He is also the first helicopter pilot and the first Sikh to get the job
Admiral Karambir Singh on May 31 took over as the 24th Chief of the Indian Navy with the resolve to provide a "strong and credible Navy which is ready to meet any challenge in the maritime domain".
Admiral Singh is the first helicopter pilot to helm the Indian Navy. He is also the first Sikh to be appointed to the post. He was handed over the baton at an impressive change of guard ceremony at South Block in New Delhi by the outgoing Chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba.
This appointment of Admiral Karambir Singh marks the second supersession by the Modi Government in selection of a service chief. In December 2016, Lt Generals Praveen Bakshi and PM Hariz were superseded in the appointment of General Bipin Rawat as Army Chief.
The controversy over the supersession in the Navy Chief's appointment has been compounded by a legal challenge to Admiral Singh's appointment by Vice-Admiral Bimal Verma, commander-in-chief of the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command and his senior in service. The Armed Forces Tribunal, which Verma moved to seek the quashing of Singh's appointment, has rendered the appointment conditional to the outcome of the litigation.
The next date of hearing in the matter is one month ahead. But seasoned observers reckon that even if the Tribunal rules in favour of Verma, the matter will end up in the Supreme Court. Given the experience of time usually taken in disposal of such cases, it is probable that Admiral Karambir Singh's term would be over by the time the final verdict is arrived at. Verma is scheduled to retire in November in his current rank of Vice-Admiral.
Admiral Karambir Singh will command the Indian Navy at a time of high operational tempos and increasing military challenges in the maritime domain. Under his leadership, the Navy will also have to hasten key procurement programmes, including the acquisition of the Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) and the next line of diesel-electric submarines under the ambitious Strategic Partnership programme. The requirements of modernisation are constrained by limitations in the Defence budget.
The new Chief's experience of key appointments in the Navy is expected to steady the ship. As Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, he supervised naval operations. And as Vice-Chief, he headed procurement and modernisation programmes. His last appointment as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Command gave him exposure to intense operational tempos, and strategising moves to counter China's increasing challenge in the Indian Ocean Region.
Commissioned into the Indian Navy in July 1980, he earned his wings as a helicopter pilot in 1981, and has flown the Chetak and Kamov helicopters extensively. His impressive career profile includes command of frontline guided missile destroyers INS Rana and INS Delhi. Ashore, he was flag officer commanding Maharashtra and Gujarat Naval Area (FOMAG).
Donning the mantle of Grey Eagle, or the senior most naval aviator, he will be the first Chief from this stream after Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who headed the Navy from 2006 to 2009.