Admiral Sunil Lanba, PVSM, AVSM, ADC, Chief of the Naval Staff, Indian Navy
Defstrat. While discussions during the recent Doklam Standoff focused on Army and Air capabilities, there was a satisfying realisation of our navy having grown to be an effective force, which could ensure the security of our maritime borders. Could you elaborate on this steady though silent growth of our Navy’s strengths and effectiveness to meet national security requirements.
CNS: The Indian Navy, indeed, had a very humble beginning with a little over 30 vessels at the time of independence. Today, with 139 ships and submarines, and 224 aircraft we can proudly count ourselves amongst some of the largest maritime forces in the world. More than just numbers, our worthy predecessors laid due emphasis on capabilities required for modern naval warfare. It is to their credit, that today the Indian Navy is a multi-dimensional force capable of operating across the full spectrum of maritime operations – not just surface, sub-surface and air, but also cyber and Space. In this long journey of force development, self-reliance has always been the most important guiding principle. That has singularly facilitated the transformation from being a ‘Buyer’s Navy’ to a ‘Builder’s Navy’. Equally important are the men and women working silently behind the Navy’s formidable platforms. It is the whole ecosystem of training, maintenance and logistics support that counts in every operation at sea, far away from the public eye. The Navy has strived to continuously improve in all these aspects and maintain a highly combat worthy force. We remain conscious of the expectations of the nation from its maritime military force and would continue to strive for excellence to discharge our responsibilities proactively in the overall national security construct.
Defstrat. Primacy for the Coast Guard and the Navy in brown and blue waters respectively is often stated as being an impediment to a single-point responsibility and against the grain of having a comprehensive security infrastructure for coastal security. The seas being seamless, as they are, would a single integrated approach be operationally more effective? What in your view, could be the best approach?
CNS: You would be aware that the Indian Navy has been assigned the responsibility for overall maritime security, including coastal and offshore security. However, several maritime security and law enforcement agencies have capabilities and domain expertise in various subsets of maritime security. Therefore, our focus has been on synergising the overall effort. Towards streamlining inter-agency coordination, Joint Operations Centres (JOCs) have been set-up. These have been networked by a National Command Control Communication and Intelligence (NC3I) Network. We also have State-wise Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in place for both the Navy and Coast Guard.
That said, the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard do have certain distinct roles and responsibilities. Considering the quantum of challenges and present force levels, a degree of overlap in certain functional areas, is perhaps inevitable. The Indian Coast Guard is actively pursuing a well-planned capability accretion programme. A larger contribution by the Coast Guard in the coastal and offshore security operations would naturally allow the Indian Navy to focus more on its primary wartime role.
Notwithstanding the existing mechanisms, the Indian Navy has recommended, and is in favour of setting-up of a standing, single-point, apex-level, coordinating agency at the Centre, for dealing with day-to-day matters relating to maritime, offshore and coastal security.
Defstrat. Submarines being a platform for production under the Strategic Partnership as per DPP – 2016, does the Navy visualize a possibility for being self-reliant in submarine production? Does the Navy consider a ‘hands on’ user involvement association at all stages of the development and production process to be a desirable tenet?
CNS: You would remember that two Shishumar class submarines were built at MDL, Mumbai in the early nineties in collaboration with M/s HDW, Germany. The same shipyard is now constructing the Kalvari class submarines with a French collaborator. With each project, the indigenous content and domestic expertise has only increased. Achieving complete self-reliance in submarine design and construction is indeed a gradual process. Therefore, the upcoming project under the ‘Strategic Partnership (SP)’ model that you are referring to entails construction of six more submarines by an Indian shipyard. This project would allow the Indian industry to absorb the latest technology in this field in a faster manner. The user involvement at all stages viz design, construction, outfitting and trials is extremely essential for ensuring that the Navy’s requirements are adequately incorporated in the vessels and the technological edge is maintained.
Defstrat. The Lt Gen Shekatkar Committee in its report to the government has reportedly recommended an ‘in tandem’ approval of manpower accretions with the induction of each new platform. Does the Navy see such a proposal as a ‘positive’ in ensuring its operational efficacy?
CNS: This is a very positive proposal for two reasons. Firstly, the Govt gets a better estimate of financial implications of inducting and operating a new platform. Secondly, the long lead time being faced presently from induction to the time that personnel become deployable for the sanctioned posts would be appropriately addressed. The entire chain of induction, training and positioning of a crew for a new platform can become more efficient and economical. Let me also tell you that the Indian Navy has been projecting the manpower requirements along with the platform requirements for quite some time now.
Defstrat. When we had the opportunity to speak with you last year, there was a mention of the Navy’s suggestion for in-service experience and training imparted to its sailors being duly recognised with appropriate certification, which would enable them to match and meet employability stipulations for re-employment. Has the proposal seen any traction ever since? What other initiatives and measures is the Navy taking to enhance re-employment prospects for its retiring sailors?
CNS: Yes, we have been able to facilitate such a provision for our retiring personnel. The skills acquired by naval personnel through their in-service courses and career are now getting due recognition in the form of certificates awarded by various Section Skill Councils of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), under the concept of ‘Recognition of Prior Learning’ (RPL). In the current year alone, about 70% of retiring sailors would be able to avail this benefit. The Jamia MilliaIslamia (JMI) University has also facilitated recognition of in-service training of sailors for award of graduation degrees. The Navy also facilitates several other professional courses for retiring personnel to ensure their smooth transition to the life post retirement. This year alone, 118 officers and 161 sailors have availed resettlement courses in premier institutes. We are also interacting regularly with DG Shipping and several other stakeholders in the shipping industry to resolve issues such as certifications required for employment in the Merchant Navy. The Navy also operates the Indian Naval Placement Agency (INPA) to assist retiring/ retired naval personnel, Veer Naris and their dependents in finding suitable placement. INPA is also using various social media platforms to reach out to more employers. You will appreciate that a naval professional accumulates a lot of experience and qualifications by the time he or she retires. Our intention is to do our best to help him settle in the new career as early as possible after retirement.
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 largely non-combatant and this civilian workforce is not placed in combat units. Recruitment Rules are reviewed at regular intervals, wherein various requirements pertaining to qualification, promotion aspects, cadre structure, etc, are considered. The last review of the Recruitment Rules pertaining to various Cadres of industrial establishments was undertaken in 2012. We are also considering rationalisation of certain Cadres, which would require a comprehensive study by a professionally competent body. Accordingly, we have proposed a consultancy through Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad, for examining the efficacy of existing Cadres in the Navy, and formulating a way ahead for rationalisation of these Cadres. I am confident that the capabilities and skills of our civilian manpower would match the requirements of a modern Navy.