishes basic terms, conditions, and procedures for reciprocal provision of Logistic Support, Supplies, and Services between the armed forces of India and the United States. The agreement will significantly enhance the operational capacity of the Indian armed forces, including in their response to humanitarian crises or disaster relief.
The agreement intends to cover primarily four areas for reciprocal logistics support i.e. port visits, joint exercises, joint training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. The modalities for executing the agreement, is being formulated by the Government of India.
Defstrat. The Naval Dockyard Workforce is overwhelmingly non-combatant with a large ratio being placed in Combat Units and in Support Units. Also, the recruitment of non-combatants is carried out locally at the Dockyard level or at the level of Commands. At a time when naval platforms, systems and armaments are getting increasingly sophisticated in technology, is there need to review the core composition of the support workforce and their recruitment and qualifications so as to match future requirements?
CNS. The Naval Dockyards’ workforce is overwhelmingly non-combatant and I would like to clarify that contrary to what you have stated non-combatants are not placed in combat units.
Considering the rapid development of high-end technology onboard naval platforms, civilian manpower requirements are being re-assessed at Naval Headquarters. The Human Capital Strategy for Civilian Personnel, promulgated in 2014, lays down a roadmap for management and development of Naval Civilian Human Capital in the forthcoming two decades. Towards this the Implementation Road Map envisages rationalisation of cadres. Accordingly, a case has been taken up with Ministry of Defence (MoD) for a consultancy through Administration Staff College of India, Hyderabad, for examining the efficacy of existing cadres in the Navy and look at the way ahead in terms of rationalisation of these cadres, keeping the role of the Navy and skill sets required for personnel in the coming decades.
Defstrat. Do you consider the time has come for setting up of a National Maritime Authority, to be headed by a Maritime Security Advisor who could coordinate and synergise all aspects of Maritime Security?
CNS. The Indian Navy has forwarded an Approach Paper for creation of National Maritime Authority (NMA) to MoD in January 2015. The Indian Navy has proposed that the NMA be headed by a Maritime Security Advisor, in order to coordinate and synergise various aspects of Maritime Security with all stake holders. The approach paper is presently under consideration at MoD.
The requirement of a single point organisation for a dedicated Maritime and Coastal Security organisation was brought to the fore by the
26/11 terrorist attacks at Mumbai. The Indian Navy was then made responsible for the overall maritime security, including coastal security by the Government. As you are aware, coastal security issues need to be jointly addressed by a number of Central Ministries, Departments, agencies and State Governments. Challenges of coordination, single point responsibility and accountability, therefore needed to be addressed and the need for a central authority for coordination at the apex level was felt. The coordination between the numerous Central and State agencies is a full time activity and can only be carried out effectively by a permanent body with an exclusive focus on coastal security. In order to address the concerns of coastal security and to coordinate multifarious requirements of coastal security, Indian Navy proposed creation of a National Maritime Authority to be headed by a Maritime Security Advisor.