Look for the real causes of the accidents instead of undermining the reputation of a first-rate navy with ill-informed speculation.
The resignation of the naval chief with 15 months of service remaining is unprecedented and laudable, and represents the highest standards of professionalism. The spate of accidents, however, raises questions that the stepping down of the naval chief is unlikely to lay to rest. The theatre of the absurd that followed in terms of ill-informed comment has muddied the waters and threatens to undermine the reputation of a first-rate navy.
Speculating on the causes of an accident, especially one that claims lives, before a board of inquiry has submitted its report borders on the reckless. In the case of the Sindhuratna, much attention was focused on the batteries. The preliminary finding reportedly is that the problem was not with the batteries but in the concealed life-cable of the submarine. Confirmation will have to wait until the final report.
Speculation and ill-informed analyses have led to allegations being made in three categories. One, that an apathetic civil bureaucracy and an indifferent political class have starved the defence forces in general and the navy in particular of much-needed funds. Two, there have been inordinate delays in ordering replacements, resulting in force levels being reduced to dangerous levels and that our young men and women have been given substandard equipment that endangers their lives. And three, the entire civil-military relationship has broken down.
Each of these allegations merits examination. The defence budget, presently at Rs 2,03,672 crore (US $37.4 billion) has been on the rise. The Indian navy’s share has been around 16-17 per cent. Clearly, the navy would want, and perhaps deserves, more. It has pegged its demands for several years at 18-20 per cent. Funds, on the other hand, are not unlimited and need to be prioritised. The navy recently acquired the 44,500-tonne aircraft carrier, the Vikramaditya, the erstwhile Gorshkov, for a whopping $2.5 billion. It has an expensive, leased nuclear-powered submarine and the indigenously produced Arihant presently undergoing sea trials. Clearly, therefore, the allegation of the navy being deprived of funds does not wash.
The navy has a total of 138 platforms, both ships and submarines, almost 50 per cent of which are 20 years old. Ships and submarines are periodically refitted and modernised in order to keep them in active service well beyond 30 years. Aircraft carrier Viraat is over 50 years old. As rightly pointed out by Admiral Arun Prakash, by international standards, the Indian navy is young, with a large proportion of modern and newly constructed ships, with some approaching middle age and others nearing their continued…