During our days (sorry to begin with a cliché), an appointment at the Weapon Acceptance Trials Team was considered the most professional appointment for an executive officer of the rank of Lieutenant or Lieutenant Commander, during a break between sea tenures.
Ships of the Godavari class (modified Leander class) were ready for trials and commissioning when I joined WATT (B) after my tenures on Talwar and Himgiri as Signal Communication Officer and waiting for being the commissioning SCO of Ganga.
Those were heady days. Every week, at Mazagon Docks, some trial or the other was scheduled. Godavari class of ships were, in case of weapons and sensors (the area of focus of WATT), hybrids of a motley of western, Indian and Russian technologies. The challenges lay in ensuring that all these not only worked but worked optimally and without interference.
Now WATT is not an extension of your designing efforts. It has been rightly placed on the other side of the designers and installers of ships and equipment. It means business. I am aware that strong lobbying efforts by vested interests have now taken out the fangs from WATT. But, at that time, we were the ultimate Acceptance Authority of weapons and sensors. Our signals were made direct to Naval Headquarters with copy to Command Headquarters, Warship Overseeing Team (WOT), the ship and various other concerned authorities.
The Bible of WATT was British Book of Reference (BR 4050) and it was clear to us that it wasn’t our job to somehow meet acceptance standards or to produce a complete list of defects. We were the acceptance trials authority and our job was to recommend whether the concerned compartment or equipment met acceptance standards or not. A recommendation from us to NHQ during those days was never challenged with due regard to our professional expertise.
Godavari class of ships was a feather in the cap of naval designers. But, as seen by us at WATT, Godavari was a nightmare for trials of electronic compartments and equipment. I am sure that the professional directorates at NHQ including DND learnt a lot through our trial reports.
Take the case of Electronic Warfare trials. As a young Lieutenant, I walked into the EW Compartment of Godavari, carved out of the aft portion of the Operations Room, and declared that it didn’t meet the Installation Inspection trials. DND personally intervened but I held my ground that a Water Tight door leading to the EW compartment interfered with the electronic continuity of the compartment; and that it had to be a screen door. Later design of EW compartment if Ganga was changed because of my “bull headedness”.
Allow me to mention as to what happens if you ain’t “bull-headed”. One day, we were conducting Sea Acceptance Trials of Godavari. The EW compartment reported to the bridge an intercept on V/UHF Intercept Receiver. Bridge naturally asked EWO to analyse. Lo and behold, the intercept would come on and go off and then come on loud and clear. Such intermittent intercepts are hallmarks of submarine transmissions. After observing for sometime, EWO told the Bridge that it was a possible submarine intercept. The entire fleet went into a tizzy since it was not uncommon for our “north-western friendly neighbour” to send one of their subs to monitor our Fleet movements.
Sitting there in the EWO, I noticed that an EW operator was fiddling with one of the panel push buttons of the main Electronic equipment we had obtained from the Italians. I also noticed that everytime he pressed a particular push button, it caused an intercept to appear on the V/UHF Intercept Receiver. I confirmed it by ordering the operator to press and release the push button a number of times. When I reported this to Bridge, the excitement of looking for a Paki intruding submarine was suddenly abated.
I have given you just one example of hundreds why it was a nightmare to conduct Godavari’s trials
Now, we come to the other angle. The Commanding Officer of a ship quickly wants to get over with the trials so that he can “join the Fleet as soon as possible” and do what the other Fleet COs are doing; ie, brightening their prospects of becoming Flag Officers. Keki Pestonji was no different. He had to make a balance between having healthy equipment on board for the rest of the life of Godavari and exhibiting the professional skills of his team.
One day, with the endless trials, he got thoroughly fed up and asked as to what were the holdups. He was told that there was a young Lieut named Ravi who was taking Communication and EW trials rather too seriously. He called me to his cabin and said, “Youngster I want you to complete all trials by day after tomorrow. Is that understood?” I took out my notebook and ventured to respond that my trials would take about a month!
Anyway, we finished all the Harbour Acceptance Trials within the next 45 days and then started sailing for SATs, ie, Sea Acceptance Trials.
One day at sea, he called me for dinner together with DD (EW) who had been sent from NHQ to oversee the trials. Keki Sir had laid it nice and thick for us: three course dinner with all the finery, pomp and show. He opened a bottle of Riesling wine from his personal collection over dinner.
During pre dinner drinks and during the dinner, he came up with various theories on various subjects ranging from trials, sailors in the navy, life in the armed forces and books, movies and political leadership. On several occasions, I interjected with my, “I tend to disagree with you.” Most often than not, being a gracious host, he ignored my disagreement.
The dinner having got over, we sat nursing our liqueur. Keki Pestonji embarked on yet another subject. I was about to open my mouth with, “I disagree with you, Sir”; but, within no time he sharply looked at me. The look said it all: “Youngster; I have given you sumptuous dinner, best of drinks and a wonderful evening in Captain’s cabin as if you are a VIP. At the end of it you continue disagreeing with me even before I can finish my point. Tell me why shouldn’t you be launched into outer space?”
That night I bolted my cabin door from inside when I went to sleep. Keki P gave up on me as an officer without future.
As ACOP (HRD) he came to staff college to give out our appointments. He won’t have believed a good-for-nothing communicator actually won the Lentaigne Medal that year.
I am sure the Navy gained by our being bull-headed as acceptance authority of weapons and sensors. But, I am also sure we didn’t make many friends during those days. It wasn’t our job to win popularity-contests.
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