Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar on Friday said his force is keeping a close watch on Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean and is fully ready to deal with any security threat even as he fully backed the ambitious tri-services reforms that included setting up of a maritime theatre command.

Addressing a press conference on the eve of Navy Day, he said the situation along India's northern border has added to the security complexities at a time the country was reeling under COVID-19 and that the scenario continues.

Referring to China's rapid expansion of its naval assets, the newly-appointed Navy chief said "it is not just the numbers that matter" as he highlighted the importance of strategy, operational plans and weapons to combat various threats.

"I want to assure you that the Indian Navy is a well-balanced force and is confident of defending India's maritime interests for sure," he said, responding to a volley of questions on the threat from China in the maritime domain.

"The Chinese activities and deployments are kept under close watch. We have our plans," he added.

Asked about the Navy's earlier plan of becoming a 170-ship force, he said a new scientific process to assess the requirement under a 10-year Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP) is underway following which decisions will be taken.

"It may be 230 (ships), it may be 300, the process is on. It is a scientific process. I cannot give you a number at this point. We will arrive at a decision following the completion of the process," he said.

The Navy had set a target to become a 170-ship force by 2027. At present, the Navy has around 130 ships. Throwing his support to the Theaterisation Plan, he said it will take time and noted that it took the US military almost 50 years to put in place the joint command and control structures after it was rolled out.

"I would like to reiterate the Navy's wholehearted support for reforms in our higher defence organisation, and on enhancing tri-service synergy," he said.

"We are looking at the establishment of the 'Maritime Theatre Command' in the near future, which would further buttress 'Joint planning and Joint application of force' in the maritime domain. The details are being worked out and maybe finalised by the mid of next year," he added.

The Navy chief said the third stage of "war-gaming" is underway based on recommendations made in specific studies conducted on the Theaterisation plan.

"In a nutshell, I would say that we are looking at a maritime theatre command where largely the command structures will remain in place with a lean theatre command organisation on top of it. The charter of this theatre command will largely be operational," he said.

The Navy chief said operational powers are set to be vested with the theatre commander.

"It may happen in six months, it may take a little longer. The timeframe will depend on how we address the complexities involved," he said.

The Navy chief said the year 2021, as the previous year, has been defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In addition, the ongoing security situation on our northern borders has added to our security complexities. This dual-challenge scenario continues as we speak," he said.

"In these testing times, the Indian Navy aims to stand steadfast in furthering our national and maritime interests. Our focus on maintaining combat and mission readiness resulted in deterring any misadventure in the maritime domain," he said without elaborating.

On the Chinese Navy's growing combat capability and presence in the Indian Ocean, the Navy chief said the ongoing developments and deployments in the region are factored into the Indian Navy's capability development plans and preparedness.

"We are aware of the developments of the Chinese Navy. They have built 138 ships in the last 10 years. Every nation is entitled to have its own capability development. We keep an eye on all developments in our area," he said.

"It is not just the numbers that matter. It is also about people, how you employ the weapons that you have, your strategy and your operational plans etc. There are a whole lot of issues," he said.

He said despite the complex security situation in the region and the adverse impact of Covid, the Indian Navy, as a cohesive team, maintained the operational tempo and ensured the security of the country.

"I would like to assure the nation, that as the primary manifestation of India's maritime power, the Indian Navy stands ready to fulfil its mandate to protect our national interests in the maritime domain," he said.

Admiral Kumar also said that women officers have been appointed on board major warships of the Indian Navy. Separately, officials said around 28 women officers have been deployed so far in 15 major warships of the Indian Navy and the number is going to go up soon.

"In consonance with the government of India's objective to empower women, we have taken measures towards providing additional opportunities for women officers in the Navy. Women officers have been appointed on board almost all major warships," the Navy chief said.

He said the modalities for downstream training of women as cadet entry at National Defence Academy are being worked out.

"The Navy is fully prepared in all aspects to induct and absorb women across the wide spectrum of roles and responsibilities," he added.

On the overall maritime scenario, Admiral Kumar said the Navy will remain at the forefront of cooperative engagement to ensure a free, open, inclusive and rules-based approach to regional maritime security

"Our mission-based deployment philosophy has enhanced the Indian Navy's presence across the region enabling rapid responses to emerging security challenges," he said.

"The Indian Navy has established a persistent footprint in our areas of interest. Naval deployments also serve as a deterrent to inimical interests, clearly signalling the Navy's reach, capability and intent," he said.

About the Indo-Pacific, he said it has got great importance for India.