Take 5 – With former Navy Chief-Admiral Arun Prakash
Navy Day is around the corner. A time when the maritime sentinels of the nation celebrate, integrate and showcase the Navy to the populace at large.
Admiral Arun Prakash PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VSM, served as Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee from 31 July 2004 to 31 October 2006.
On retirement he and his wife Kum Kum have dropped anchor in our neighbourhood.
He is a naval-aviator by specialization and has held various important operational and Staff appointments is his long career in the Indian Navy and is a highly decorated naval officer.
The VW team had a short interaction with the former Navy Chief to elicit his perspectives on the Indian Navy and its significance in the country’s road to prosperity and peace in the region.
– Could you elaborate on the importance of a strong maritime presence and force for the country given our strategic geographical position in the Indian Ocean?
India’s economy, post liberalisation, has become completely integrated with the global economy and international markets. 97% of international trade, including, commodities, natural resources, oil, natural gas and coal are transported by sea. Our economy and prosperity, therefore, depend on keeping the sea lanes open and safe for transit of shipping against all sorts of threats that exist at sea. This requires that peace and tranquillity must prevail in the seas around us. It is this context that a strong and effective naval force is imperative for us.
– What were some of the important initiatives taken during your tenure that have thereafter fructified?
Up-gradation and modernization of the service is a continuous ongoing process and no single person should take credit for it. I was at the helm from 2004 to 2006, and apart from continuing with the projects launched by my predecessors, a few significant things happened during this period. I will mention four. We started negotiations with ISRO for a dedicated naval satellite in 2004, and I am happy to note that the GSAT-7 went up a few weeks ago. This would provide secure and reliable state-of- the- art connectivity between for data transfer, information exchange and communication for naval units at sea. The negotiations for the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya were completed in October 2004. We obtained government approval for a 15-year perspective plan for acquiring maritime capabilities (ships, subs and aircraft). Most importantly, we created a dedicated Directorate of Indigenisation at Naval Headquarters in New Delhi as part of our drive for self-reliance.
– What, in your opinion, is that significant policy that the Navy should implement forcefully to create a paradigm shift in its effectiveness?
If there is one area that needs serious impetus, it is indigenisation. Self-reliance in platforms (i.e. ships and aircraft) as well as the sensors, weapons and systems that go in them needs to be taken up at the highest level of the government on top priority. Dependence on foreign sources in this vital area erodes our security. India is, at present, the biggest importer of arms in the world. By way of contrast, China is not only self-sufficient but exports arms, equipment, ships and aircraft to many countries. We must remember that the ‘start-point’ for both nations is almost the same; India in 1947 and China in 1949. A vibrant indigenous defence industry would also result in cascading benefits to the economy, by generating jobs, fostering R & D and a host of other benefits across various industry segments.
– How could the Navy attract the younger generation to choose the Indian Navy as a career option?
The fact is that there is no shortage of aspirants. The Service Selection Boards are overwhelmed with applicants. So the number of youngsters desiring to join is not the problem. The problem is that only a small percentage meets our quality standards, and since we will not dilute them, the number of entrants remains small. Only one young man or woman out of every 800-900 who apply, makes it into the services. Obviously, there is need for us to attract the smarter and more intelligent segment of youth to opt for the navy/services.
The Navy has worked out a few schemes for attracting the better kind of candidates. Since 2006 the pay, allowance and facilities have become far more attractive than they were in our times. This reflects in the good life-style of our younger officers these days. Under a fresh scheme, all those now passing out of the new Indian Naval Academy (in Ezhimala, Kerala) will have a B.Tech Degree qualification in addition to being trained in other Naval disciplines. Moreover, there are now Short Service Schemes on very attractive terms which also provides qualification and sound experience for the young officer to enter a second career on expiry of the short-service commission.
– What has been your experience relocating to Vasco after your retirement?
It has been wonderful. Re-locating to Goa was like coming back home. Having spent almost 16 years in Dabolim in various squadrons and appointments while in service, I had experienced the unique ambience of this beautiful state, and the kind, friendly and cultured approach of Goans. Vasco is developing very rapidly. Progress is good, but efficient management of essential services and infrastructure is required. Issues of garbage and traffic management as well as stray cattle need urgent attention before they go out of hand and impact adversely on tourism.