Naval Commanders' Conference 2014

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said long delayed modernisation projects would be “fast-tracked” to ensure the Navy’s “operational preparedness”

Issue: 3 / 2014By Rear Admiral (Retd) Sushil RamsayPhoto(s): By Indian Navy

Post the major reshuffle in the top echelon of the Indian Navy (IN) in the recent past, the first of the two Commanders’ Conference of the year 2014, as is customary was flagged off by the newly appointed Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley on June 24, 2014. The biannual conferences are held to discuss issues of operational relevance, identify capability gaps and to review the future plans of the Indian Navy.

The Naval Commanders’ Conference provide an ideal platform for centrally discussing matters related to combat readiness of the fleet and other operational formations, building capabilities for the future and addressing human resource challenges amongst others. Hence, the deliberations at these forums are of immense strategic value to the service. Before inaugurating the Conference, the Defence Minister first met Admiral R.K. Dhowan, the Chief of the Naval Staff, and all Commanders-in-Chief who have taken the helm of their respective Commands in the recent past.

In his inaugural address, Arun Jaitley congratulated the men and women of the Indian Navy for discharging their duties with utmost diligence and professionalism. He referred to the prevailing security environment in our neighbourhood and complimented the Navy’s efforts for working in tandem with a large number of central and state agencies. He stated that the deployment of our assets has been highly effective and needs to be continued to secure the country’s economic and maritime interests. Taking note of the capability shortfall of conventional submarines, ship-borne helicopters, mine countermeasure vessels and other weapons and sensors in the Navy, he assured that all efforts would be made to ensure operational preparedness of the Indian Navy.

Taking note of the overseas deployments and bilateral exercises by naval ships with the regional navies in the South China Sea, Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf, he said that these have further strengthened our bilateral relationships, enhanced inter-operability and built, as well as renewed ‘bridges of friendship’.

Appreciating the indigenisation efforts of the Indian Navy, Jaitley made a mention of the fact that all 44 naval ships and submarines under construction are being built in Indian shipyards. He stressed that these efforts need to be further strengthened for timely induction of the platforms. Addressing the challenges pertaining to human resource development in the Navy, which are unique due to high levels of technical skills required to operate nuclear submarines, state-of-the-art ships and deck launched fighter aircraft, Jaitley assured that all efforts will be made to reduce the existing shortfall of manpower.

The Defence Minister said the Indian Navy personnel have always risen to the challenges and have conducted themselves in the best traditions of the service. He said that the establishment is aware of the sacrifices made by the men in uniform and would accord necessary thrust to welfare measures, both for the serving as well as retired community. The Defence Minister complimented the Navy for adopting green initiatives and environment protection measures by reducing the carbon footprint and rationalising use of energy resources.

Jaitley expressed confidence that the Senior Commanders of the Navy will take a close look at all the important issues and take decisions to address the shortcomings and chart out a futuristic, visionary roadmap for the Indian Navy.

The Defence Minister expressed his concerns over the “slow pace” of acquisition of weapon systems and assured that the new government will work towards “expediting” several procurement decisions in the pipeline to meet the requirements of the armed forces.

After attending the Naval Commanders’ Conference, he hinted that demand of the armed forces for more funds in the budget was likely to be accepted as the “entire resource of the country, notwithstanding various pressures, has to make available a significant amount for those in defence of the country.” The key subject matter of concern appears to be the slow pace of acquisition of whatever equipment and assets are required. The Navy has highlighted that....Hope of the forces is that their requirements should be fulfilled and the process should also be expedited. The effort of the government would be to work in that direction,” Jaitley said.

Talking to reporters after a detailed interaction with the top brass of the Navy at the Commanders’ Conference, the Minister said, “There are several decisions in the pipeline and I think there is a good case for these processes to be expedited.” The Navy has several acquisition projects stuck for many years due to slow procurement process, including the Rs. 6,000 crore (about $1 billion) 16 multirole helicopter project and the acquisition of torpedoes for the Scorpene submarines.

Its tender for acquiring six new submarines under Project-75 India, estimated to cost over Rs. 1,00,000 crore, is also stuck as the government has to alter a 1999 decision to build all future submarines only indigenously. The Navy is also waiting for final clearance to acquire 16 mine countermeasure vessels from a South Korean firm which has been stuck after complaints were filed against the fairness of the process under the previous government.

On whether the new Government will do a full review of the defence acquisition process to expedite procurements, Jaitley said, “I would not use the word full review but even under the present procedures also, expediting processes is still possible. Every file need not move up and down indefinite number of times.”

To a query on several procurement cases which were in the final stages but not inked by the UPA Government, like the acquisition of attack choppers for the IAF, the Minister said, “I am not treating this as adversarial between previous and this government. This is an issue of national priority and I would be emphasising on that.”

Asked if the Commanders’ Conference discussed the issue of mishaps involving naval assets, Jaitley said the issue was not discussed in today’s meeting. “The Navy has given detailed information to me on this and they have said that they do internal investigations in these matters and after that, they take whatever action is required to be taken,” he said.

With the Navy’s growing importance in safeguarding the country’s strategic interests from Malacca Strait to the Persian Gulf, as well as projecting combat power overseas, the Narendra Modi Government has promised all help in plugging operational gaps in the maritime force’s capabilities. Moving forward on this dictum, Arun Jaitley said long delayed modernisation projects would be “fast-tracked” to ensure the Navy’s “operational preparedness.”

The regime change at the Centre has augured very well for the Indian Navy. Soon after taking over as the Defence Minister, was on board INS Viraat to have a first-hand feel of the Indian Navy and be briefed on its operational status. A week later, it was a proud moment when the new Prime Minister of the country in a unique manner dedicated to the nation INS Vikramaditya, the largest, the costliest platform which truly symbolises not just the Blue Water capability and the maritime power, but as a formidable force multiplier in real sense.

Admiral R.K. Dhowan, the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), chaired the Conference and addressed the Navy’s top leadership in his first Commanders’ Conference as CNS. He outlined three inter-related priorities i.e. sustaining combat readiness, building capabilities for the future and addressing human resource challenges. During the Conference several important issues including operational readiness, coastal security, maintenance philosophy and quality of refits for ensuring combat effectiveness of platforms, infrastructure development and foreign cooperation initiatives, etc. were deliberated upon.

CNS emphasised that combat readiness of the fleet and other operational formations is of prime importance and focused efforts, as hitherto, were required at all levels to ensure sustained growth of the Navy into a formidable multi-dimensional force. Asserting that induction of Vikramaditya with integral fighter aircraft is a substantial boost to the Navy’s capabilities, he said the Navy’s surface capability is further poised for a quantum jump with the planned induction of Kolkata (P15A Destroyer) and Kamorta (P 28 ASW Corvette) in the near future.

CNS expressed satisfaction at the steady augmentation of assets in the aviation arm of the Navy, with progressive induction of P-8I, LRMR and ASW and AJT aircrafts and the commissioning of ALH squadron. Capability gaps resulting from the ageing submarine fleet, shortage of integral helicopters in the fleets and the need for mine counter measure vessels were also discussed.

The Admiral discussed the self-reliance programme of the Navy and stressed that indigenisation of platforms, weapons, sensors and equipment, through public as well as private sectors, should remain an area of focus. He emphasised that the ‘Roadmap for the Navy’s expansion and growth would continue to remain anchored on self-reliance and indigenisation’.

CNS reviewed the ‘coastal security construct’ and was satisfied with the steady progress made in strengthening the coastal security apparatus, viz. induction of FICs, ISVs and NC3 I project. He asserted the need to remain ever vigilant and focused towards our coastal security responsibilities, through proactive coordination with other maritime agencies and coastal states.

CNS highlighted that our foreign cooperation initiatives and engagements are growing considerably and past efforts have borne fruit in various forms. He appreciated the quick response of the ships and aircraft deployed towards SAR of ill-fated missing Malaysian Airlines jetliner MH 370.

CNS reviewed progress of various infrastructure projects that are in pipeline and shall contribute towards futuristic capacity building. The need to adopt sustainable green technologies, recycling and waste management to reduce carbon footprint of our bases, in pursuance of the energy goals of our country were impressed upon.

Bringing the focus on human resource development and management, CNS stated that our men and women are our greatest assets and their morale and well-being should always remain a primary concern. The need to attract and retain quality manpower by focusing on measures to provide a high quality of life at all stages of their career was highlighted. He also applauded the contribution of civilian personnel, who form a large component of naval human resources. He reiterated his vision to run a taut, effective and happy Navy.

The CNS concluded the conference by complimenting all personnel of the Indian Navy for their professionalism and patriotism, and exhorted them to prepare themselves and the Navy to meet the maritime security challenges being faced by the nation. “We need to pull on the oars together to propel the Navy to greater heights,” he said.