(Photo: courtesy Padmaja Parulkar)
Five-day international fleet review kicks off on Thursday, president, PM to visit on Saturday
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Feb 2016
Once in each president’s five-year term in office, he or she carries out a “naval fleet review”, a deliberately public assembly of the entire fleet, except for warships on essential patrols. Behind the ceremonial pomp and show lies a simple strategic signal: “Here is our fleet; it is ready for war.”
In earlier days, fleet reviews were “a prelude to war or an explicit show of force to deter adventurism by a potential adversary”, says Raghavendra Mishra of the National Maritime Foundation. Possibly the first ever fleet review was held in 1415, when British monarch, Henry the Vth, inspected his navy before embarking on war with France.
The Indian Navy, however, waves away the notion of sinister purpose behind the International Fleet Review (IFR) that begins in Visakhapatnam on Thursday, and continues for five days through Monday (February 4-8).
“The idea of a Review was perhaps conceived as a show of naval might or an inspection of readiness for battle at sea. It still has the same connotation, but assembling of warships without any belligerent intentions is now the norm in modern times”, says the IFR’s official website.
The Indian Navy has earlier organised ten fleet reviews since independence, with the first one in 1953. Yet, this one is only the second “international” review, featuring navies from all over the world. Like for the first international review in Mumbai in 2001, the aim behind this international review, is to signal the Indian Navy’s emergence as a pre-eminent power that sets the agenda in the northern Indian Ocean.
Amongst the 54 navies taking part, there is a tacit acceptance of this regional primacy, and a shared belief that this is in the common interest. Participating this year is practically every major navy in the world, including the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) of China.
“54 navies are participating this year, compared to 29 in 2001; and 24 foreign warships are here, exactly the same number as in 2001. During the review, 24 foreign naval chiefs are visiting Visakhapatnam, and some 4,000 foreign sailors”, says the navy’s spokesperson.
In addition, 75 Indian warships will participate in the review. These include both the navy’s aircraft carriers, INS Vikramaditya and Virat, and almost all its major capital warships --- destroyers, frigates and corvettes.
The Pakistan Navy is not participating. The navy spokesperson said an invitation had been sent to Islamabad through diplomatic channels, but evoked no response.
The main event will be the presidential fleet review on Saturday morning. President Pranab Mukherjee will receive a ceremonial 21-gun salute and a guard of honour before boarding the Presidential Yacht. He will then review the warships, weaving between them as they remain anchored to their precisely determined spots in the sea off Visakhapatnam harbour. Each ship will have their crew on the deck in spotless white uniforms, presenting a salutation as the president passes.
Along the way, the President will witness operational demonstration, including a daring display by marine commandoes, and a “steam-past” by a detachment of warships.
There will also be fly-past, featuring 45 naval aircraft, including the latest carrier-borne MiG-29K strike fighters, the navy’s new Boeing P8-I maritime reconnaissance aircraft and Kamov-31 helicopters.
For the residents of Visakhapatnam, there will be a concert by foreign navy bands on Saturday, and a city parade on Sunday along the seafront RK Beach Road. This will feature naval operational demonstrations, marching contingents from visiting navies, and cultural displays by visiting sailors.