NDTV: Hello and welcome to this special Navy town hall, we're broadcasting to you today from the eastern seaboard of India at the Bay of Bengal. And you can see the magnificent setting that we're sitting in here, in the city that's known as the city of destiny, Vishakapatnam. Behind me everywhere are ships, not just Indian ships but also ships from multiple countries, the city of course playing host to the International Fleet Review. This is only the second time that we are seeing the International Fleet Review which is going to bring together a host of countries, many Navy chiefs and of course the President reviewing this in a Grand Finale with the Prime Minister witnessing it as well. We believe that this is the perfect setting to look at the state of our defence preparedness, maritime security, apprehensions of maritime terror and of course all the issues around defence procurement. And it is my honour and privilege to welcome on this Navy town hall, the Chief of Navy Staff, Admiral RK Dhowan.
Admiral Dhowan: Thank you very much Barkha, delighted to be here.
NDTV: And it is such a pleasure to be out of Delhi and actually near the water.
Admiral Dhowan: Nothing could gladden my heart better than to see the ships on the horizon, all the ships on the review anchorage, all in position for the International Fleet Review and it's a delight to be hosting over 50 countries at the International Fleet Review.
NDTV: So for those who are not familiar with the Navy, who don't come from a military background, the provenance of the International Fleet Review was for the British, it was for the Queen, the King or the Monarch to review her or his naval fleet. In the India context, what is the significance of what we're about to witness and why is it only the second time that we are seeing the International Fleet Review?
Admiral Dhowan: Well, as you said it is an old maritime tradition to have fleet reviews and this is the 11th Fleet Review, which started, the first one being in 1953. We have a Fleet Review where the Honourable President of India reviews the fleet once during his or her tenure, and the first one was reviewed in 1953. What you've said also is that this is the second International Fleet Review, the first one was in 2001 off Mumbai where we had 29 Navies participating and this time it is the second Fleet Review of the eastern seaboard in the city of destiny, Vishakapatnam, where 50 countries from the world over have got together at Vishakapatnam to strengthen bridges of friendship.
NDTV: And 22 Naval chiefs, I believe, 4,000 sailors from multiple countries and almost a 100 ships including our own of course.
Admiral Dhowan: That's right
NDTV: It sounds pretty magnificent but what's interesting is some of the countries that are present and some of the countries that are not present. So should we be surprised at all that Pakistan is not present? Let's start with who's not present first.
Admiral Dhowan: Well as I said this is a review where a large number of Navies from across the world are participating. We have the participation either as the Chief, there are about 22 Chiefs, we have about 26 heads of delegation, 24 warships from other Navies are participating and the number of countries represented are about 50 and the total number of ships which will be there in various activities of the review will be about a 100, with 71 ships of the Indian Navy, 24 foreign warships and we will have the Coast Guard, the Merchant Navy and the Survey Vessels also present there. Because this is an indication of our maritime capability that the nation has, India is a maritime nation with a direct relationship towards the Seas and one of the ways that we display our maritime capabilities to the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, which is the Honorable President, is by the Fleet Review. Yes, we have many countries present, some of the countries are not present, Pakistan is not present but China is participating and China is one of the countries, which is sending its ships as well as its delegation.
NDTV: I want to talk about China in just a moment but would it be fair to say that Pakistan is the only country that was invited and chose not to be a part of this?
Admiral Dhowan: Well, it's something...
NDTV: Pakistan was invited, right?
Admiral Dhowan: The aspect is that this is the inputs that we get from our missions and it was based on that, that Pakistan did not participate.
NDTV: Talk a little bit about China, I find it absolutely fascinating the Chinese presence here and I think it would be fair to say that at the previous International Fleet Review China was not present?
Admiral Dhowan: That's right
NDTV: So for the first time we are actually seeing China here and the reason its fascinating is there is an impression that the fight in the waters today, in the Indian Ocean is between India and China for the domination of these waters. So to see China here is interesting. How do we read this presence from a geo-political strategic point of view?
Admiral Dhowan: Well, I would like to change that perception a little bit. I would like to say that the seas around us are gaining new found importance as each day goes by and there is no doubt that the current century is the Century of the Seas. The seas that you see out there, these are called the Global Commons, and the Global Common mean that the trade from one Ocean flows into the other and it is actually quite different from the environment that you have on land or in the air, because out at sea, when you have warships from another Navy participating, they are all operating in International waters. If an officer on the watch was to report to the captain of a ship that we have a warship from another navy on the starboard bow, he would just tell him "son flash to him Good Morning because he is in international waters and so are you". The fact is that these are International waters we're operating in and the aspect related to the safety, stability and the security of the Global Commons as we call them is a collective responsibility of the coastal states, because no single navy, however robust it may be, can ensure the security of global commons on its own. So the medium of the Sea actually lends itself for cooperation, lends itself for a collaborative approach and that is what all aspects of Naval cooperation are about. And as we have seen in our waters, the Indian Navy has actually had a maritime cooperation road map for the next 10 years with all the countries of the Indian Ocean region laterals and this is in keeping with the vision of our Honourable Prime Minister, which is 'Sagar' which is security and growth for all in the region. So what you see, all the ships out there, it is about cooperation, it is how to interact with each other and how to work together to make the Global Commons safe and secure.
NDTV: I will come to PM's look east policy and his renewed emphasis on the Navy in a moment, but Sir I understand that you have to give me the politically correct answer. You playing host to the Chinese, but it's my job to be contrarian on this programme, so I am going to ask you the slightly awkward question. Yes I understand that International waters are nobody's property. But the fact is that from a strategic point of view, the Chinese investment in the Gwadar port in Pakistan, in a port in Sri Lanka, which could be the biggest we see coming up, the conflict in the South China Sea, the battle for domination of the Indian Ocean, is it not a concern for India? Do we not have to provide a countervailing narrative to dominating these waters, are we not seeing China today as our main threat in the waters and not the old enemies like the Pakistan?
Admiral Dhowan: Well China's trade, a large amount of China's trade and China's oil passes through the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean region actually has become the world's center of gravity in the maritime domain because 66% of the world's oil, 50% of the world's container traffic, 33% of the world's cargo traffic passes through these waters and its also a fact that 80% of the trade and oil that emanates in the Indian Ocean Region is extra regional in nature, which means....
NDTV: What does extra regional mean?
Admiral Dhowan: Extra regional means that it goes out of the Indian Ocean region towards the Pacific and towards the Atlantic. Because if you see the figures for the Pacific and the Atlantic ocean, they are just about reversed. When 80% of what emanates from here goes outside the region, it means that any impediment in the free-flow of trade or oil in that region would have a detrimental impact, not just on the economies of that region, but on the global economies as well. And therefore there is so much of interest in the Indian Ocean Region and we have warships from large number of navies, which operate in the Indian Ocean region. China operates its warships since 2008, the first Anti Piracy escort force came in 2008 as part of the anti piracy patrol which they do in the Gulf region. Currently they have the 22nd anti piracy escort force in place. Now as far as India is concerned, we have vast maritime impress, which have a vital relationship with our nation’s economic growth. So the Indian Navy monitors every movement of every warship and indeed other what we call white shipping traffic, in the area to get adequate maritime domain awareness, so the movement of the Chinese warships and indeed Chinese submarines are also monitored by the Indian Navy.
NDTV: I'm glad you've brought that up because in the media you often see reports of these Chinese submarines moving into Karachi, moving into Sri Lanka, not permanently, but certainly transiting through. Is this a point of concern?
Admiral Dhowan: Well it is an aspect certainly that the Indian Navy monitors to see who is deployed in the region, where they're going and what they're doing, as indeed we monitor the activities of the other navies as well and also to get, the main purpose is to have a comprehensive maritime domain awareness in our waters. Because we want to know what is going on in the waters around us so that we can adequately protect our maritime interests. And you can be rest assured that the Indian Navy monitors the large ocean spaces, which are our maritime interest, very, very closely.
NDTV: You know there's a sense that of course China is not an ally and that large parts of the world are fighting a proxy battle or large parts of world are fighting a proxy battle with China through India. So there's a suggestion that countries like Japan, countries like Vietnam would certainly like to see a stronger Indian maritime presence to take on China. Do we see our role as that? Do we see China as our biggest competitor in the waters?
Admiral Dhowan: We need a strong Indian Navy; we need a strong maritime force to look after Indian maritime interests, which are huge. We have a long coastline of 7615 km, we have an exclusive economic zone of over 2 million sq km, we have island territories, 90% of our trade is by sea. So these are all our maritime interests. So what the Indian Navy does is that we work towards shaping a favorable maritime environment in the region. And we have interaction with all the other laterals. We have an interaction with Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, with the east coast of African countries and countries in South East Asia, countries in the Bay of Bengal, which is the largest bay in the world and we also have interactions with China. I would like to mention that. Because our ships have visited China, they were there for the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, they were there for the Joint Exercises which were held there, two of their ships had visited Vishakapatnam two years ago.
NDTV: So you're not concerned about their investment in a Pakistani port?
Admiral Dhowan: Well if the investment is there in a Pakistani port then we have to see what that investment is for, and what we have to do with our interests in the Indian Ocean Region. Because the aspect is the Indian Navy, as part of the Maritime Cooperation roadmap, also looks at aspects related to capacity building and capability enhancement of the other island nations in the region. So we have to look and safeguard our maritime interests and closely monitor what happens in the waters around us.
NDTV: You have spoken about maritime terror being a serious concern and we none of us can forget what happened with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. How seriously do you assess maritime terror and the dangers from it? I ask this because every now and then you read renewed threats from terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba talking about a maritime wick.
Admiral Dhowan: Well first of all it is important to understand that in the 21st century the challenges in the maritime domain are as wide and varied as they come. Firstly, who could have imagined in the 21st century we would once again be grappling with pirates or that the major threat in the maritime domain, as you said, is from asymmetric warfare and maritime terrorism. So in the last few years there has been a host of activities, which have been carried out. Firstly, we have about 87 automatic identification systems in the chain, which has been set all along the coast of India and our Island territories and is operational now. The second aspect is that we have coastal radar stations, about 46 of them, along the coast and the islands, which also have been integrated and operational. As you are aware the Navy has set up the IMAG and the NC3I, National Command, Control, Communication and Information network, in which 51 stations, 30 of the Coastguard, 21 of the Navy have been integrated. All this is to provide comprehensive maritime domain awareness in the waters around us. The surveillance levels both by the Navy and the Coastguard, the integration with other agencies that operate in the maritime domain, such as the coastal police, such as the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, aspects related to offshore gas, the shipping industry, all these have been integrated. And there is a committee, which is headed by the Cabinet Secretary, which regularly reviews that. But this is leveraging technology. What the Navy and the Coastguard have also done is that we have physically sent our people on foot, on motorcycles, in whatever means available to every single coastal village on the east and west coast of India.
NDTV: Every single village?
Admiral Dhowan: Coastal village. With the aim of carrying out what we call 'Coastal mapping'. They have then spoken to these people in the language that they understand, the local languages and to bring out 2 aspects, that they are an important part of the eyes and ears of the coastal surveillance and this has had some great results, because the fishermen who are very, very cooperative, now understand the importance of the terrorism and other threats that are there and also the fact that they are now getting themselves registered. The registration process is nearly 80% complete in all our 9 coastal states.
NDTV: So 80% of coastal areas…
Admiral Dhowan: …the fishing villages, yes. We have about 250,000 fishing boats, So depending, each state is carrying out the registration, but the levels of satisfaction are 70 upward or 80 and even 90 in some states. The aspect of registration of every fisherman is also being done. We have 4 million as a fishing community, so that is also being carried out.
NDTV: But you know, Sir, when we look back at 26/11 you have spoken about how the Navy realised that they had to reorient the role of the marine commandos, the MARCOS after what happened during the Mumbai attacks, where it was suggested that they could have done better and they did not and you actually suggested that it was not their role at all. Now how do you see the role of marine commandos in anti terror operations? And I ask this because at this Fleet Review I was seeing some of the rehearsals and the pictures that have come out and I saw very, very dramatic images and we are going to play them out, of this underwater explosion, you have got these commandos coming onto the beach, they are armed and it all happens within 2-3 minutes. So talk a little about anti terrorism strategy and how you see the marine commandos fitting into that and specially after the mistakes of 26/11.
Admiral Dhowan: Well the aspect is that the Marine commandos are our special forces and they certainly have a role, but I would like to go one step backwards and say that when we are talking about coastal security or we are talking of official security, it is the role of a large number of agencies that operate in the maritime domain. The change that has taken place after 26/11 is that all these 16 or various agencies have been brought together on the same platform. So there is a fair amount of integration now because we have coastal security exercises which are held off all our 9 coastal states and island territories. Every agency participates whether it is the shipping aspect, whether it is aspect from Agricultural Ministry, which looks after fishing aspect, aspect of the offshore oil, the state police, the marine police, which are there at various stages, the Navy and the Coastguard. And we have also carried out what we call as trigger operations and we have launched in the last year itself, there would be 40-50 of these operations. Each time we get an input we go up in a higher level of alert and various agencies then coordinate. The Marine commandos have a role to play. Let me say when our ships are deployed for anti piracy patrol we have Marine commandos on board. When the ship is carrying out a regular patrol, a situation could develop and they can take it on. In an anti terrorist kind of situation they are trained for that, so that if there is a situation where there is terrorism situation, our Marine commandos, who are a highly specialized force with the correct kind of equipment, can then get involved to deal with the situation.
NDTV: Are you suggesting therefore that their role was never urban terrorism? Mumbai was not the setting for the MARCOS?
Admiral Dhowan: That was not at that point in time; that was not the setting. But here now they have been integrated into a larger setting aspect related to the coastal offshore security and if the setting or the situation is such then certainly, certainly they will have a role to play. But I would actually like to allude to the role of various agencies who are actually patrolling the seas 24x7. We have our Dornier aircraft, we have the larger maritime control aircraft. We have our UAV's which are carrying out surveillance; we have our ships, the bigger ships and the smaller ships out on patrol, the Coastguard helicopters, ships are not patrol, the local marine police is on patrol much closer to the coast and that is how this integration is being carried out, while leveraging on technology to see that our coasts are much safer than they were ever before.
NDTV: Let me ask you the question, a commonsensical question that would come from a civilian population. They are looking at where we are sitting and just look back, we look at these waters and it is majestic and beautiful and you know we can see aircraft in the sky. Talk a little about what we are seeing see up there.
Admiral Dhowan: Well I can say that it is just on cue because if you try to say that our coast seem unguarded there are many eyes in the sky which are watching what is going on. And I mention the complete coastal surveillance equipment in terms of the AIS chain, in terms of coastal radar stations, in terms of, as I said, UAV's, aircraft, ships. Around this particular anchorage there are at least 3 or 4 rings of security, which have been put in place.
NDTV: Am glad that you said that, because I was going to say that when I look out at these waters I am thinking could an Ajmal Kasab and 9 terrorists still come in on a boat and who would know? That's what a civilian, looking at this expanse of Bay of Bengal, is going to think.
Admiral Dhowan: So I would like to assure you and I would like assure the citizens of our great country that all aspects of security, not just for the Review, but in our coastal areas, in coastline, is taken into account. Actually our men and women assure and men out at sea spend sleepless nights so that our citizens assuredly can sleep in peace. So there is a fair amount of surveillance that gets carried out and each time there is even a whiff of danger we go up on stage and deploy additional aircraft or ships, as the case, be in accordance with the standard operating procedure.
NDTV: Is there any gap in coastal security that worries you? And I ask you this because I was reading about in Mumbai the Bandra-Worli sea link and there are media reports that suggest there is a shack that is manned by 2 coastal officers and the suggestion is this cannot be your first yard of defence. So one still reads these reports and I am asking you, is there any gap you believe needs to be filled, that needs to be plugged that hasn't been yet, whether in terms of new technology or us falling back on modernization? What concerns you the most right now about our preparedness?
Admiral Dhowan: Just to clear that aspect, the first yard is not land. First yard is out at sea because the threat, which we are looking at is not the threat which emanates from land. That is being looked at by other agencies. So the Navy and the Coastguard deploys itself miles away, way beyond what the normal citizens can actually see. That is the reason why we are called the silent service, because you cannot see us operate. If we had many policemen lined up here or certain coastal people lined up there that will be visible, but our first yard of defence is actually out at sea. It is our ships, it is our aircraft, it is our UAVs, which carry out aerial surveillance. I mentioned to you these various centres which our setup, the Joint Operational Control Centres, all the inputs are coming to them in the central area and these are being monitored. We also have a system by which smaller patrol crafts, the faster crafts also go out to the sea. It closes into the marine police and it closes into what you have perhaps seen as part of the coastal police, where there are these thanas, which are on the coast. So it is all part of an integrated area. I would like to mention you what is further, what we are in the process of doing, is that each of the 250,000 fishing boats will actually have a transponder.
NDTV: How many of them have it right now?
Admiral Dhowan: The trials are being completed and state wise in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu they are being fitted now. So this is something, which will ensure the further improvement of our coastal security.
NDTV: Let me ask you this, there is a concern about modernization, there is a concern about slow pace of procurement and there is a suggestion that nothing bogs down procurement more than bureaucracy. And I ask you this because your predecessor, who actually resigned after a spate of mishaps, the Sindhu Rakshak being prime among them, he famously told our channel that even to order a set of new batteries is a nightmare and being the Chief is not only about preening at parades. I am quoting him verbatim, he sounded extremely angry about the bureaucracy and said even a set of batteries is a problem. I am sure as a serving Chief you can't be as blunt, he said this after he had quit. But is the bureaucracy and is the slow pace of procurement a problem? And is it really that difficult because that sounds frightening?
Admiral Dhowan: The aspect is that we have to understand what is required for the Navy both in the long term as well as the short term and as you are fully aware this is dealt with in different sections. We could be talking about capital procurement, which is what the Navy needs tomorrow, that is not done ad-hoc, it is done in accordance with a well-conceived plan. The Navy has a maritime capability perspective plan for the next 15 years. So the aspects related to procurement and procurement procedures, if I may say so, have actually got well stream lined in the past few years, because the defence procurement procedure actually has been through a series of iterations and as we speak there is new one, which is going to be released shortly. All these changes are being done by the Ministry of Defence in consultation with the Services to ensure that the procedures are stream lined so as to speed up, as you say, the pace of procurement.
NDTV: Even you have spoken about the need to expedite. So clearly there is a concern that it is not moving at the pace it should.
Admiral Dhowan: Whatever the aspect related to our suggestions to expedite processes are given by the Service Headquarters in consultation with the Ministry of Defence and that is what leads, as I said, to tweaking of the defence procurement procedures, so the next iteration is little more stream lined and speeds up the process further. The Honourable Defence Minister has actually taken this up very strongly and he is keen that the entire process needs to be speeded up. The other aspect which you mentioned is the aspect about revenue procurement, because those are things we need to run the Navy, and those are aspects related to spares etc which are there and the procedures for that are actually under the delegated powers, which now under the new procedure that has been announced, the powers of the Service Headquarters revenue procurement have actually gone up by manifold than they were before, further streamlining these procedures so that what is required by us is available to the Armed Forces and indeed the Navy.
NDTV: You have spoken about this being a building Navy rather than a buying Navy, but the fact of the matter is that if you look at the whole concept of float, move and fight, then there is a sense that at last in the fighting department is dependent heavily on imports. Would you concede that it is a problem and that creates dependency? And how do you plan to change that?
Admiral Dhowan: Well the Navy has planned to change that not now but some years ago
NDTV: I know. I think if am not wrong 70% of the combat materials is still dependent on imports
Admiral Dhowan: That is a general statement. Let me amplify, specifically as far as the Navy is concerned. As you know the Navy has its own design directorate for ships and submarines and this ship design directory was setup 50 years ago. We made our first indigenous patrol vessel in 1961 and since then there has been a focus on self-reliance and indigenisation. Today it is a matter of great pride for the Navy that all our current warships and submarines are under construction. All 46 of them are being built in Indian shipyards, both public and private. Coming to your question of float, move and fight, in the float segment you are fully aware that we are 90% and above indigenous because the warship grade steel has been developed by the DRDO and it’s made in the country by SAIL and other industries. In the move component which is our machinery and auxiliary and the other main preparation…
NDTV: It is about 40%?
Admiral Dhowan: No. We are about 60%. The figures are changing and there are large numbers of this machinery being made in country in collaboration. Let me now tell you, in the fight component what is made in India for warships. aspects of our radar, the SONAR, communication systems, electronic warfare systems, our surface to surface missiles like Brahmos, the surface to air missile which is now the LR-SAM which is in collaboration, it recently did a successful firing, aspects of our combat management system are all indigenous. The level of fight component in different ships varies. The latest ship that we inducted into the Indian Navy INS Kadmatt, which is the anti submarine warfare corvette built in Garden Reach, Kolkata is 90% indigenous including the fight component. So the point I am trying to make is that yes, we need to focus on the fight component, but there is progress. So what has the Navy done about it? We have done 2 things. Firstly we have outlined a science and technology road map in consultation with the DRDO for the next 15 years. This, I think, is a landmark document because now the Navy and the DRDO, which have always been working together, have a much clearer idea of the fight component weapon and sensors, which we need. Second aspect, the Navy has outlined an indigenization plan for the next 15 years and shared it with the Indian industry, because earlier the industry was not very clear as to what we want to be indigenized. So that has been done. So these are the measures to make sure that even in the fight component the level of indigenization would increase in the years to come.
NDTV: So I'm hearing you say that you now see a big role for private players. In the past there has been this resistance to allow private players into defence and you're actually saying that times have changed, we need private players to become indigenous. How is that playing out, do you still have to go through all the red tape to make that possible?
Admiral Dhowan: Well I think this is well known by the Government's Make In India policy which has changed all that and given a much bigger role to the private industry, including in defence. And that is a welcome change, because now we have the opportunity where the industrial capability of the country in the defence sector can also be utilized for naval systems, for naval reconnaissance sensors and this is a recent change that we've seen and of course it is a change that will result in us being competitive and also resulting in a prized discovery.
NDTV: What would you identify as the biggest challenge to India's Maritime security today?
Admiral Dhowan: To India's maritime security at this point in time is that we need to firstly shape a favourable maritime environment in the entire region, because the threat today is from the asymmetric warfare, it is from maritime terrorism, we need to make sure that our islands in the Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal, the Lakshadweep in the Arabian sea are safe. We need to make sure that all aspects of our trade, because 90% of our trade is by sea, and the seas are no longer a benign medium, because earlier the trade was relatively safe. Today any innocuous fishing boat can be a source of threat and therefore there is a requirement to make sure that we safeguard our maritime frontiers and we safeguard our blue-water operations. So the Navy needs to operate firstly out at sea to shape a favourable maritime environment, we have aspects like sea control, our submarines need to be involved in aspects of sea denial and thereafter we need to look at aspects of coastal and offshore security.
NDTV: You know when we saw your predecessor resigning after those very unfortunate mishaps, you said you were going to put systems into place so that this would not happen again. But at that time too there was a lot of focus on submarine rescue vehicles, then there was another accident and there was talk about torpedo rescue vehicles, how much have we really progressed on that front?
Admiral Dhowan: I think we have progressed a lot because the first thing that we had to do was to make sure that we adhered to the standard operating procedures which had been laid down. Because the Navy is a highly technical and professional service and for any action out at sea, there is a standard operating procedure, whenever you take a shortcut and whenever you don't follow safety procedures, accidents could happen. So we had to do two things, firstly we had to make sure that we carried out detailed safety audits of all our ships and submarines and indeed our shore establishments and air stations as well. At the same time we had to ensure that we do not curb the initiative of the Commanding Officers who need to take bold decisions out at sea.
NDTV: So you're suggesting that is what happened in the past and that is a partial explanation for why we suddenly saw a spate of mishaps and the Commanding Officers were not empowered?
Admiral Dhowan: Well it's a combination. It's not a single thing. It is not just one single thing that went wrong…
NDTV: You must have looked at it? You must have identified a couple of...
Admiral Dhowan: So it's a series of things, some aspects are related to where the procedures have not been followed, some aspects where the safety has not been taken into account, some aspects are material failures, some aspects are somebody didn't take the right decision. Yes. So these are aspects, all have to be taken into account and we had to tackle all of them on all fronts.
NDTV: What about the absence of rescue vehicles?
Admiral Dhowan: The absence of the rescue vehicle has been taken care of because they have already been ordered. In the meantime to meet our current requirement…
NDTV: When do we think we will get them?
Admiral Dhowan: We'll get them now. The process is all complete, of the acquisition, now is the delivery period, which has to be taken into account and they'll be there.
NDTV: Let me ask you to talk a little bit about what many people believe is a new emphasis on the Navy and you know the PM's look east policy, and many would say that this International Fleet Review is also foreign policy by other means, so how would you see that?
Admiral Dhowan: I would say the focus is on maritime aspects, the focus of the new government and indeed the Honourable PM is on India as a maritime nation. He has a vision, which as I said, he has even outlined in Sagar, which is security and growth for all in the region, aspects related to our relationship with the other lateral states, our island nations in the Indian Ocean region and so on. As far as the Fleet Review is concerned, it is an aspect where the Navies of the world are here, which is going to increase the aspect related to cooperation, mutual cooperation and interoperability. It's going to increase the interactions between the Navies and i think this is a very, very important aspect. That's what Navies do, we show the flag, we have exercises with other Navies to enhance cooperation between other Navies and enhance interoperability and this is going to be achieved by the International Fleet Review. It's being held on the east coast of India because the Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world. We have 6 countries along the bay, which have nearly contiguous coastlines and these are our lateral neighbours and they all will have the opportunity, and indeed are all here to participate in the Review. So the Review gives us an opportunity for the Navies of the world to get together to strengthen bridges of friendship and actually indicate and prove that we are certainly united by the ocean and the Global Commons. Safety, security and stability of the Global Commons is something which is the collective responsibility of the Navies of the world.
NDTV: Now listening to you in rapt attention here of course are sailors and officers of the Navy, also NCC cadets, I'm sure they're too scared to speak in front of their Chief but maybe you could talk a little bit about some of the heroes and heroines that we have here. We have a team of women officers who are going to be the first women’s team to circumnavigate the globe, so talk a little bit about that, because that is going to bring me to my favourite subject, about when you're going to give us women a larger role in the Navy. Talk a little bit about the team here…
Admiral Dhowan: Okay, first of all, 14 months ago when super cyclone Hudhud hit the city of Vishakapatnam and I visited here within the first 24 hrs or 48 hrs, this whole city was a devastation zone and I am not joking. The Naval Base alone lost 50 thousand trees. We had already planned the International Fleet Review and it did certainly cast a shadow on the conduct of the International Fleet Review, but I must say that the word impossible does not exist in the dictionary of the men of the Navy and indeed of the East Naval Command. All that you see seated before you are the heroes of the East Naval Command, and the Navy and the Hudhud, a big round of applause for them please. Because every officer, every sailor, every civilian and indeed the entire Naval community rose to the occasion and put back the Eastern Naval Command to its pristine glory, much better than what it was 14 months ago. Second aspect, I mentioned 50 thousand trees were lost. When I came in here I planted a sapling and said that for every tree that we have lost we will plant 2 trees and now we have planted 100 thousand trees including aerial seeding, I don't know how many more trees and you can see, the whole Naval Base and Vishakapatnam is green and the actually 100 thousandth tree is going to be planted by the Honourable PM when he visits here a few days from now. I must also compliment in the same breath the people of Vishakapatnam and I think this is indeed the city of destiny where the people of Vishakapatnam, the Honourable Chief Minister, the local administration, everybody has geared up and made it the most beautiful city in India, as beautiful as I can see it including plantation of trees.
The next set of people we have here are the NCC Cadets. As you know they play a very, very important role because they are the future people who are going to be in the Navy and be leaders of country. And the Navy has had a programme with them where we have taken them out to sea, including foreign countries, so that they can get an idea of what the Navy is all about, what the aspects related to our maritime are, how the Navy operates. And I've told them if they have the spirit of adventure in their hearts and if they want to serve their country with pride, then a career in the Navy is a career for them, so a big round of applause for our NCC cadets here.
And the last in this lot as I said are our heroes, these are the women officers who are the crew of Mhadei and they are actually training under the able guidance of the Commander there, who's been around the world, as you know, all by himself. And these women officers are now being trained so that they will be the first Indian women crew to circumnavigate the earth.
Admiral Dhowan: Please give them a round of applause as well. Commander Donde as well, he is the skipper, he is the one who is a legend and he is the one who is training them to go around the world. They all will be participating on board their sail ship Mhadei as part of the Review. We also have our sail training ships, Sudharshini and Tarangini here. Tarangini has just returned after visiting 17 ports and 13 countries where our cadets have faced some of the worst weathers in the world and obtained their sea legs.
NDTV: So we will be talking to some sailors and cadets on the other side of the break, but this does bring me to, as I said, my favourite question. The Air Force has now said that women can now be fighter pilots from 2017, when are we going to see women on warships, when are we going to see women getting permanent commissions, when are we going to see women in combat?
Admiral Dhowan: Well I have answered this question to you earlier but I will repeat
NDTV: I am hoping I can change your mind every time I ask you this question, little bit and little bit
Admiral Dhowan: First of all I must acknowledge that women officers in the Navy are doing an outstanding job, in whichever field they have been deployed in. They are the best that we have and whichever field, whether it's logistics, whether it's education, whether it's in law, whether it's as observers in aircraft, they are observers, air traffic controllers, they are observers on the long range maritime patrol aircraft and they are actually deployed on that aircraft for long hours. As you know this is a change from what I mentioned to you earlier. The Navy has taken the proposal with the Ministry of Defence to allow women to fly as pilots of maritime reconnaissance aircraft, so that is a first and we are looking forward...
NDTV: What about combat and warships?
Admiral Dhowan: Well, there also we have made some progress, had discussions and the Honorable Raksha Mantri has asked us to look at the aspects related to the facilities and the administrative requirements which need to be made available on board warships, so that we can open up this sector also for women. As I mentioned to you then we have nothing against that aspect, it is only a matter of time and trust me I would very much like to see women be on our warships when we are ready for it.
NDTV: So women on warships and women pilots as soon as the ministry clears it?
Admiral Dhowan: No as soon as we are ready
NDTV: And how soon will that be?
Admiral Dhowan: Very soon
NDTV: Broadly, before this year is over?
Admiral Dhowan: We will try
NDTV: Another 2 years?
Admiral Dhowan: Maybe
NDTV: Is that a realistic timeline?
Admiral Dhowan: There is…
NDTV: In 2 years could we see women in the Navy on warships and as pilots?
Admiral Dhowan: All going well and with getting our requisite approvals from the Ministry of Defence and the government..
NDTV: And permanent commission?
Admiral Dhowan: Permanent commission is there for women. I explained that to you last time. It is only in the selected areas..
NDTV: I know, I am talking about more areas.
Admiral Dhowan: Yes we are opening up more areas. We are certainly opening up more areas and that will automatically happen. If we do open up more sectors, automatically we will also open up more areas for permanent commission.
NDTV: Should I push my luck and say combat?
Admiral Dhowan: Well when they go on warships it's combat isn't it?
NDTV: So no roles are kind of off limits?
Admiral Dhowan: The intention is to not exclude women from any role. But I must say it is prudent that the Navy is ready for them, because we would not like a situation where we open up one sector and for a variety of reasons we are not ready, because they are outstanding women and we would like them to perform with no holds barred in every sector.
NDTV: Well I would say Sir that the women are ready so hopefully the Navy will be ready soon. Let me just briefly ask you, in the end we are going to look forward to some pretty fantastic things happening here like skydivers and the diver who reaches the ground first presents the Prime Minister a book, this sounds like a Hindi film.
Admiral Dhowan: Well it’s not something that has not been done before. Talking about the operational demonstration which will happen here as we see it, one of the reasons why Vishakapatnam and the Bay of Bengal were chosen is because the depths of water, which allow our warships to come much closer to the shore, as compared to the west coast, so that we can carry out a meaningful operational demonstration. And the Prime Minister will be the Chief Guest on the 7th at the Ramakrishna beach here, where the entire might of the Navy, our ships, aircraft, marine commandos, skydivers all will put up a show. And yes, part of the show will also be an exhilarating performance for the people of Vishakapatnam and for all our foreign friends from other Navies who are here. They will be skydiving and the intention is he will bring down the book. This is a book on the maritime heritage of India, where we have tried to put together the maritime heritage of the past 5000 years. As you know India has a great maritime tradition going back to 3300 BC, so we have tried to put, very humbly, all of this together in a book which is titled Maritime Heritage of India and in Hindi it is called Humari Samudri Virasat and this is going to be released by the Honourable Prime Minister.
NDTV: Well after a short break we are going to hear stories from the sailors and officers here, but it has been a pleasure talking to you and I have to say if am ever going to interview you again it has to be by the water, at a setting like this, because nothing beats this and absolutely a pleasure to have you on the special Navy town hall
Admiral Dhowan: Welcome to the International Fleet Review
NDTV: Thank you very much. We will be taking a quick break. On the other side some of the personal stories from the sailors, officers and cadets from here.