The Navy took part in 22 bilateral and multilateral exercises this year. Early this week, Admiral R. Hari Kumar became the 25th chief of the Indian Navy, taking the reins from Admiral Karambir Singh

The Admiral said the Navy should focus on being a “combat-ready, credible, and cohesive force”.

"I am looking at finding different ways of fighting, induction of modern and disruptive technologies," he said.

Born on April 12, 1962, the National Defence Academy graduate was commissioned into the Indian Navy on January 1, 1983. In his career spanning over 38 years, he has commanded Coast Guard Ship C-01, IN Ships Nishank, Kora, Ranvir and the Aircraft Carrier INS Viraat, the defence ministry said in a release.

Admiral Kumar is the first Navy chief to hail from Kerala.

Every year, December 4 is celebrated as Navy Day, to commemorate the Indian Navy’s daring attack on Karachi and our decisive victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. This year, however, is special as India completes 50 years of this landmark event and are celebrating it as ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsha."

Besides modernisation, Admiral Kumar's hands will be full dealing with the Navy's approach to having interoperability with other navies, in tandem with multilateral and bilateral naval drills to further strengthen maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). This year alone, the Navy participated in 22 bilateral and multilateral exercises. Both the scale and complexity of these exercises has also gone up.

India's maritime engagement has increased, with several bilateral and multilateral exercises with smaller navies as well. While Australia was included in the Exercise Malabar, trilateral naval wargames happened with Singapore and Thailand. Moreover, for the first time, the Indian and Algerian navies conducted a naval exercise off the coast of Algeria in August 2021. The naval exercise with Algeria was crucial for India as it is strategically located in the Maghreb region (region of North Africa bordering the Mediterranean Sea) and is the largest country of Africa.

According to a US Defence Department report, the Chinese navy has a battle force of around 355 ships and submarines, including more than 145 major surface vessels. By 2030, it is expected to operate around six aircraft carriers.

As India looks to counter growing Chinese influence, it focusses also on its naval power. The Navy has 130 ships and submarines, with 39 more vessels under construction, besides the two frigates being built for the Navy in Russia.

While China has been inducing 12-13 ships every year, India has only commissioned 2-3 ships annually, on average. Certainly, is not enough to replace its ageing fleet and Admiral Kumar will have to further expedite the induction of new platforms.

Navigating the budgetary concerns with ongoing modernisation will not be an easy ride for Admiral Hari Kumar. Budgetary constraints have downsized the Navy's expansion plans, from a target of becoming a 200-ship force to the present 170-ship force goal now.

The Navy is revising its 15-year Maritime Capability Perspective Plan, which is expected to be ready by early next year (2022). The plan will be aligned with the 10-year Integrated Capability Development Plan which is being presently formulated by the Department of Military Affairs (DMA).

On the interoperability front, India has negotiated agreements with several states in the littoral IOR to obtain military access to their bases. To enhance capability and ensure sustenance, India has concluded a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) with Australia in June 2020 and Reciprocal Provisions for Support and Services (RPSS) with Japan in September 2020.

The Navy also remains continuously deployed to curb maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden. 91 Indian warships have been deployed in the region since 2008. "Due to persistent efforts of the Indian government and navy, the Indian Ocean piracy ‘high-risk area’ has been reduced," the Admiral said.

To enhance underwater capabilities, the new chief will have to tackle the problems related to Project-75 (India), which is already delayed. This was the first project under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model for the Indian Navy. The new conventional submarines are expected to be equipped with the Air Independent Propulsion System (AIP). Two Indian builders were identified to construct 6 submarines under Project 75 (i)—Mumbai based MDL and L&T.

While China operates 65 submarines, the Navy’s fleet of attack submarines, all diesel-powered, has come down from 21 in the 1980s to just 17 at present.

He will also push for the cabinet's approval for the six nuclear-powered attack submarines. but the submarine will be armed with non-nuclear weapons.

He will also have to steer the Navy's Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for 72 projects worth Rs 1,97,359 crores, of which 59 projects worth 1,74,027 crores, (over 88 per cent) are for indigenous development. Through these projects, he will also aim to provide as much impetus as possible to the Start-up India and Skill India initiatives.

Despite the disruptive impact of the pandemic, the Navy has maintained its operational readiness and tempo through the prompt implementation of preventive protocols, he said. The Navy's focus on maintaining combat and mission readiness resulted in deterring any misadventure in the maritime domain, while contributing to the national COVID effort—both internally and across the seas.

Admiral Kumar will also focus on enhancing the role of women officers in the navy. Modalities for downstream training of women as cadet entry at NDA are being worked out. And he claimed that the Navy is fully prepared in all respects to induct and absorb women across a wide spectrum of roles and responsibilities. Especially after the permanent commissioning for women officers, they will be treated at par with their male colleagues. They are being deployed on modern warships and have been given an important role.