Sailor shortage can curtail Navy's blue water ambition

Next five years will see addition of new platforms sans enough manpower

As the Indian Navy plans an annual induction of 5-6 new warships over the next five years, severe shortage of sailors strains its blue water ambitions and reach.

The Navy has 22 per cent deficiency in its sailor and officer strength, which will persist for the next five years during which several new platforms including Russian-origin aircraft carrier “INS Vikramaditya” and indigenous nuclear-powered submarine “INS Arihant” will be inducted into the service.

In addition, new destroyers and frigates as well as French-origin killer Scorpene submarines will be commissioned in the next five years. Arranging the manpower for each of these new platforms is posing a big challenge to the naval top brass.

Indian Navy has a sanctioned strength of about 49,000 sailors and 10,500 officers. “At the moment we have 22 per cent shortage in sailors’ strength,” said a navy officer.
“There is a more significant shortage of personnel below officer’s rank in the navy,” admitted Defence Minister A K Antony in the Rajya Sabha last week.

The shortfall in the officer’s cadre too was in the same range. As on March, 2011 Navy had a shortage of 1,818 officers. The number of officers recruited in the preceding two years (2009 and 2010) was 526 and 540 respectively.

Trained sailors

But more than officers, it is the dearth of trained sailors that is pinching the navy more. “In the last three years, the shortfall increased from 17 per cent to 22 per cent. This happened at a time when a large number of new ships, indigenous, and Russian origin stealth frigates were inducted,” he said.

The 4-6 years of time period needed for a sailor’s training contributes towards the current deficiency.

“We plan to bring down the shortfall to five per cent by 2018,” said the navy officer, who is familiar with the planning process in the navy.

Indian Navy also has a sizable civilian population, working mainly in the dockyards, which too is witnessing deficient manpower. Because of their experience, the civilian workforce is the mainstay of the navy’s maintenance work and special efforts are being undertaken to fill up the gaps.

“Recruitment has been increased to address the shortage of sailors in the navy. Induction plans in all branches of sailors have been made taking into consideration the training capacity of ab-initio and downstream training institutions,” Antony said.

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