The Ordinary Ship: A Success Story

By Rear Admiral K. V. Bharathan, Indian Navy
  • Sincere concern and commitment to the job and men
  • Care to ensure that the administration works for the ship
  • Creating an environment of openness
  • Behavior by example
  • Opportunities for self-improvement and off-duty recreational activities

In another message, the captain clarified for the officers what he meant by administration: ensuring optimal balance between time and manpower; securing on time as a rule of thumb; granting leave to all personnel; providing wholesome food; creating an atmosphere of pragmatic fairness; responding to all external agencies with responsible alacrity; preventing mistakes rather than correcting them; facilitating everyday life on board; and keeping tabs on personnel problems.

The commanding officer believed that sailors realize and appreciate the genuine efforts of the administration and express their loyalty through committed involvement. Not surprisingly, the wardroom hoisted all this with customary skepticism.

One officer remarked, "He is a new chap—he will learn when the fleet commander embarks." The captain called the department heads together and suggested that the ship be run corporate style, where decisions would be made in consultation with the department heads.

The ship was undergoing a short, four month refit. Based on previous experience and examination of the work to be done, the captain felt that, with proper liaison and coordination, the ship could complete the refit at least a month ahead of schedule.

Approaching the deadline, the ship's company and officers could be seen in and around the dockyard, ensuring collection of equipment and allied machinery parts. Amidst all this, the ship still secured on time each day, except during machinery and equipment trials.

To the pleasant surprise of the command and the fleet, the ship sailed out for machinery trials 28 days ahead of schedule. On return to the harbor, the captain shared all his mistakes and explained what needed to be done from the bridge's point of view. Each department shared in an honest discussion of the ship's performance, and master chiefs also contributed to the discussion.

A few days later, the ship sailed for weapon and gun trials. The gun system performed poorly. During the evening debrief, the gunnery/weapons maintenance and engineering departments owned up to omissions that had contributed to the failures. Nobody was punished; the mistakes were documented meticulously. The ship tackled all defects with resolve and quickness, and the ship joined the fleet 21 days ahead of the scheduled refit completion date—the ship's first self-imposed deadline. The ship continued to secure on time every day, and leave was being granted—a feeling of contentment was spreading in the mess decks. The ordinary ship was maturing as a reliable fleet unit. Yet the captain and department heads knew there was a long way to go before the ship could call herself a warship. So the briefings and consultations continued with intensity.

During the next phase of the fleet exercise, the rest of the flock saw the ordinary ship doing things in almost double-quick time. There was an aura of confidence and a sense of commitment. In six months, the ordinary ship had undergone a sea change in her operational and administrative management paradigm, and had matured into a well-knit fighting unit.

The ordinary ship carried out her tasks with intensity and determination. The ship learned to weather all her professional and natural storms with confidence, anticipation, commitment, and innovation, and even more important, sought to learn from mistakes.

One day, there was a sudden requirement for the ship to sail out along with the ready-duty ship. The captain had gone out for the weekend. Yet the ordinary ship got ready to sail well ahead of the ready-duty ship.

The crew of the ordinary ship achieved this through genuine concern for each other. Perhaps this was the key to its successful commission. It would be a fairy tale if the ship became the best ship in the fleet and won most of the fleet trophies. But it is not a fairy tale, it is a true story.

Admiral Bharathan , currently Flag Officer Commanding, Goa Naval Area, has commanded a patrol frigate, a helicopter squadron, and a guided-missile destroyer. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and has been the Indian naval attaché in Washington.



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