Admiral R Hari Kumar, Chief of Naval Staff, was the reviewing officer at the passing out parade of the 143rd course at the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, earlier this week. In an exclusive interview, the Admiral spoke about being back at the institution from where he himself had graduated in 1981 and some of the issues confronting the Navy today. Excerpts:
How does it feel to be back at the institution as reviewing officer?
It’s an honour to review the parade. Exactly 41 years ago I stood at the very same ground experiencing a similar mix of emotions and thoughts as today’s passing-out course. Every cadet dreams of coming back here as a commandant or to review the parade, do well in the service and reach the highest position possible. It is a matter of pride and honour that I could come back here.
How do you think induction of women in the NDA will benefit the forces?
The induction of female cadets at the 148th NDA course is another feather in the academy’s cap. We can now fully harness the country’s potential. This is a part of progress in keeping with the Government’s initiative of Nari Shakti. We look at ourselves as a gender-neutral force and it’s only the ability that matters. They are undergoing training and we will see them passing out in the next two years. We see no difficulty in accommodating women officers. There are women already in combat roles in all three services in all branches. This year, as part of the Agniveer scheme, we have started inducting women sailors as well. We had 3,000 vacancies for which we received 10 lakh applications, of which 82,000 were from women. There are no separate standards for women and men.
What do you feel about the length of service for Agniveers? Can we prepare a soldier in four years?
Absolutely! This is a wrong notion that has been propagated. Even today, there is no change in the training. A soldier undergoes initial training, which is for about five months. The same training will continue for Agniveers. After that, they do another five months of training, which is basic professional qualification training, which is common in the three services. The next level of training happens after the fifth or sixth year. Those who will be selected to continue in the service will get that training afterwards.
The Navy commissioned INS Vikrant in September. When will the aircraft carrier be operational?
The sea-going trials are over and aircraft integration trials have started. We have to get the aircraft landing system proven so those trials are on. Normally, integration of aircraft takes between six and eight months. We hope to accomplish it by May or June next, before the monsoon.
How do you see the modernisation programme?
The Indian Navy has been on a modernisation programme for a while. We believe in Atma Nirbharta. Our first indigenous small ship was commissioned in the 1960s and since then we have been building ships which are bigger and bigger. We have moved on to landing crafts, corvettes, frigates and destroyers, culminating in the commissioning of INS Vikrant. Incidentally, the carrier is 76% indigenous so it’s an achievement for the nation. In the last seven years we have commissioned 29 ships and submarines, all built in India. We have 45 ships under construction of which 43 have been built in India and there are another 49 for which we are progressing with the acceptance of necessity. So there is much focus on modernisation and the Government is supporting us.
But there is some talk about budget constraints as far as the Navy is concerned.
There is no problem with the budget. There is adequate budgetary support from the Government to support all the programmes that we are taking forward.