INS Vikramaditya’s commanding officer, Commodore Suraj Berry, talks to RIR about the handover of the aircraft carrier to India, the training of Indian naval personnel and his experiences in Severodvinsk.
First of all, we would like to congratulate you on the successful completion of one of the most successful Indo-Russian military projects. Many Russian Naval personnel are envious about the fact you are going to get a state of the art aircraft carrier under your command that is more advanced than anything that Russia has. How do you feel at the moment and what are your main concerns at the moment?
Thank you very much for your kind wishes. I consider myself very fortunate to have been entrusted the command of this magnificent ship. While standing on the bridge and flight deck, I am conscious of this immense responsibility, trust and honour that has been bestowed upon me by the Indian Navy and my nation. The task of commissioning the ship and ensuring readiness of the crew for conduct of safe and efficient operational tasking along with flying is a challenge.
Effective planning, thorough professional training, creation of efficient operating procedures, high safety standards, institution of sound management and good administration principles along with the time honoured traditions, customs and discipline would effectively pave the way for the success of my team. The large number of officers and personnel of my crew are some of the finest professionals of our Navy and I am indeed very fortunate to be part of this team and their shipmate.
During the trials and refit of the ship you had to meet and cooperate with many people from the commissioning team. Could you tell us a little bit about the training of the Indian crewmembers?
Each time the Indian Navy acquired an aircraft carrier, it was a big induction, it is no different this time except the fact that this ship is the largest one to be acquired by the Indian Navy thus far. Displacing nearly 45,000 tonnes, the ship is indeed big. The advanced equipment and state of the art systems present peculiarities of handling and mastering. The Indian Navy selected well qualified personnel with adequate experience at sea and these personnel were put through an intense, well crafted and excellent training programme by the Russian Navy.
The methodology of training has suitably enabled all the Indian crew to imbibe the intricacies of operating and maintaining the ship. The experience of participating in the sea trials and practical training onboard has provided the crew an excellent opportunity to learn by observing the Russian specialists. Having been afforded the opportunity to steer the ship, anchor and manoeuvre her, I must say that the ship has excellent handling characteristics and steers much like a frigate belying its size. The power and manoeuvrability provide great flexibility in its operation.
Backed with experience of operating aircraft carriers and other helicopter carrying platforms, the Indian crew has been able to seamlessly gain hands-on experience on the equipment fitted onboard. The close association and mutual understanding with Russian crew has paved the way for a smooth transition for the Indian crew during trials and training, overcoming challenges and progressing towards independent operation of the ship. To summarize, I must say that each and every Russian crew has been outstanding and acted as a team.
How was the training of the Indian crew organised? Could you comment on the interaction with Russian Naval officers and sailors during the trials?
The interaction and professional understanding between the Russian and Indian Navy has been very good and has stood the test of time over decades. A sizable percentage of Indian Naval personnel have been in Russia for various projects in the past and fostered strong bonds of friendship and mutual respect. The bilateral exercise, ‘INDRA’ conducted annually between the two navies reflects the good and warm relations and is testimony of our commitment to each other.
The 12th Crew under command of Captain 1st Rank Igor Vaisilivich Raybko and the Indian commissioning crew have fostered close bonding during the course of trials. Whilst both the crew may not be proficient in the languages, the understanding is perfect and both crews joined hands in all evolutions onboard and have imbibed a good sense of mutual understanding. The joint planning/ coordination group of the Crew along with the Brigade Staff are responsible for the successful conduct of trials. Similarly, the joint working group on training has done a marvelous job in creating a unique concurrent trials and training programme onboard.
Onboard we undertook evolutions for trials, working side by side on the main propulsion plant, power generation/ distribution systems, radio electronic aids, handling movement of aircraft on deck, anchoring/ mooring to the buoy, tasks with boats etc. Our cooperation also extends to mutual participation in sports and cultural activities onboard. Both crews jointly celebrated the Russian Navy Day and Independence Day of India with flags of both countries flying side by side on the mast in 2012 and in 2013. This truly epitomized the joint-ness, mutual feeling of respect and understanding between the two crews. We are thankful for the professionalism of the Russian Navy and the support that they have rendered to us during each phase of the trials.
It is interesting to know what' route the carrier is going to follow while going from the White Sea to the Indian Ocean. When are you supposed to be received in India?
There are only two routes that the carrier can follow enroute to reaching its new port of Karwar in India. The primary route would be through the Suez Canal. In case of non-availability of services for passage through the Canal, the ship will sail around the Cape of Good Hope to India.
Could you please tell us about your family? How did they react to the news that you were appointed as the Commissioning Officer of Vikramaditya?
They felt very happy and honoured by the trust and faith reposed on me by our Navy.
What rules do you follow during important periods of your life and when you have to take individual decisions?
Work honestly and sincerely in the best interest of the Navy and the nation always. What’s good for the ship and Navy is good for all. Train and work hard as a team always, it’s the team and the ship that matter most. Forward planning and optimal utilisation of resources is key to success. Finally it’s the men behind the machine who are important. Indian Navy has excellent professionals who are ever willing and ready for any challenge, anywhere, anytime. It’s an honour to be part of such a force.
What memories will you keep about the time in Severodvinsk? Would you like to come back here again? For example to take a look at a cedar which you have planted yourself....
Severodvinsk has been a home away from home. The hospitality, respect and warmth that have been bestowed upon me in this maritime town has been unforgettable. I am sure that I will always remember Severodvinsk for the rest of my life. I would definitely like to come here again at some point of time and take a look at the cedar I have planted!
November 16, 2013 Elena Krovvidi, Alexander Yemelyanenkov, RIR