Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Navy accidents: don't just blame the neta

Admiral D K Joshi's principled resignation from the navy has evoked much praise- and rightly, for such resignations seem to belong to a different era altogether. His resignation brought in its wake a demand for the defence minister's resignation. Watching the TV channels and listening to the retired military personnel, you might have been forgiven for supposing that a professional had to pay the price for incompetence on the part of a minister or ministry. The defence ministry had been holding up modernisation of the navy's aged fleet, so it's pointless to blame the navy for the rising incidence of accidents- so we were told.

It was refreshing, therefore, to come across a balanced perspective from BS's defence analyst, Ajai Shukla (himself a former army man, by the way);

True, Mr Antony has much to answer for in how he has run his ministry, and good reasons exist separately for demanding his head. But the navy alone is responsible for a safety culture so poor that 10 warships and submarines have suffered mishaps since last August, when another submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, had a catastrophic explosion that killed all 18 sailors on board. Three out of India's 10 Russian Kilo-class submarines have suffered mishaps, while two out of six state-of-the-art Russian stealth frigates have had collisions. These are alarming figures.
It is fallacious to argue, as some have done, that India's Kilo-class submarines are inadequate or obsolete. Some 50 Kilo-class submarines serve in navies worldwide, including those of Russia, China, Vietnam, Algeria, Poland, Romania and Iran. Algeria's are older than India's, but have suffered no mishaps. INS Sindhurakshak, which sank last August, had been in service for just 16 years, and had recently returned from a mid-life refit in Russia that made it good for at least another 15 to 20 years. A service life of 30 to 40 years is quite normal for submarines. Our Foxtrot-class submarines performed yeoman service for over 35 years. The US Navy's Los Angeles class attack submarines, the mainstay of its underwater force, are 30 to 35 years old. It is plain wrong to argue, as some have done, that India's Kilo-class submarines have outlived their utility; the navy itself envisages many more years of service for these potent fighting platforms. To retire the Kilo-class submarines would be to strike a hammer blow to the navy's Maritime Capability Perspective Plan, which lays out the future fleet. India simply cannot afford that.

Admiral D K Joshi knows this, which is why he resigned.

We are right in demanding accountability in all walks of life, including politics. In the armed forces, this is especially needed because the lives of soldiers are at stake. Politicians are not the only fallible beings on this planet, so are professionals. If professionals set high standards of conduct- as Admiral Joshi has done- politicians may soon have to follow suit. 

1 comment:

K.R.Srivarahan said...

Algeria's fleet is older than India's. Yet, only India has suffered frequent mishaps. Algeria maintains its resources well whereas the Indian navy has to look to the Defense Ministry for permission even to purchase batteries. The honourable Defense Minister is notorious for avoiding / postponing decisions. The blame is squarely on the ministry.