International Fleet Review: Vizag rises to the occasion
A military parade is an orderly assembly of troops for inspection and this ceremony is festive in nature and often involves the marching of the personnel to the accompaniment of band music. Every parade has a Conducting Officer who acts as the host and a Reviewing Officer who is the Chief Guest.
All this is reasonably straightforward and fine tuned on terra firma and the Republic Day Parade is illustrative.
A fleet review is akin but in a different medium – water – and the concept of organising a parade of ships is not very different. However the challenges of its implementation reside in a different order of magnitude.
Anchoring ships at correct spacing apart and in a straight line is a professional challenge as the ships do not have brakes and respond differently to the influences of wind and tide. And, the same line does not look very straight when the tide turns. Further, the size of the parade ground or the anchorage needs to be such as to compactly accommodate all the participating units.
A naval fleet review is a long-standing tradition followed by navies all over the world. It is a grand occasion when every operational ship is spruced up, proudly displaying its crest and its crew in a spirit of loyalty and allegiance to its sovereign and the state.
The Indian President, as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, reviews the fleet once during his/ her tenure. The Fleet Review aims at assuring the nation of the Navy’s preparedness, high morale and discipline. For the Indian Navy, there is no occasion more formal than this ever and it is a matter of immense pride and privilege for members of the silent service to participate in it.
For everyone else present there, including the veterans, it is a matter of great honour to do so. Like all other festive displays, there is always a large supporting cast working behind the scenes to ensure that the show proceeds flawlessly as scripted and with clockwork precision.
As a leading maritime power, India will also avail this opportunity to enhance mutual trust and confidence with her maritime neighbours and partners by inviting their Naval Chiefs and ships to participate in the review. The review of the fleet by President Pranab Mukherjee on February 6 will be only the second occasion wherein friendly foreign navies have been invited to participate and, again, only the second one to be hosted at Visakhapatnam, the City of Destiny.
Like every other function, each review is a different experience. It is not only that the sheer size, scale and complexity of the event have been increasing with each successive review but there are also some striking differences between the two locales of past reviews, viz. Mumbai and Visakhapatnam or Vizag, as the city is colloquially known.
The reviews at Mumbai are organised inside the harbour where the navigable space is limited and, therefore, the review hampers routine port activity, not only during its currency but for as long as the ships are at anchorage or rehearsing. Tidal stream changes direction four times daily thereby swinging the ships around their anchor.
Off Vizag, the ships line up for review in open roadstead which allows for more manoeuvring room, port traffic is not disrupted – though the fishing activity is – and ships keep pointing in the same direction all the time due to the coastal current. What is, however, common to both locations is the need for precision ship handling to drop anchor exactly at the assigned spot.
Buffeted about by wind and waves, most ships behave like tubs particularly at slow speeds. Therefore, even if only one in every three ships needs to go around more than once and an odd one more than twice before riding anchor, a 100-ship review could require say 150 anchorings!
Another unique feature of IFR 16 would be the Operational Demonstration on February 7 (Sunday).
During this event, the Indian Navy will showcase its multi-dimensional operational capability through action-packed high speed manoeuvres by frontline ships wherein the aircraft carriers will launch and recover aircraft. An airpower demonstration is part of the op-dem as also weapon firing by ships and aircraft.
Marine commandos will demonstrate special operations and sky divers will display their skill. All this will take place at sea but very close to the famous Rama Krishna Beach from where it will be witnessed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, invited guests, including foreign navies’ participants, and the civil populace.
Having participated in a number of reviews in different capacities starting from the December 1969 Review, one looks forward to a spectacular show in the offing. This author recalls the intense discussions in 1997 at the planning stage of Indian Navy’s first International Fleet Review.
Choice of venue was the most contentious issues being debated and one of the stakeholders opined that Vizag merited selection because, inter alia, no review had ever been held there and, more importantly, the whole of Vizag would rise to the occasion as against Mumbai where the review would be just one of the many events going on.
Based on city-related experiences till then, the argument seemed impeccable and it must have found its way into the Mumbaikar ear. History has it that in February 2001 the whole of south Mumbai stood still to participate in the pageantry of India’s first International Fleet Review – not only on the waterfront facing Gateway of India but also the next day as the resplendent contingents from all participants marched at City Parade on the Marine Drive at the rush hour of a normal day’s business period.
And, now is the time for other half of the prophecy to come true viz. the whole of Vizag to rise to the occasion. The Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Robin Dhawan, would be counting on that.