Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Full steam ahead!


Vice Admiral Krishnan Nair Sushil of the Southern Command is focused on strengthening coastal security and providing the best training for Navy cadets all over India

By Shevlin Sebastian

“There is always a possibility of a terrorist attack from the sea, because it is the easiest way to gain access to a country,” says Vice Admiral Krishnan Nair Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command, Kochi. “Our fishing boats do not look any different from the Sri Lankan or Pakistani ones. We have the same culture and food habits. The Pakistani looks the same as an Indian and talks the same language.”

And they also have a common meeting-ground in the Middle East. “If a Pakistani wants to motivate an Indian -- to become a jihadi -- it becomes easier in the Gulf,” says Sushil.

Another drawback is that Indians are not at all security-conscious. Somebody will sweet-talk a fisherman to use a boat for 15 days. The fisherman thinks, ‘I need the money.’ “He is not aware that the boat may be used for a terrorist activity,” says Sushil. “These drawbacks are easily exploited.”

Nevertheless, after the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, the central government has sanctioned a large budget to upgrade the facilities of the Coast Guard. “Soon, the Coast Guard’s reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters will be larger than the Air Force’s,” says Sushil.

But coastal security is a major problem. In Mumbai harbour, on any given day, there are 450 shipping vessels. “To keep track is a difficult task,” says Sushil. “We have requested the fisheries department to issue identity cards and do regular checks.”

The same thing is being done in Kerala. “The good news is that the fishermen in the state have become very aware,” says Sushil. If they observe anybody who looks suspicious, they report it immediately.

“This last level of security is vital in a place where there are thousands of fishing boats,” says Sushil. “We may have the surveillance, and the sophisticated aircraft, but it is not possible for a pilot to monitor every inch of the coast.”

On the other hand, a fisherman can say, “This guy is not from here.” Immediately, the Coast Guard can zero in on the right suspect. “That is the strength we have built upon,” says Sushil. “Whenever a fisherman reports something significant, we reward him. The fishing community feels good that they are being appreciated.”

Apart from coastal security, Sushil’s major responsibility is in running the training institutes in the Southern Command. They include the Naval Academy at Ezhimala, and the other establishments at Chilka, Lonavala, Mumbai, Vishakhapatnam, Coimbatore, and Jamnagar.

Asked how the cadets of today are different from the past, Sushil says, “They are much better informed.” In earlier times, when a major incident took place, cadets had no access to information.

“Today, a cadet can go to the Internet,” says Sushil. “He can read about how a submarine of the United States Navy has collided with another one. Photos, diagrams and analysis are easily available.”

Another significant difference is that the present-day cadets tend to opt for easier jobs. “So, there are fewer youngsters who want to work in submarines,” says Sushil, a submariner.

On the other hand, there are plenty of candidates for aviation because of the ‘glamour’ quotient and the perception that if they quit the Navy 20 years later, they can easily get another job as a commercial pilot.

“Among the youngsters there is a lot of calculation,” says Sushil. “But they work hard, and have their own way of doing things. They are better at taking decisions than we were at their age.”

But as a leader Sushil has been adept at taking decisions. Earlier, he had been the commander of two destroyers, ‘INS Ranvijay’ and ‘INS Delhi’.

So what are his tips on leadership? “Learn your job, be honest, and look after your men,” he says.

Sushil gives an example. At sea, he would regularly would walk down from the bridge and go to the hot engine room and talk to the man on duty. “He feels good that the captain is not staying put in the air-conditioned bridge,” says Sushil. “I respect my subordinates. I tell them, ‘You are an important member of the ship and I trust you.’ They always respond with enthusiasm.”

In his spare time, Sushil likes to play golf or go for a jog or do some reading. The book he is perusing now is, ‘Breaking Ranks: The True Story Behind the HMAS Voyager Scandal’ by Peter Cabban and David Salter. It is an account of the collision between an Australian aircraft carrier and a destroyer.

“The book talks about how the Navy tried to cover up the incident,” says Sushil. “It is a fascinating read.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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