The Indian Navy in a Royal Mess


Indian Navy Submarine Sindhuratna (S59) was berthed alongside Sindhurakshak (S63) on 14 Aug 2013. It very narrowly missed being put out of commission that fiery night. On 26 Feb 2014, it very narrowly missed its appointment with the Davy Jones Locker. While the sub escaped in one piece, there were a few unfortunate victims. Two Officers are dead, a half a dozen sailors injured and the Navy’s Top Boss has abandoned his South Block Office in Delhi.

In my last post I had mentioned that the Navy (including the Army and Air Force) continue to be run in a whimsical manner by two Bollywood Terms “Chalta Hai” and “Ram Bharose”.

In the last six months, the Navy has not changed at all. The safety stand-down in the immediate aftermath of the S63 incident has not produced the desired results. It was not meant to. For if it had, heads would not be rolling.

The Navy is now in “Mayday” status. A weak and dishonest political leadership begets a frail and spineless military leadership. Cover up is the norm. Statements like – Pass your time buddy, I’m here another 3 months, Let the next bugger sort it out is the new standard operating procedure.

The Chiefs have a direct responsibility for the welfare and safety of the men under them. Pray, why are old systems and platforms still in use. Why is the Air Force still flying the MiG-21? What is the Navy doing with a 50 year old carrier that spends more time in port than at sea? What happened to Gen VK Singh’s letter to the PM about shortages in the Army?

These are serious issues. Why jeopardise the lives of soldiers and colleagues in peace time? The notorious flailing by Gen VP ‘Kargil’ Malik – “we will fight with whatever we have” was actually a one-way ticket for our brave jawans. Who in the Army Headquarters, was taken to task for the shortages. None. But the Brigadiers and Colonels in the field got it in the neck.

The Navy is in a Royal Mess. The other two Services are not far behind. The current culture of this Blue Water Navy is destroying the fleet in Brown Waters without having fired a single shot since 1971.

There is no doubt that the responsibility lies with the Officer Cadre, especially the Flag Rank. While serious issues with the political leadership can be sorted out when the Navy gets its dream four star Admiral one day, the in-house spring cleaning can start right away.

The More Privileged: It is well known that certain prized appointments are the sole preserve of the kith and kin of Senior Officers. ADC’s, Flag Lts and Staff Officers of Admirals move in directly as Commanding Officers without have done sufficient sea time as Lt Cdrs or as Executive Officers. Most of these Officers are in Command for 365 days and are back to serving their bosses only to make way for the next lot of personal staff. Where is the loyalty to the sailor or the ship? In this regard the Navy can learn from the Merchant Navy, where to become a Master; the officer would have done a tour as a Chief Officer. None of the present day three star C-in-C’s have been Executive Officers of ships. Not surprisingly, almost all have poor leadership qualities.

New vs Old: The Navy has the latest ships and also some of the oldest in its inventory. Commonsense demands that the intelligent and more experienced hands run old ships. Instead, what the Navy does is to put those in Command of these ships who are lower in merit and the guy who “dared to request for being wet listed”. Old ships and obsolete engines cannot be run by Officers just seeking to mark time. It requires patience and dedication followed by rewards. None of those who Command these miserable ships get promoted to the next rank.

Lessons Learnt: The Navy almost never seems to learn its lessons. Adm DK Joshi proudly announced at the Sindhurakshak press conference that the Board of Enquiry would be completed and findings disclosed in 4 weeks. Has anyone heard of them? Have the procedures been revised and implemented? Are there any auditors to check? Quite unlikely. Therefore, we get to hear of incidents at regular intervals and the poor tax payers get to foot the expensive bills of the insufficiently trained crews.

Incompetent Dockyards: The technical leadership and the naval dockyards are in strong competition with the DRDO for ineptness and inefficiency. The Sindhuratna had just been refitted and repaired at the Naval Dockyard. Were all systems given the “Green” before she was pushed out to sea for trials? It was most probably a hurried job with a wily Admiral breathing down the submarine Captain’s neck. Despite a massive overtime bill for dockyard employees, almost no refits are completed to the satisfaction of ships’ Captains. The dockyards need a complete overhaul.

Rat Race: Hardly had the CNS resignation news been flashed across the TV screens, the three star stalwarts started promoting themselves. Some used their proximity to defence correspondents with one dumb journalist even stating that a particular C-in-C was not only a very fine officer but also a very intelligent one. The Navy has such officers even at the Sub-Lieutenant level. But the Service, unfortunately, at this moment needs a Leader. The root cause of the “lineage” and “line of succession” as some call it, is the date of promotion and the date of birth that decides the date of retirement. While nothing much can be done about the date of birth, the promotion depends entirely upon a piece of paper called the Annual Confidential Report. So, given the right connections, it is quite possible for a grounded land lubber to move into the flag rank seamlessly. There are many Admirals who have less than 10 years of sea time in a service spanning 40 years. The Navy would do well to split itself into two groups – “Wet” and “Dry”. The Wet Group (at least 20 years at sea) could be expected to occupy all the star billets. The Dry Group (less than 10 years) could hope to go up to Commodore level at best and be responsible all activities in support of the Fleet. Merit should precede seniority at all levels. If this is done, the ubiquitous publication called Navy List will cease to be the most popular book in the Indian Navy.

Admiral DK Joshi should be commended for having called it a day in the middle of his innings. He has set a high standard. It’s a clear hint for the other Senior Officers to follow suit. If one can’t run the Navy, please don’t run it. Admirals must remember – their mistakes and pusillanimity costs lives and ships.

Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.

Read other posts by Shailesh Ranade:

(Shailesh Ranade is a Guest Blogger with the Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

39 thoughts on “The Indian Navy in a Royal Mess

  1. Words, worth of Gold. Total agreement. May God listen to what you have penned and take action, unless HE too is incapacitated because of some List akin to Navy List.
    “Present” is a **PRESENT**, “Pre-sent” by GOD(ESS).
    Cherish the “NOW” & you have *WON* the battle of LIFE.

  2. Dear Sir,
    You have touched upon a number of issues that are of concern to the Navy. I would skip comment on most of them as many others would.
    I have a question with regard to the building and repairs and maintenance of the ships. Why are we allowing inept slow babu run behemoths called Naval Dockyards and MOD ship building yards to function? Why are we not allowing private players to handle these functions on behalf of the Government?
    I have not heard of a Dockyard owned and operated by the MOD UK or US. All their ships are built in private shipyards at economical costs and are subject to surveys and exacting standards at building stage. Post repairs in these ships are again subject to the same survey standards. Do the Naval Dockyards have in place such standards for repairs of the Naval ships?
    Let us assume that the submarine was in repairs at a private shipyard. Would the surveyors have said let us give her another shot and allowed her to sail without proper safety standards ensured? No.The seniors orders would not work there.
    The CNS has resigned and set up standards. What about those who ordered an unsafe submarine to sea. Should they not take the moral responsibility? Should they also not put in papers or even better should they not be tried for culpable homicide not amounting to murder?
    Why did the CINC west under whose watch all this happen not take the moral responsibility even before the CNS and resign?
    Do we need the Armed Forces to go through a lesson on Moral Rearmament

    1. Very revealing appreciation of the state of affairs in the fauj, particularly in the Navy. Cdr Pathak has rightly exposed the inefficiency of the Public sector establishments in maintaining/upgrading the ageing warships and failure of the Govt to utilise the private sector. Unless there is a shake-up in the MoD by including the faujis in decision making process there isn’t much hope of justice to the armed forces

  3. The Navy can borrow the AAP jhaadu and clean up its Augean Stables. Why become a Chief if you cannot ensure the safety of you own men and provide proper equipment and seaworthy platforms. Blaming Babus all the time does not help. Stop all deployments and operational commitments. Safety comes before national security. Idiots.

    1. Dear Mr Pillai,
      I hope you are aware of the full story before calling the people in uniform “Idiots”.
      If you are so naive as to not being aware… ..kindly read numerous articles floating around on the issue.
      The buck of any procurement finally stops at the ministry and its the Politico-Bureaucrat partnership at the ministry who simply flabbergast your mind with…mindless queries…sometimes just intended to scratch their military counterparts.
      Its finally our fault actually. Cauz our academies teach us never to say no….!! “<ours is never to ask why…just to do and die" and die they did…..!!
      How on earth can a guy who has simply sat on a chair his entire life supposed to know what it means to sail fathoms below the sea…or rather doing duty in an absurd temperature as siachin…!!!
      Just some food for thought….when u call us includes those bravehearts as well….whose funeral pyre would be still warm..!!
      Please dont worry about my credentials….about writing the above matter….
      lets just say…."been there….done that"

  4. An excellent write up. Entirely agree with you regarding the “Wet” and “Dry”….List. I know how the Navy runs. It thrives on “Cannibilization” as spares don’t come by. This is specially true in respect of Aircraft and Russian Specialist Vehicles. I have served in an Airbase, Missile Base, Survey Ship, Submarine Training School as LOGO and ALGO and I know what I am talking about. This “Chalta Hai” and “Ram Bharose” attitude is more prevalent today and one of the main reasons is the TIME SCALE PROMOTION. Join as SLT and get promoted to Commander on completion of 13 yrs Service. The competition sets in only in the 18th, 19th and 20th year. So if don’t make it to Captain you can retire with Pension of a Cdr. (now a days even if leave with 20 yrs Service you get Full Pension as though you served for 33 yrs. Earlier you had weightage. Like unless a Select List Cdr does 28 yrs Service he cannot get full Pension 28 yrs + 5 yrs Weight age = 33 yrs. For a Lt Commander 25 yrs + 8 yrs Wtg = 33 yrs)
    The other factor is the Monetary Benefits post 6th CPC….not grudging but the Life style has changed so much…………it sort of contributes to the “Chalta Hai” and “Ram Bharose” attitude.

  5. Lead, follow or get out of the way is as much applicable to political leadership as to the defence forces. Defence Minister has failed to provide leadership during the last 7 years of his tenure and the bureaucrats in the ministry are neither prepared to follow or get out of the way. Result is the Royal mess not only in Navy but in Air Force and land forces as well.
    Gen VK Singh was not only eased out prematurely but the Political leadership is hounding him. Air Force Chief Tyagi met the same fate in Helicopter deal. But still no proof of his personal involvement.
    Surprisingly the political leadership has manipulated to retain a clean image in the Royal mess.

  6. Excellent is the only word I can say for sharing this wonderful piece, which if read, understood and acted upon by the people for whom it is written, the Navy will surely be in much better shape than now, in a short time.
    But I have my doubts, if that will happen

  7. This is brief but to the pt. And yes, our ARMY 3 stars are not far behind– it is thks to the Media–Some Honest Ones– that the glaring issues come to lt. Eg. Recently one of the Chs–Headlines or News x- think the former sent their teams to the fwd most pickets in the valley and what do they discover–The Kero Oil authorisation had been slashed to 50%–Yes Sir, a fact , the cooks complained that they can’t cook, the men do not have warmth in their bunkers in sub-zero temps, go without a wash for days on end and now comes the SHOCKER–THE GOC ( Corps Cdr ) is blissfully unaware of this–for him and his Q staff ALL IZ WELL.
    Armored Regts complain of DEFECTIVE Main gun Amn mfd by IOF–No takers for that–brushed under the Carpet as usual–GOC’s have their Scotch n Soda so ALL IZ WELL.
    Someday things are going to erupt and ….

  8. I agree with your comments. I was in Submarines for 22 years, commanded 2 submarines and had the privilege of serving all the earlier 8 foxtrots in various capacities.

  9. I have spent long years in Delhi dealing with the Govt in various Jobs. It is true that we need to Induct Faujis into the Def ministry at different levels. The only way of doing this is to have an exclusive cadre of IAS called the Central Cadre. All dept of the Govt should be inducted in this cadre at the level of Under Secretary, Deputy Secretary, JT & Secy.from all Services.To give an example to source from Defence. U Secy Maj/Sqn Ldr Lt Cdr Dy Secy Commander//Col /Gp Capt so on. Those who wish to volunteer for the Central Cadre Should go thru the UPSC and join. With this we break the strong hold of IAS and have the Central Secretariat manned by Specialists from different services of the Govt. The IAS babus will never let this happen but is a food for thought.

  10. It is the Chief’s and C-in-C’s responsibility to ensure that Captains are provided with seaworthy and war-worthy ships. The Dockyards are equally responsible for the shoddy jobs they perform during refits. When was the last time the C-in-C’s and ASD’s visited ships and submarines in dry docks?
    Lead, follow or get out of the way. If the old men of the Navy cannot ensure these basic requirements, they have no business to be in the chair. This is not politics. This is serious business involving troops.

  11. You have touched upon various topics concerning posting and promotions in Navy.
    I unfortunately don’t agree to all your points…. Let us take two major Submarine accidents of I N S Sindhughosh and Sindhuratna…. I not am sure if you are a technical person or non technical… But in a simple language “if batteries are not maintained well (routine inspections/ checks and Regular Maintenance…. you will not be able to run your car….
    Here also, unfortunately no one will bother to touch upon the poor maintenance schedules and system. but will talk about Commands and Flag Ranks…. Mantri to Secretaries…. people sitting on files and decision making …. A Parsi can maintain and run his car for decades …. and Navy can operate ships and Subs for decades…. (I am not against replacements but against throwing the old stuff, … (learn from the Sugar Cane Juice seller…. he runs and runs the crushed cane… till he gets one drop out of it…
    Just concentrate on proper maintenance and maintenance team… Equipment/Ships/Subs will run like healthy Horses….

    1. @Sant Khanna saab… u use expired medicines also like sugarcane juicer. Please do it…..but dont advocate it for people whose life you’ll pit at great risk

    2. Dear Mr Sant Batra Saheb,

      Hope you would have heard a sentence ” Extended Notice For Monitoring?..
      I believe this would suffice my views of disagreement with your kind opinion…just because…You need to be a submariner…before commenting on this sensitive issues…

      These two boats, were my home, for a long time…

      Rakesh Singh Gautam

  12. Ranade is absolutely right. Such Incidents and Accidents have been happening since Independence. True then the Officers had no much experience when they took over the reins from Royal Navy Officers. But they were honest and upright and the Traditions were respected and followed. The Navy’s competence and professionalism have taken a deep hit. The Royal Navy system was to pick up young Officers with potential move them around in slots to gain higher command experience. But these youngsters were upright, even if they married the Captain’s Daughter. Commanding Officers would write a Flimsy giving clear idea as to how the Officer performed. But by 1960s, the Indian COs would write good things on Flimsy and ruin the ACR. Today the COs find out the cut off percentage for promotion and then give little above the decimal or little below the average, No Service can have top 99999999 grades, but that is what happens today. The Seniors have no moral uprightness. New Army point system for various achievements is worst in practice-just being objective is not sufficient. The Officers just clock in the points-but may not have matching professionalism, honesty, the moral fiber-as a consequent, the Army is going down. It is worst in IAS and IFS and other central services.

  13. There will be another safety stand down. Gentlemen the men doesnt need it the commanders at sea needs it most.
    With aging fleet you reduce exploitation….thats what even a kid will preach. Otherwise how will the retirees get a plum high commission post.
    Sha Nau Varuna…we require it.

  14. We’ll written . Most of it is true due to the prevailing conditions in the country and it’s government servants ( politicians/ bureaucrats /armed forces personnel). Each one will agree to all the suggestions made and expect everyone else to pay heed, because he feels he has done his best and he is alive anyways ! We are too many people in this country, fighting for its meger resources and noble virtues like ethics and taking responsibility is the last thing in our minds .

  15. The fault for the Navy’s problems can be traced to the last three useless and spineless Chiefs. Arun Prakash was busy sorting out his nephew Shankaran while the next two sucked up to the Congress Party and went abroad as High Commissioners. Mehta went to New Zealand and NK Verma went to Canada.
    Admiral Joshi is paying the price for the sins of his predecessors neglect.

  16. One expected the Senior Officers in Western Command to hand in their resignations along with the CNS. This has not happened. The following need to immediately resign without excuses: C-in-C, Chief of Staff, Fleet Commander and Submarine Commander. Can they be trusted in war? They have already lost the respect of their sailors.

  17. Why have a such a large fleet when it cannot be maintained? Can’t we simply work out what is the life time cost? Why sail of junk vessels? Ditto for Air Force and Army.

  18. No Admiral should come forward to take up the CNS post. This would be a lesson for the political – bureaucratic team which has treated soldiers as mere servants. A clear message should be sent that they should never mess with Armed Forces.

    1. A very just suggestion sir. But Admirals become Admirals not so much because of their merit but because of their extraordinary ambition for power. The best guys at the most reach the second position. If we had any Admirals or Generals who would quit for principles, this state of affair would never have happened. So forward we go sir… Ram Bharoe Chalta Hai…!

  19. The CNS stepped down owning moral responsibility for some mishaps and a few deaths in the Navy. The Army has lost many more men to Pakistan and some territory to China but not a word from Army Chief. The Air Force has lost many planes and pilots in the last two years, but the Air Chief continues as though things are normal. Don’t these people have a conscience?

  20. The Navy has 150 vessels of all shapes and sizes and age. However after a careful examination only about 30 platforms may actually go into war. The rest is junk. More than 70% of the Navy is sitting ashore in offices or refit ships. The Navy must sacrifice all old platforms that take up a lot of human resource to maintain. Send the best platforms and best men to sea. I agree that there should be Wet and Dry Cadre.

  21. Wow, so much bitterness! It might be helpful to introspect before penning down such thoughts. Before commenting on the competency of the others, you might like to ask yourself, having hit the ceiling in your first career how successful have you been in your second!!

    1. Get out of the well Mr Optimistic. Stop being personal. Trying to kill the messenger because the message hurts?

  22. I guess, the author is enormously fed by the insiders. His understanding and appreciation for the extant policies, procedures, practices and the slang is indeed current. The real problem is deep down the way any Indian thinks. Somehow, JUST DO It. Similar approach often drives the way platforms are operated and maintained. Next, Scant value of human resource, ‘coz that’s in plenty n cheap.

  23. The equipment is always chosen by the users and recommended to the politicians. The political leadership and bureaucracy will then buy these items for the military. But who has extended the life of these submarines. Only the Navy can be blamed for using this rust bucket beyond a certain life period. The Navy is responsible for these deaths.

  24. Admiral DK Joshi was unlucky. Lot of things went wrong when he was FoCinC and a lot of things went wrong when he was CNS. I hope his retirement is peaceful.

  25. None of our fault,.becoz it’s in our blood. To change it will take another 1000 years. If you just take some time to walk around the dockyard, you will see the pathetic standard of our maintenance practices. You will see people living in refit ships with full of smoke and no air-conditioning. no one is worried about the safety factors. can not blame if someone say the ships in dockyard is floating on one in navy is worried about that A total, there is no pint in blaming each other. If we all do our part, I hope we will be in a better position. So, in my opinion, to solve the problem you should know the root cause and address the it a Mantri, Babu or a Saab. …Jai Hind!

  26. I fully agree with the author. He has hit the nail where it hurts the most. Even though I agree that the MOD and political bosses are responsible for old equipment and ships leading to higher number of accidents, I feel there is more to it than that. I would like to draw attention to the fact that, accidents in terms of groundings and collisions are far too many in Indian Navy. It is only now that the press makes them public.
    Many years ago a Coast Guard Captain called on Captain Work Up. During discussions out of respect for the work up organisation he said that even Coast Guard ships should be sent for work up so that their operational efficiency and safety will improve. The Captain work up to his surprise told him, ‘Where is the need for Coast Guard to go for work up? Do you have as many groundings or collisions?’
    The culture of stiff upper lip, where not only men but also officers are not comfortable communicating with the senior officers or with the captain has a large role to play in bridge team failure. The Captain or the senior officers often look down upon the junior officers and sailors with so much of contempt that it oozes from their body language, preventing any communication.
    Every Captain has 365 days to make it to the next rank. The junior officers and most men however stay onboard command after command. He exploits them for his promotion. Extended working hours are very common in fleet. Everyone knows that the old man is working for his own benefit. What loyalty and esprit de corps do you expect from men who do not believe their leader to be working selflessly?
    Introspection, a very deep and honest introspection is the need of the hour for the Indian Navy. For that matter for all the armed forces. We must stop promoting people on basis of ego satisfying ability. Extremely ambitious people are extremely dangerous and must be weeded out at an early stage. Good soldiers who do not blow their trumpet need to be protected and mentored.
    There is one more aspect. The people are expected in armed forces to work as teams. However when it comes to rewarding, only a part of the team is rewarded. Is it not foolish to expect team spirit when this is done? When a surveillance aircraft detects something, only one of the crew is recognised. Same applies to all teams. The words encourage team but the actions encourage individualism.. This is damaging the armed forces seriously.
    Lastly the size of samosa, the softness of paneer and how the napkin is to be folded should stop mattering. Many a Admiral have had great expertise and expectations from their formations on these grounds rather than safety and operational efficiency.
    The civilian learned management from the armed forces. Time has come for us to go back to the civilian world to learn new management. Shame is not in learning….. it is in mourning for those who were lost despite enough warning….!

  27. Dear Mr Ranade.

    As an outsider, your article appears biased. I don’t see much truth in what you say. You are either an ignorant man with malice intent, or a disgruntled ex navy person, who because of poor attitude could not make a mark.

    It’s easy for any Tom Dick and Harry to say what you have said. You appear to be one of that! And I feel sorry for you.

    May I ask you, what has been your contribution to bring glory to this nation? Where have you shown exemplery leadership (I doubt if you at all know- what it means!).

    What you have written is a piece of crap, honestly.

    1. What has been your contribution as an insider? Seems you have nothing substantial to contribute to the debate, hence this frustration.

      Also, citizens of this country don’t need to mention their contribution to comment on pressing issue. Why don’t you mention yours before writing useless comments.

    2. Who is this lunatic Himanshu? Can he state what point he differs on? In fact this is a good article with very relevant points for the Navy.

  28. The blame game can be at 2 levels:
    Level 1 – Navy Headquarters – MOD – Defence Minister
    Level 2 – Mumbai Headquarters
    Level 1 can be blamed for financing of new projects and finances for maintaining and repairing current platforms.
    Level 2 is responsible for operating platforms. If during operation, things go wrong or mistakes are made, only the local headquarters can be blamed. Therefore in this case putting out an old submarine with obsolete and worn out equipment, the responsibility lies with Mumbai Headquarters. The submarine should have been audited for basic safety before it went to sea.

  29. hey, it’s funny and easy to play the blame game, as the Indian politicians do. Lets not do that here. If navy knew about the serviceability of their equipment and the consequences of operating it,why did they operate at all? Learn to be assertive also learn to say NO. Not everyone can do that.

  30. To conduct safety audits, the armed forces need independent auditors. At the moment the auditors are merely the officers themselves who are willing to overlook procedural faults and discrepancies. It is a catch 22 situation where the auditor and auditee change roles frequently. The root cause is never looked into. Only the symptoms are taken care of by enforcing adhoc measures.

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