The President of India is the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces but the organizational structure of the Indian Navy is under the direct command of the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), who is an admiral rank officer. While the provision for the rank of the Admiral of the Fleet exists, it has not been conferred to any officer of the Indian Navy yet.
Moreover, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), who heads the Integrated Head Quarters of the Ministry of Defense (Navy) based in New Delhi, is also responsible for most of the administrative work carried out in the Indian Navy. Besides, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) is assisted by four officers, all with the rank of Vice Admiral to perform daily operational duties coherently.
Vice Chief of Naval Staff (2IC or second in command)(VCNS)
Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (DCNS)
Chief of Personnel (COP)
Chief of Material (COM)
To be able to understand the Chain of Command in the Indian Navy, one needs to be familiar with the rank structure of the Indian Navy. The following image represents the rank structure of the Indian Navy (from right to left in increasing order of seniority).
Ranks in the Indian Navy
Formations and Structure of the Indian Navy
There are two operational commands and one training command in the Indian Navy. Each command is headed by a Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, who holds the rank of Vice Admiral. In addition, both the commands receive direct orders from the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS). The different commands of the Indian Navy are given below in the order of their raising and location.
Western Naval Command: The Western Naval Command, which is headquartered in Mumbai, Maharashtra is the sword arm of the Indian Navy and is responsible for naval operations on the western seaboard. In fact, the Western Naval Command is India’s first line of defence against Pakistan and the operations carried out by it would be central to the outcome of any conflict at sea against Pakistan.
Eastern Naval Command: Accordingly, the Eastern Naval Command is headquartered at Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, and is responsible for all naval units in the Bay of Bengal and parts of the Indian Ocean, along with the naval establishments on the east coast of India. The Area of Responsibility for the Eastern Naval Command stretches from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu.
Southern Naval Command: In contrast to Eastern and Western Naval Commands, the Southern Naval Command is the training command of the Indian Navy and is responsible for the training of all its personnel, both officers as well as sailors, from basic to advanced stages. To add, the Southern Naval Command is headquartered at Kochi, Kerala, and has subsidiary units from Jamnagar in Gujarat to Lonavala in Maharashtra, Goa, and Orissa but most training units are in Kochi. The Indian Naval Academy is also placed under the Southern Naval Command.
Andaman and Nicobar Command: The defence of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands is a joint responsibility of all the three services and is coordinated by the Headquarters, Andaman & Nicobar Command, located at Port Blair. This is the only Tri-Services Command in the Indian Armed Forces and is headed by a Commander-in-Chief, as appointed in rotation from the three Services. It was created in 2001 to safeguard India’s strategic interests in Southeast Asia and the Strait of Malacca. Since 90% of the world trade passes through the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean region, it becomes crucial for the Indian Navy to secure India’s maritime interests in the region and ensure free trade by deploying its warships in the region.
Correspondingly, the Andaman and Nicobar Command also provides logistical and administrative support to naval ships which are sent on deployment to West Asia and the Pacific Ocean. Also, the Andaman and Nicobar Command has played an imperative role in curbing pirate activities in the Mediterranean Sea and the Mozambique Channel.
Vice Admiral R. Hari Kumar assumes command of Western Naval Command of Indian Navy in 2020. Source: thehindu.com
Fleet: A Fleet is a group of ships that operate under one authority. Commands are subdivided into fleets that are headed by an officer of the rank of Rear Admiral. A fleet is the sword arm of any naval command and carries out offensive operations during a conflict. The primary task of a fleet is to seek and destroy enemy naval units at sea, to establish a blockade to cut off enemy’s trade and to establish contraband control.
It is important to note that the fleet receives direct orders from the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS). Moreover, the fleet under the Eastern Naval Command is known as the Eastern Fleet and the fleet under the Western Naval Command is known as the Western Fleet. In peacetime, both fleets carry out routine patrols in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea.
Indian Naval Air Arm: The Indian Naval Air Arm is an aviation branch and a fighting arm of the Indian Navy that is tasked to provide an aircraft carrier-based strike capability, fleet air defence, maritime reconnaissance, and anti-submarine warfare. The Naval Air Arm is commanded by a Rear Admiral and is the air equivalent of a fleet.
Naval Bases/Facilities: Fleets in the Indian Navy operate from naval bases/stations that are headed by an officer of the rank of Commodore. The Indian Navy has its operational bases in the states of Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala, Goa, Lakshadweep, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Also, the Indian Navy has access to naval bases of France, Japan, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Maldives, UAE, and Oman as well. These bases are used for logistics and maintenance support, training, ammunition storage, air stations, hospitals, and MARCOS bases.
It could be said that there are more than 119 small and large naval bases/facilities that are operated by the Indian Navy with more being built and planned across the country. Additionally, the Western Naval Command is the largest naval command in the country and operates 16 more than 30 naval bases/facilities, whereas the Eastern Naval Command operates 39 naval bases/facilities. Similarly, the Southern Naval Command also operates more than 50 naval bases/stations.
Marine Commando Force: To begin with, the Marine Commando Force (Marcos) is a Special Forces unit of the Indian Navy responsible for conducting special operations. Secondly, Marcos can operate in all types of environments, at sea, in air, and on land. The force has gradually acquired more experience and an international reputation for professionalism by regularly undertaking specialised operations in Jammu and Kashmir.
Thirdly, the Marine Commando Force operates out of the naval bases in Mumbai, Vishakhapatnam, Goa, Kochi, and Port Blair. As of now, the INS Karna has been setup as a permanent base for the unit. For now, Marcos are divided into 30 units that are commanded by a Lieutenant Commander or a Lieutenant. These units are deployed at different naval bases and a unit has 60-70 personnel who usually operate in squads of 14 people. However, after the establishment of Special Operations Command, the special forces operators from the army, navy, and air force would train together and conduct joint operations under the umbrella of Special Operations Command.
A Marine Commando operating in an undisclosed location
Structural Reforms in the Indian Navy
Having considered the history of the Indian Navy, it is reasonable to say that the Indian Navy is a small force with around 70,000 personnel and has not seen any major reforms in its structure yet. However, with the advent of Theatre Commands, a new Maritime Theatre Command will be established that will bring all the maritime assets of the Indian Coast Guard, Indian Army, Indian Air Force, and Indian Navy under one command which will improve the efficiency of maritime operations conducted by Indian Armed Forces. From the above analysis, it could be said that the Maritime Theatre Command will not only stop duplication of resources between the Indian Armed Forces but will also augment the jointness between the three forces.
Furthermore, the Indian Navy has undertaken various reforms to become a true blue water navy and to take on the challenges of the 21st century. Over the past few years, the Indian Navy has taken rampant measures in improving its electronic warfare capabilities, establishing secure communication data links, setting up bodies for better coastal surveillance, and has also enhanced its anti-submarine capabilities as well.
In conclusion, the current structure of the Indian Navy is simple yet effective and makes it a formidable maritime force that has proved its mettle over the years in countless conflicts and will continue to do so in the future. Nevertheless, the structural reforms are important as the Indian Navy needs to be ready to take on more complex challenges to protect India’s energy supplies, tackle piracy, ensure free trade in the Indian Ocean Region, and secure India’s large coastline.