The navy wants a 13,700 officer force, all of them technical graduates
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th May 13
On Saturday, amongst 302 cadets who passed out from the Indian Naval Academy (INA) in Ezhimala, Kerala, were 60 from the navy’s first batch of regular officers who are also fully qualified engineers. An increasingly high-tech, equipment-oriented navy is aiming to have every single officer holding a B.Tech or M.Sc degree.
“A warship on the high seas, whether in war or peace, is entirely on its own. The crew must be able to fix any technical problem that arises in that complex vessel. That requires every officer, from the captain downwards, to be technologically qualified, while also being a battlefield leader,” says Rear Admiral SN Ghormade, the navy’s HRD chief.
This is a major shift, given that until the 1970s, cadets could become officers having passed nothing more than the 10th standard matriculation exam. That became 11th, then 12th, and the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla (NDA) structured its academic curriculum so that the Jawaharlal Nehru University gave its cadets a bachelor’s degree after three years of training. But now the navy wants nothing less than qualified engineers --- not just in its technical branches, but also in its “executive branch”, which includes the captains and admirals who command battleships and fleets.
Training so many engineers is no easy task, given the navy’s rapid expansion. Authorized 10,600 officers today (there are actually just 8,700), the navy plans to expand to 13,700 officers --- all engineers --- by 2027. The defence ministry (MoD) has told Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence that the navy’s fleet --- about 140 vessels today --- would rise to 162 vessels by 2022.
That makes the navy the fastest growing of all three services. Allocated just 12 per cent of the country’s defence budget a decade ago, today the navy is handed some 18 per cent. Navy planners believe that --- given India’s growing focus on Indian Ocean trade route security and maritime linkages with the countries of the Indo-Pacific --- that share could rise to 25 per cent.
“The navy’s training challenge can be seen from its Manpower Perspective Plan for the next fifteen years. Today’s 8,700 officers, 50,000 sailors and 43,000 civilians will increase by 2027 to 13,700 officers, 85,000 sailors and 75,000 civilians,” says Admiral Ghormade.
Notwithstanding “lean manning” practices that it follows, the navy says that the “multi-role” nature of modern warships --- each one carrying many more weapons systems than older vessels --- require a large number of specialists.
Driving this transformation will be INA, Ezhimala, where officer cadets will undergo a four-year B.Tech syllabus that has been drawn up in conjunction with JNU and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). For a navy in a hurry, INA Ezhimala is much delayed: after Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation stone in Jan 1987, curtailed defence expenditure over the next fifteen years allowed the current PM to inaugurate the academy only in 2009. The four-year B.Tech syllabus that officer cadets undergo has been drawn up by JNU, in conjunction with in conjunction with the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
The navy is following a global trend. The US Navy rotates its multi-skilled officers between engineering, electrical and executive branches. The Russian navy follows a different system, as do other western navies, but there is increasing emphasise on all in technical skills.
The Indian Navy has already benefited from having created a strong technical cadre of warship designers and engineers, resulting in several generations of indigenous warships having been built by defence shipyards: Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai; Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata; Goa Shipyard Ltd; and now the newly acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam. Of all the three services, only the navy has full-fledged directorates for equipment design and indigenisation: the Directorate General of Naval Design (DGND) and Directorate General of Indigenisation (DGI).
Eventually, the expanding Indian Navy will commission 1100 officer-engineers each year. INA, Ezhimala, will churn out 600-700 B.Tech qualified officers annually. Another 350 will be short service officers, who must already be B.Tech graduates before applying for the navy. And 100 cadets will join Ezhimala every year from NDA Khadakvasla, equipped with B.Sc. degrees from JNU. These will be converted into M.Sc. degrees after one year of technical training at Ezhimala, followed by another year of distance learning whilst serving on warships.