Sunday Snippets: Reminiscences of a mock drill
By Venkatesh Raghavan
I chose to recall this exciting day from memory, when I was taken along with a team of Defence reporters to cover a mock drill on amphibious exercises conducted off the coast of Goa. We were not allowed to report the exact spot where the exercises were conducted. However, I have a vivid memory of how it took place in the wee hours of morning when our entire troupe from Bombay was hustled into a Naval bus to take us to the location.
The then Chief of Naval Staff, Vishnu Bhagwat explained to me that the first amphibious exercise was carried out at Normandy, where the allied forces attacked Germany. In retrospect, to throw more light on what exactly he was referring to, if you had happened to watch Guns of Navarone, it would be clear that the allies were preparing their way to remove all obstacles, before the actual Normandy attack took place.
Amphibious, as the word suggests, is a combined attack from sea and air to capture a coastal strip. We were taken from the beach to the Indian Naval Warship on feeder boats. Once we were all on board, we got to watch the signalling from the vessels parked in the sea that were ready to take command. Our warship happened to be an aircraft carrier and a Sea Harrier was slated to take off from the decks. We all reporters were given cotton to stuff our ears with to brace ourselves for the loud noise that emanates from the aircraft taking off.
It was early morning around 4.30 a.m. We were however, able to get a clear sight of the activities taking place on the beach. The entire action lasted for over an hour till the mock capture of the coastal stretch got carried out. That’s when Admiral Bhagwat launched into his narratives. In the seventies and the next decade too, India had a blue water navy, meaning two aircraft carriers, Viraat and Vikrant. The two carriers were deployed one each on India’s eastern and western coast. At that juncture, even neighboring China did not boast of a blue water Navy.
Then our discussion shifted to new technologies that were emerging in India’s defence arena. This conversation took place during the late nineties to give you an idea of how long it takes for any scheme or plan to get into action in this country. Bhagwat and I got talking about the naval version of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). The Admiral informed me that the prototype was ready and it may be out anytime soon. He however, could not come out with a solid timeframe or future date to be precise for the full-fledged launch of the ALH that will turn operational.
I am recalling this conversation as it was only five to six year prior to that point in time, I had penned a full-length article in the Sterling Group Newspapers publication, Technocrat, about future defence technologies that dwelt in depth on ALH and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), besides the stealth aircraft, which were able to escape radar detection. In short, I and Bhagwat had a good time chatting about technologies that were round the corner for the Indian defence forces.
For those with short public memories, it was much later after the first decade of the new millennium had elapsed when the ALH came into the Indian Defence scenario. I recall this chat with Bhagwat as it occurred a short while, say two or three months before the then Defence Minister George Fernandes sacked him from his post. But then such is life!