DEFENCE NEWS

RESCUE AT SEA: THE SAGA OF CDR TOBY

In 1968, nine men took part in the first solo non-stop sailing race around the world. Only one finished. It all started with British yachtsman Francis Chichester who set out in August 1966, from England to sail solo around the world to Australia and back via the five great Capes in the 16m Gipsy Moth IV in a bid to beat the Clipper ship records. It took Chichester 274 days (including a stopover in Sydney of 48 days) to complete the mission and set a record for the fastest voyage around the world in a small boat. Now there was just one challenge left. To sail non-stop around the world. And thus was instituted the Sunday Times Golden Global Race in March 1968. Of the nine men who went on this historic first race, the only one who finished was Robin Knox- Johnston in his 9.75m traditional ketich riigged double ended yacht Suhaili.

Now called the Golden Globe Race, an extreme test of human endurance, it was this race that Commander Abhilash Toby, KC took part in and was one of the 18 participants. Sailing on an indigenously built sailing vessel ‘Thuriya’ he commenced the race on 01 July 2018. Before the start of the race, this is what he said: “This event recreates in the closest possible way, the magic of the original race. The emphasis is not on technology and its management, but on seamanship and a direct experience of sea. This spartan philosophy is in keeping with my own view that a lot can be achieved with very little.”

On 22 September, when Commander Toby was somewhere in the South Indian Ocean, 1900 nautical miles from Perth, Australia, he was confronted with extremely rough weather and sea conditions, with wind speeds of 130 kmph and 10 metre high waves. His boat was dismasted and he suffered a back injury, rendering him immobile. At that point in time, he was in third position, out of the 18 international participants. Unable to move, he managed to send a message for help: “ROLLED. DISMASTED. SEVERE BACK INJURY. CANNOT GET UP”. This set in motion an international rescue effort. Indian Naval stealth Frigate, INS Satpura operating in the Indian ocean was immediately dispatched for the rescue mission and all nearby ships alerted. Toby later reported: “ACTIVATED EPIRB. CANT WALK. MIGHT NEED STRETCHER”

On Sunday, 23 September, Indian Navy’s P-8I aircraft sighted the SV Thuriya at 7.50 AM. Aircraft from Australian and a domestic plane also flew over Toby’s position, and found the yacht lying with the rig alongside the hull, and the main hatch open. The French fisheries patrol vessel Osiris was thereafter the first to reach the spot on 24 September. Crew from the Osiris boarded Thuriya and transferred Toby to the rescue vessel by stretcher on a Zodiac RIB from where he was finally evacuated to a hospital in Amsterdam Island.

It is heartening to note that the yacht has not been scuttled during the rescue. It was towed by an Indian frigate to St Paul’s Island some 40 miles north. A crew is being despatched for repair of the yacht and it will eventually sail back to India. With the rescue of Cdr Abhilash Toby, the nation heaved a great sigh of relief that he is conscious and doing fine.

INDIAN ARMY: ORGANISATIONAL RESTRUCTURING

In its efforts at Modernisation, the Indian Army is considering restructuring of the force, to enhance its punch and reduce its logistics footprint. The budget for the Army largely gets consumed in revenue expenditure, leaving little for capital acquisition. Globally too, there is a trend to reduce the size of militaries, with emphasis being laid on technologically enabled smaller forces. While Indian challenges are different, especially considering the fact that the Army is heavily committed in low intensity conflict, the initiative conforms to PM Modi’s directive to the three services on creating lean force structures during his first Combined Commander’s Conference onboard the INS Vikramaditya in December 2015.

This is not the first time that such an exercise is being conducted. Restructuring of the Army was first carried out post the 1962 debacle with infantry units being reorganised for their respective roles in mountains and in the plains and with increased focus on training and leadership. Later, it was Gen. Sundarji who oversaw the reorganisation of infantry and armoured divisions and Gen Rodrigues and Gen BC Joshi who oversaw the creation of the Rashtriya Rifles to fight insurgency. Gen Rawat is however the first chief to seriously look at downsizing the force across combat, support and logistics units.

Three committees have been formed to look into the following:
• To consider ways in which the strength of combat units right down to the battalion level can be reduced, but simultaneously made more efficient by enhancing the capability of its soldiers. This could involve restructuring of the present infantry battalions and armoured regiments.
• To propose ways to compact the Army Headquarters.
• To reduce the shortfall of officers in the Army.

While the idea of right sizing the force is an attractive one, caution needs to be exercised. The Army remains committed in CI/CT duties in J&K and the Northeast which are infantry intensive operations. Reducing the logistic footprint too has to be carefully dealt with, considering the nature of operations and war fighting in the Indian context. Here, it would be prudent on the part of the government to look into the larger logistic framework by downsizing the DPSUs and ordnance factories and doing with the OFB. That would give better results in a short time frame and free resources for the modernisation process.

BHUTAN ELECTIONS

In Bhutan, the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), a relatively new party which was formed in 2013 and came third in the elections that year, has now won first place in the recently conducted polls, Bhutan’s third elections, taking 92,722 out of 291,098 votes in the first round of voting.The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) came in second with 90,020 votes, while the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay came in third with 79,883 votes. The defeat of the ruling party is seen as a major upset in Bhutan and is a cause of concern to India as Mr Togbay and the PDP had close ties with New Delhi. While people in Bhutan are appreciative of the country’s close ties with India, there are those who feel that Bhutan also needs to establish diplomatic links with China, which has been trying to make inroads into the small country.

Regardless of whether the DNT or the DPT win the October 18 election face off, India will continue to have close ties with Bhutan as the winning party would have the blessings of the king. In any case, India was not an election issue in Bhutan, which indicates the maturing of democracy in that country. India would however need to be wary of Chinese designs in this beautiful Himalayan Kingdom.

DEFENCE CORRIDORS

It was in March 2018 that the Centre announced the creation of two defence corridors, one in Tamil Nadu and the other in Uttar Pradesh, with an investment of Rs 3000 crore in each, which in turn is expected to generate an additional investment of Rs 20,0000 crore from the private sector. Both have now taken off, with a large number of small and medium enterprises (SME) keen on making components for large equipment manufacturers. In the Tamil Nadu defence corridor, in Coimbatore alone, over 200 SMEs have tied up or are in the process of tying up with the larger manufactures for producing components for the defence industry such as gear boxes for battle tanks. In cities like Salem, Hosur and Trichy, even companies engaged in non defence related industries such as textiles and automobile parts are now diversifying into defence manufacturing. many of them have become suppliers to the larger behemoths such as Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) and others.

Tamil Nadu boasts of hundreds of engineering colleges and polytechnics that can offer a constant supply of skilled manpower to companies looking to scale up or diversify. This ready availability of a well-developed entrepreneurial ecosystem and ready to hire pool of manpower makes Tamil Nadu an ideal hub for the defence corridor. Easy access to automotive parts and proximity to ports are the pull factors for groups such as the GMR Group, which is in the process of setting up an aerospace and defence manufacturing plant in Hosur.

The UP defence corridor will pass through six districts – Agra, Aligarh, Jhansi, Chitrakoot, Kanpur and Lucknow. All of these have a good ancillary base to support defence manufacturing and ability to continuously supply raw materials and labour. Land availability too is not an issue in Bundelkhand. In fact, the very remoteness and barrenness of the region makes it an ideal hub for the defence corridor which will boost growth in the region.

To expedite progress on the defence corridor, a Defence Production Management Cell has been set up, experts mainly defence veterans have been hired and incentives are being provided to the private sector. UP possesses skilled metal workmanship, besides an established defence manufacturing base in Kanpur spanning six public sector units which deal with weapons and equipment for the Armed Forces.

The defence corridor in UP, as mentioned earlier, will provide huge benefits to the backward but politically significant Bundelkhand region. The Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA), the nodal agency for the project, has identified more than 5,000 hectares of land for the corridor in six districts where farmers will be compensated at four times the circle rate for their land. Companies such as Bharat electronics Limited (BEL) have already approached the UP government for allotment of land to set up a manufacturing facility. The area has easy access to road and rail networks and the state government has assured the availability of water. IIT Kanpur has also been roped in as a technology partner and has agreed to set up a centre of excellence for the proposed defence corridor. The primary areas of collaboration between UP government and the institute will be advanced nanomaterials, cybersecurity and electronics as well as
communications.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


How can we help?

Sign Up for Our Mailing List






Sign up for our newsletter to stay updated with the most comprehensive analyses of all military affairs from the best minds. We promise to not share your data with third-party vendors.