August 24, 2013:
The Indian Navy leadership believes that in the next two decades the American Navy will have fewer ships based in or around the Indian Ocean. At the same time the Chinese Navy will, in effect, try to replace the Americans. India does not want that. After all, it’s not called the Indian Ocean for nothing. The Indian response is to nearly double the size of their navy. That means manpower needs will nearly double, from the current 8,700 officers, 50,000 enlisted sailors, and 43,000 civilians to 10,600 officers, 85,000 sailors, and 75,000 civilians. The navy believes this personnel expansion will be much more difficult than obtaining more ships.
Finding more sailors is difficult in India because of some unique problems, mostly having to do with corruption. A major economic problem for India is the lack of education, especially for younger children. Corruption has crippled the existing public education system, with many teaching and administrative jobs in schools considered patronage (to be given to supporters of politicians rather than those qualified to teach). The patronage jobs are often of the “no-show” (except to collect pay) variety. Patronage teaching jobs have long been a major problem in India and the reason India has such a difficult time providing qualified workers for technical jobs (those that at least require basic reading and math skills).
For the Indian military this education system corruption has been a growing problem. As the military acquires more high-tech gear there is a growing need for better educated troops to operate and maintain it. The Indian economy has been growing rapidly for the last two decades and offers better pay and working conditions to the educated young men the military wants. Then there is the problem with obtaining officers, who must also possess more education and technical skills. Again, the civilian economy offers more attractive careers for the same people the military wants as officers. The Indian military has been suffering growing officer shortages over the last decade, and the navy expansion plans recognize this by acknowledging that the expansion will make the naval officer shortage worse. The navy is only expecting (at best) to increase officer strength by a quarter when it needs twice as many.
The corrupt education system also cripples Indian efforts to build its own warships. For most of the last sixty years India bought its warships from foreign firms. First there was World War II surplus vessels obtained from Britain, followed by new built ships from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But in the last decade India has been trying to build its own, with mixed success. Again it’s the corruption and education problems.
China has much less corruption in education and a better educated workforce. This means the Chinese Navy has better educated personnel and fewer personnel shortages. The Chinese got into commercial and military shipbuilding before the Indians did and had many of the same problems with quality control and corruption. But the Chinese persevered and now compete with Western ship builders, mainly on price. That still required minimum quality standards, and the Chinese industry weeded out the firms that could not compete and created a shipbuilding industry that could also produce competent warships. India never had the advantage of being a competitive commercial shipbuilder and is thus struggling with corrupt and inefficient warship builders.
India’s plans to expand its navy look good on paper, but the reality is that these plans crippled from the start because of corruption and education problems.