When I was in school, we used to have any number of these small books available helping us to pass our exams without – what they promised – tears or too much of effort. These were named, just like For Dummies series, English Without Tears, Maths Without Tears and so on.

I present you here, based on my extensive observations, Annual Inspection Without Tears.

Annual Inspection of a ship is to the ship’s company (crew) what ACR is to an individual (Please also read ACR Season). It is normally divided into three parts: Harbour Inspection in which over days the Fleet Staff Officers check their respective departments for maintenance of equipment, books, drills etc; Divisions and Rounds in which the Fleet Commander checks the ship’s company for the turnout and compartments for their cleanliness and upkeep; and finally Sea Inspection for the readiness of the ship’s departments for combat.

The preparation starts as early as a month or two before. Generally, the Fleet publishes a calendar of annual inspections of ships. However, bright, upcoming COs, in case they find out that their ships are not scheduled for inspection, call on the Fleet Commander and convince him to inspect their ships. When the Fleet Commander accepts, they return to their ships, call their Heads of Departments and address them in this manner, “I don’t know what’s wrong with the Fleet Commander. I told him that we were inspected by the last Fleet Commander less than 6 months before. However, he insisted on inspecting us next month before I finally hand over command. Anyway, gentlemen, despite my best efforts to wriggle out of it, it has become a fait accompli. Fortunately, I have the best team of HODs in the Fleet and you would hold my hand, I am sure.”

And then start the frantic preparations. The Fleet Commanders generally pass instructions that no fresh paint is to be applied unless necessary. Fortunately, bright and upcoming COs having bright and upcoming XOs (Executive Officers or Second-in-Command) do find that almost the entire ship’s painting is necessary. Their reasoning goes like this that if a ship just before decommissioning can be painted, what is wrong with painting before something as important as Annual Inspection?

What should be the focus of the other preparation? Well, I can think of many significant things.

One of the most significant is to follow Sun Tzu’s advice in Art of War: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Now, you are likely to tell me that there is no war going on and there is no enemy and hence Sun Tzu is not applicable; it is only an annual inspection. That is where you err and the successful CO doesn’t. He replaces the word War with Annual Inspection and enemy with Fleet Commander and everything falls into place. If you know, and I mean really know your Fleet Commander, you will not fear the result of a hundred battles…er…annual inspections. Do your homework and find out what are the likes and dislikes of the Fleet Commander. Lets say, the Fleet Commander has suddenly taken fancy to fluorescent NBCD (Nuclear Biological Chemical Defence) stickers to be placed along the NBCD citadel in the ship, it should naturally become Priority #1 item. How to get these stickers in case these are not naval stores items? Ha, ha, haven’t you heard of the expression: Beg, Borrow, or Steal? In short, you have to become Bhutto, the PM of Pakistan after India demonstrated capability to explode nuclear devices; he said, “We will starve, we will live on grass; but we must have a nuclear devise ourselves”. And indeed, as history unfolded, they starved, they lived on grass, but they had nuclear bomb. With this kind of tenacity, he would have got ten out of ten in Annual Inspection.

An ad for recruitment in the Indian Navy acknowledges that "Attitude" is the most important attribute.
An ad for recruitment in the Indian Navy acknowledges that “Attitude” is the most important attribute.

You have to make a list of all the Likes and Dislikes of the Fleet Commander and some of the influential members of his staff, eg, FOO or Fleet Operations Officer and ensure that you have answers to those.

The second step is to prepare an Annual Inspection Report. You should know that no one ever reads this voluminous report. Hence, do not waste your time getting all the facts right. It is not going to change anything. On the other hand, everything that the Fleet Commander and his staff ever conveyed to you, however insignificant it sounded, must be addressed in this report in bold or italics or highlighted. The expression that you should use over and over again is: As per Fleet Commander’s directions. For example: “As per Fleet Commander’s directions, the ship now has a full-fledged gym. Last two months’ data shows that officers and sailors alike use the gym regularly. A large percentage has also been visiting on Sundays and holidays. In the last PET (Physical Efficiency Test), conducted on 14 Mar 14, 85 percent of the ship’s company is now in Excellent grading”. You have given the credit to the Fleet Commander, where it is due, and you will live to see this being converted into excellent grading during the Annual Inspection.

Indeed, this report should be comprehensive enough to cover every little thing ever told to the ship by these important dignitaries. Another thing to cover in the report can be explained by me by giving you the example of Sachin Tendulakar as a batsman. He used to play psychological warfare with the bowlers and make them bowl to him the balls that he wanted. Some such thing has to be smartly done in the AI report. You have to carefully steer them in checking you for your strong points and not your week points. For example, lets say, you have recently kitted up all your sailors and spent time and energy in making sure they have all good fitting uniforms, your report must steer them into inspecting you there. If Jai and Veeru can get away with “Jail mein pistaul aa gaya hai” in Sholay, you can smartly channelise their energies into searching for the pistaul on your ship.

In harbour inspection, do not forget to prove the Admiral right; it will pay rich dividends. For example, lets say, the Fleet Commander is very fond of pulling up carpets in order to look for dust underneath; he would never pardon you for making him look idiotic by finding no dust underneath. A smart CO, therefore, makes sure that a handful of dust is inadvertently left there so that the Fleet Commander’s prepared ML (Moral Lecture) about stress on cleanship would not be wasted.

What about the Sea Inspection? Surely you cannot pull wool over anyone’s eyes there. Think again. Here, communications are the most important aspect. Irrespective of what action is taken on the drills and exercises given by the Fleet Staff, they come to know about it only through reports. You may remember this from one of John Winton books. When a Fire Drill was going on one of the ships that he had joined, nothing whatsoever was being done as far Fire Drill was concerned. However, all the reports between various positions involved with the Fire Drill were perfect. Hence, if the Captain was monitoring it on the broadcast he would have been reassured of the correctness of all the actions.

Here I cannot fail to give you two examples. One is of a hot-rod Gunnery Officer on one of the ships wherein I was posted as SCO or Signal Communication Officer. If he had ever come on board the ship on a Sunday to have beer and biriyani with his family and found that CO was also visiting with his guests, he would make a series of announcements about armament drills for the benefit of the Captain. The Captain would now get the impression that his Guns was so hard-working that even on a Sunday he was engaged with his men to improve drills.

The second example is that of a hot-rod CO of a ship of a sister ship. In exercises with aircraft, whilst own Gunnery radars were not picking up any of the incoming strikes, his ship would invariably report aircraft detected on certain range and bearing and then follow it up with all kinds of detailed reports. I too called the dockyard teams to fine-tune my own systems so that they too would pick up incoming strikes as promptly. But, it was of no avail. Finally, I had to invite the hot-rod CO for PLD (Pre Lunch Drinks) in order to learn from him the ropes. Beer loosened the tongue and he told me the truth that actually, even their systems hardly ever picked up the strikes. All that they did was to monitor the aircraft communications and as soon as the aircraft were within communication range, they would make all kinds of reports until they received a Bravo Zulu (Well Done) from the Flotilla Commander.

Alright, enough, guys. This is only a glimpse of Annual Inspection Without Tears. If you are interested, and your Annual Inspection is actually due, write to me and I shall give you more practical hints.

Before I close, I must leave you with a thought. Human-touch stories always are admired. So, if during the Admiral’s Walk Around the ship, you can have the lovely photographs of handicapped children that your ship adopted through Welfare Funds and these kids are photographed in their school receiving the prizes, you – not them – are the winner. Also, a few of quotes by important people (remember there is no one as important as the Fleet Commander) can be put in the alleyways. Admirals are adept at giving pearls of wisdom starting with the same letter; eg, Courage, Commitment, Consistency, Calm, and Clarity. His five or seven Cs, Gs, Ms or Ss – whatever letter takes his fancy – should be prominently displayed everywhere, preferably with his picture showing his own commitment.

If you ever go to Spain and want to watch the macho sports of bull-fighting, you would learn, to your surprise that bull-fighting is a carefully enacted play in three parts. In the third part, the bull hardly has any choice but to die. He knows it, the toreros know it, the matador knows it, the pincers know it and everyone in the bull-ring knows it. There are, however, some amongst the spectators who do not know it. They would do well to read Sun Tzu and The Art of War.

Sun Tzu giving the most important lesson about Annual Inspections!
Sun Tzu giving the most important lesson about Annual Inspections!

© 2015 – 2016, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

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  1. The Services are known to lubricate Commander’s ego and follow his fads. The article on AI very lucidly covers that. A nostalgic read.

  2. It is just a month ago ,when in order to enhance cleanliness sense of teachers and staff of my school I told them in length about Naval tradition of rounds n inspections .I also told them how our Captains and Admirals everytime on such rounds go on successful in catching the
    most subtle of shortcomings of anytype.
    And Ravi Sir today you came up with this blockbuster. Learned many new things and enjoyed reading it

  3. Dear Sir

    During my tenure at INS Kattabomman, in monthly round, you appreciated Sickbay team for use of computer as data was displayed as colour print out on notice board. Those days you have whole heartly provided new PC and free internet in library. As u crossed the room where my self and Dr. Chengappa was standing felt sigh of relief as One fan was bit dusty, and the Visiting Dental Doctor Surg Lt Cdr Chengappa pointed about ceiling fan. But he was happy to listen appreciation from CO. आप ने एक चीज नजरअंदाज की पर वो हमारे बहुत बड़ी रिलीफ थी। नहीं तो पूरा एक हफ्ता श्रमदान करना पड़ता।