(As appeared on India Today Online)
The recently held Naval Commander’s Conference was not only a summit-level discussion among senior naval leaders on maritime issues facing the national interest but in its very conduct, a path-breaking one. Till now, no other force has utilised its internal, secure communication facilities to obliterate the need to physically travel and attend summit conferences.
What happened this time was that over a hundred key officers of the Navy attended and contributed while sitting in their respective headquarters. And by not travelling to Delhi, needless to say, expenditure was curtailed.
What the Navy did was set up facilities using private sector companies for secure, landline-based tele-conferencing. Thus, over 100 officers participated from across New Delhi, Mumbai, Vishakapatnam and Kochi. While the last three cities host Navy’s Western, Eastern and Southern Command, officers from the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command came to Vishakapatnam for the event.
“The reason why they had to come was we couldn’t set up a land-line based facility at Port Blair. And keeping in mind the threat of wireless communication getting hacked, we did not want to take chances,” mentioned an officer. Explaining further, the officer added, “We had voice-activated microphones so that those who talk are visible on the giant screens.” Seniority played a role here. “If the Chief or an Admiral talks, he will be seen,” said the officer.
Said an officer aware of the logistics behind such a conference, “All flag officers will only fly business class. Once they arrive, they need to be looked after and appropriate transport arrangements are to be made for over three days. It is a huge expenditure we incurred till last year.”
The three day conference, which till last year saw a gathering of all flag officers of the Navy and those holding critical portfolios in New Delhi, usually was an exercise in logistics and crores in expenses. This time, the conference was held without too much money flowing out of the government treasury.
It is not known precisely how much has been saved by this exercise. The estimates will be out soon. However, a move of this type is being institutionalised. Henceforth all conferences will take place this way, eliminating the need for travelling in large numbers across cities.
Where do Army and Air Force stand?
An Air Force officer said that the Air Force has been the pioneer in this league. “Utilising our Air Force Net (AFNET), we have been for a long time holding important discussions on tele-conferencing basis. In fact, the entire planning for the recently-concluded exercise Iron Fist was carried out over AFNET,” he added.
However, summit-level meets still require physical presence. Similar is the case with the Army. However, for a different reason. “We are a very large organisation. When we have our five day long commanders conference, the sheer number of people participating is so much that we can’t possibly rely on such a technique. Though it is not that we don’t have the security and confidence,” mentioned a spokesperson.
The decision to host a conference of this nature was taken earlier this year, four months ago. From then on efforts were initiated towards acchieving this end.