Navy brass throws joint training overboard - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 29 April 2008

Navy brass throws joint training overboard

by Ajai Shukla
Dateline: Pune
Business Standard, 30th April 2008

The National Defence Academy (NDA) at Kadakwasla, near Pune, is internationally admired as the world’s only military academy that trains cadets for all three services --- army, navy and air force --- all together. With different operational roles, traditions, and serving in separate bases, the three services remain linked by a common ethos, instilled over the last 60 years in tens of thousands of officers during their three years at the NDA.

But now, the Indian Navy has struck at the very idea of a common foundation. The Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who is also the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), has passed orders to NDA that from July 2009, the navy’s cadets will follow their own syllabus, and that they will stay at the academy for just two years. The army and the air force cadets will continue with the old three-year course.

Behind this order, which has created dismay in the army and air force leadership, is the navy’s decision to provide every naval officer with a Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) degree before they are commissioned. Now naval cadets at the NDA will study technical subjects instead of a common NDA academic syllabus. After two years at NDA, they will transfer to the Naval Academy at Ezhimala, in Kerala, where they will study another two years to get their B.Tech degrees.

NDA has been given no choice but to fall in line. If the academy is unable, or unwilling, to implement the new syllabus, said Admiral Mehta, the navy would no longer send its cadets to Khadakwasla. Instead naval cadets would go to the Naval Academy, Ezhimala, for their entire four years of training.

This move has created chaos at the NDA, which is now struggling to rework a training syllabus that was fine-tuned over decades. First, there is the need to compress three years of basic military training into just two years. Senior officers at the NDA believe that the basic training laid down in the charter of NDA --- instilling leadership qualities, an honour code, character-building, and an appreciation of the inter-service aspect of the armed forces --- simply cannot be imparted in a truncated time frame.

The navy insists that it can. In a statement, the Indian Navy told Business Standard that, “The only option is to undertake two years of joint training at NDA followed by technology upgrades for two years at NAVAC (Naval Academy, Ezhimala). This would provide us the opportunity to inculcate the spirit of jointness over the two years of training at NDA, and yet meet the Navy’s requirement of B. Tech education.”

And so NDA is putting together a B.Tech syllabus and hiring academic staff to impart it. The beleaguered academic department in Khadakwasla is already functioning without a principal, a vice principal or a registrar. Instead of the 120 lecturers authorised, NDA has just 57. Outdated and inadequate pay scales are making it difficult to retain even the existing academic staff.

Senior officers, steeped in the fierce loyalties that the NDA arouses, condemn the move bluntly. General VP Malik, the army chief at the time of the Kargil conflict, points out that the navy has long demanded a B.Tech for all its officers, but suggests implementing it without undermining the tri-services ethos of NDA. Gen Malik says, “I think it’s a bad move to shift out naval cadets after two years. Whatever camaraderie and joint services spirit exists in the military today can be traced directly to the time spent together at NDA.”

Former naval chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar, justifies the need to provide a technical degree to naval officers, but says, “as an NDA man, I’ve always had an uneasy feeling about disconnecting naval cadets (from the academy) after two years. During the Kargil war, I shared the closest of relationships with the army chief, General VP Malik. That was because both of us have known each other since our time together as NDA cadets.”

The NDA is already facing a shortfall of cadets. In the latest course to join the academy, there were just 191 cadets against the normal intake of 300. Since then, 9 more have withdrawn from the academy.


  1. My respect for the navy leadership just keeps going up.. This is just one of many needed steps to increase the internal technology capabilities of armed forces personnel.


  2. Ajai,

    It took a long time coming. And the army wants to scrap the B Tech course for sappers!

  3. Ajai, are you from NDA ??

  4. As always a forward looking Navy thinks out of the box. Camaraderie can be built with frequent joint exercises and including the other service's involvement into one's operational doctrines. However its important for a navy to foster skippers who are technically sound since they will command important tech. intensive platforms like aircraft carriers and ATVs/Akulas. The skipper just can't afford to be tech. challenged.

  5. True battlefield joint capabilities comes from having joint commands. As long as the IA and IAF, especially the IA, continue to stonewall joint commands and JCS concepts, they have to ground to stand on when criticizing the IN.

    Jointness on the field doesn't come because someone in the other service is an academy chum. It comes from having joint doctrice, joint exercises, joint commands and and ethos that puts joint operations above all. Sorry IA leadership, you're full of hot air.

  6. "The NDA is already facing a shortfall of cadets. In the latest course to join the academy, there were just 191 cadets against the normal intake of 300."

    This is not a shortfall, this is a crisis!

  7. left wing nut job: Amen to that, brother.

    And if the NDA folks are so worried about camraderie, why not upgrade the IA and IAF programs too? All services will become tech-dependent within the next few generations.

    Hats off to the IN again. Please let the first joint chief be a progressive-pragmatic Navy chap!

  8. Someone, please explain me one thing.

    Is the Indian Navy more high-tech than the US Navy? Or the French? Or the Royal Navy? Is it the most high-tech navy in the history of warfare?

    Because no other navy has ever felt the need for their sailors and naval aviators to be B.Techs.

    People seem to be getting confused between the role of fighting men, and that of systems designers. You don't have to hold an engineering degree in order to operate a well-designed piece of military equipment in battle. In fact, good military equipment is simple to operate. if the equipment needs a B.Tech to operate it, then it isn't all that great.

    But you do have to have a certain mindset in order to go into battle... to simplify things, let's call it the mindset of a soldier. That's what

    Engineers have a vital place in a military organisation. And that place is designing the systems, not fighting them.

    Nobody is denying that skippers (and for that matter all officers and sailors) need to be technically sound. But you don't need to be clutching a B.Tech degree to be technically sound. You need to do frequent courses and you need to spend a lot of time on the equipment.

    There is something between "technically challenged" and a qualified B.Tech. That something, as far as the navy is concerned, is called a technically proficient combat sailor.

    The NDA is barely able to give its cadets a B.A degree or a B.Sc degree. The quality of the B.Tech degree that comes out of there will have a huge big question mark hanging over it.

    Left wing nut job is right in what he says about the desperate need for joint capabilities in the combat echelons. Equally, jointness comes from shared training time, shared experiences and shared values.

    I would argue that India has the least "jointness" in its armed forces when it comes to systems and procedures... but the most when it comes to human relationships. And the credit for that goes squarely to NDA.

    To answer someone's question: Yes, I am indeed from NDA. And hundreds of my friendships date back to those days. In a combat situation, they would all be extremely useful.

    Ask any navy in the world.

  9. Its wise to keep navy out because it should no be dragged down by the Army and Air Force mentalities. let Navy grow to be the most important element of our Armed forces for good of the country.

    On jointmanship, let Army get off its high chair and comedown and be actually ready for jointmanship. it behaves in an autocratic manner and is the first force that needs lecture on jointmanship. Navy on the contrary has all the qualities even with foreign forces.

    The need for technical cadre is very much wanted. Navy is projected a goal of being technology intensive force with a lot of technology related personnel. Especially these folks are talking about deploying super structures. What US, UK etc practice is their problem. IN is not a compete "Bhaiya" organisation like Indian Army (although it has bhaiya elements in it). IN actually has a vision and B-tech seems to be a needed qualification. You want drag down Navy to Army standards under the name of jointmanship? Its pure jealousness. The Army walla bhaiya's will get jealous when they will see a superior IN officer with B-tech.

    There are actually concern in some quarters on Navy which has bhaiyas too. They would not like to see superior educated officers till they are in service.

  10. Unarguably, the US military is the most "joint" military ever and there are no signs of that changing any time soon. Did this level of jointness come because the US Army, Navy, AF and Marines share common training?

    The US forces' training centers are separated by thousands of miles. Army is in New York (West Point), Navy is in Maryland (Annapolis), Air Force is in Colorado (Colorado Springs), and Marines are in Virginia (Quantico). Jointness in the US military didn't come about because of "shared experiences," it came about due to the dedicated effort of the leadership to have joint capabilities. This dedication runs through the forces from top to bottom.

    I think Ajai, that you are mistaking comraderie with joint capabities. It's good to have inter-forces comraderie but that doesn't translate into joint capabilities as can be seen in the Indian forces themselves. Yes, there is a lot of comraderie but the level of jointness does not reflect the level of comraderie.

    Only thinking and acting in a joint manner will bring about greater joint capabilities. Thus far, the IA has been strident to protect its rice bowl as the top decider of the Indian forces and will not give up that role of decidering to anyone else other than someone who wears army green. That kind of mentality is the biggest enemy of joint capability.

    The IA is the biggest obstacle to joint forces, joint commands and joint chief of staff. The IN has realized that the IA has no intention of sharing.

  11. >> Is the Indian Navy more high-tech than the US Navy? Or the French? Or the Royal Navy? Is it the most high-tech navy in the history of warfare? Because no other navy has ever felt the need for their sailors and naval aviators to be B.Techs.

    Have you heard of the ROTC program in the US ? US Armed forces pay for your college fees to any college you want to go to, but you have to server in the forces for 7 years (I think) after you graduate. This way they accumulate expertise in all spheres, law, engineering (different streams), science, management etc. Perhaps this is the model Indian armed forces should adopt too.. They can have a few seats reserved for themselves in prestigious institutes of the nation, followed by a SSC and exit after 7/n years. In one shot you would be able to solve the expertise problems that are plaguing the armed forces as well as the numbers problem.


  12. Anonymous, you make a good point about the difference between camaraderie... and joint capabilities.

    However, you have to look realistically at what is possible in the present (and likely in the short to medium term future) context in India. Let me spell that out for you.

    Because of a combination of ignorance and inertia, the government is not pushing through any joint operational structures. Even the post of the Chief of Defence Staff remains a mirage. The government simply isn't interested.

    The three defence services watch and do nothing. There's a combination of genuine worry that their service interests will be undermined... and also an unforgivable turf-oriented approach amongst the general, admiral and air marshalls. So any joint structures are approached from the viewpoint of... "Either I'm going to dominate it, or it 'aint going to exist at all."

    That's clear from the internal jousting over the aerospace command and the strategic forces command.

    In these circumstances... where joint structures seem a distant dream... you might as well make certain that the camaraderie remains. The dialogue that takes place at a personal level between senior officers of India's three services is probably more useful than the endless meetings of committees that are going nowhere. And it certainly is far more useful than the marginal role that the CIDS plays.

    In any case, why a B.Tech for EVERY naval officer?

    fighting men have to be technically savvy; but they don't have to be engineers. They have to know how to stem the flow of blood from a wound; but they don't have to be doctors. They have to know how to get into the minds of the men they command; but they don't have to be psychologists. Overqualifying a fighting soldier, sailor or airman in one dimension (as a mandatory requirement) risks disturbing the fine mix of abilities that today's fighting man/woman must have.

  13. Ajai, you know better than us.

    Do all systems work correctly in a battle environment ? Systems tend to fail in such cases simply because the designer wouldn't have tested /simulated such cases in his drawing room.

    When systems fail, the user has to be technically competent to solve/work around the issue that come up.

    One doesn't become a designer just by finishing bachelors / masters. It is the experience that makes a bachelors / masters as a designer.

    As Sudeep told, western countries welcome engineers to join forces or allow forces to study engineering. But here, even though chiefs talking about recruiting engineers in public, there is no action in that front.

    Its me who asked whether you are from NDA. Congrats Ajai and I can only envy you. Reason, I tried hard to join NDA but failed. I had to console myself with an engineering from a prestigious institute and become a software engineer. I applied for services job even after engineering, but failed.


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