Every officer a technical graduate: The navy creates a warrior-engineer force - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 25 May 2013

Every officer a technical graduate: The navy creates a warrior-engineer force

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.


  1. Navies have always had a requirement for "technically savvy" officers since the beginning of naval warfare. Earlier it was a naval officer who was well versed with meteorology, sea conditions and advanced navigation skills not taught to sailors today.

    In fact, even more than the air force, the navy needs technically competent officers due to the large requirement from a modern Navy.

    In the West, these requirements are met by opening many ranks to women and women prefer the navy over all other services due to the nature of the work. India may not have the same problems as engineering graduates are a surplus in this country.

  2. Navy has always been more futuristic and nowhere it is more evident than in her thinking which is aimed at standing to the problem before it arises. The examples are having a directorate of Naval Ship designing. Then they are almost leading designing of Naval fighter aircraft which in form of experience would solve the problem of requirements. And to this most adequately trained officers.

    Even in scarce budget share, with proper management navy is churning more productivity than rest two.

    Good Show Navy.

    On darker side this development will be brain drain to private sector which will have such large flock to loot from. Since Navy will be training officers in every possible engineering sector with good infusion of leadership qualities, the navy might face huge man force attrition problem which may not be easily solvable even with increasing number of SSC intake.

    Whatever may be Navy can have no control so not blaming navy.

  3. Hello Ajai - This is indeed good news that the Navy is going ahead with a technically educated officer cadre.
    A few questions:

    1) how does this relate to the education level of the ordinary sailor (the navy jawan)?

    2) There seems to be conspiracy of silence on the degree fumbles that happened at NDA K'wasla (your alma matter). There was this huge fumble when cadets were forced to change their degrees midway through their 3 yrs?

    Please do look into these matters as well.

  4. Why only 162 ships by 2022.We need at least 200.

  5. The best engineers for guns ,armaments and military strategy, pilots and missions undertaken were formed during WWs. Their study continues even today. How many of the ace pilots had the time to become engineers before flying out,or the personnel from the wolfpacks on U and E boats were engineers,or those gunning tanks and modifying equipment before turning 18 and going into war!

    India's fetish with text book jerking continues. The result of this fetish is seen amongst the IAS whose failure list surrounds and surmounts India be it aiding naxal problems, warped ideas thrust on military undermining India's status be it in the 1962 war with China and thereon wards.HAL/NAL,DRDO filled with engineers, no LCA yet talk of nullifying India arming herself from herself with foreign equipment under the "emotional blackmail of indeginisation program" unleashed.
    Contrast to this, an example of someone who only finished nine classes of formal education became the designer of a world class weapon known for its side usage. Any one heard of Mikhail Kalashnikov and the AK 47?...

  6. I don't know if this is an entirely good thing. The pursuit of an all tech work force will see the navy loose out on some very good offrs. those who could hav been excellent sea faring offrs but now are not eligible will lose out or rather the navy will be poorer for quality human resource. Keeping the options open would have been a better bet!

  7. I totally agree with the post by Rustom. The numbers tell the story. Of the more than 500,000 graduates of various engineering schools in India, only 25% (IITs) can only be said to really have engineering talent. The bottom 50% is practically useless for even technician jobs. Poor educational infrastructure and lack of encouragement for creative out-of-the-box thinking both culturally and academically is responsible for this.There is a delusional notion in India, that the significance given to pursue education, especially in the professional fields somehow positions Indians better off than people in other countries. The US, where only around 70,000 engineering graduates come out every year, manages to out-class Indian engineers in innovation and in setting world standards in every application in engineering. Of course, aspiring Indian students are too busy cramming from their textbooks, learning by rote, in order to get those all important marks to bother with the question of the cause of this glaring disparity. In the West, nobody chooses an engineering program, unless they really are interesting in the field. That works out to around 20% in any class in the primary schools. In India, everyone (> 80%) would opt for studying engineering who haven't chosen the field of Medicine; the other choice, even though they have no idea what engineering is or its applications. The problem with graduates who come through such a system that India has, is that they lack the spark and imagination that brings about innovation and creative solutions to improve anything. So the Navy might believe they are getting the best deal around and maybe thats true given the choices, but when compared to technical personnel from the West, India will still be trailing behind playing catch-up. For an aspiring super-power that is quickly being out-classed and out-gunned by its big neighbour to the north, this situation is not only down-right embarrassing, but also a serious threat in the long run.


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