Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta
is not known to be a forthright officer who "tells it like it is", and is usually supremely in contrast to his predecessor. Yet, it was Mehta who now has the distinction of being the first Naval chief to legitimise the open secret ATV programme, without being axed from office as a fallout. The rumour mill began almost immediately after the December 3 press conference at Kota House (which I did not, in the event, attend) at which he answered a reporter's question about the ATV by announcing that the "DRDO project" would hit water in two years, and that it was a "technology demonstrator".
Many of us are familiar with how the grittily candid Admiral Arun Prakash used to say, "No comment" with a touch of embarassment when asked about the indigenous nuclear submarine programme. But by speaking of the ATV, and indicating in no uncertain terms that the first boat will hit water in two years, Admiral Mehta has stuck his neck out, and that should be to his credit. There is no doubt at all that Admiral Mehta would have sought the permission of the Ministry of Defence to speak about the secret project. Yet, when asked later on about his surprising "coming on record" about the ATV, he said, with a hefty measure of disingenuity, "I have said what I have read about it on the internet".
Surely an officer of the Admiral's seniority should know how silly such a statement sounds. For a moment let's assume the internet really is
his source. For starters, it's a little alarming that a service chief would find it fit to regurgitate obviously unverifiable information from the internet at the service's largest public interaction without clarifying so. Second, it's hilarious that he would admit it. But it's obviously harder to admit that permissions were taken for the subject to be broached. Maybe it's a sign that the ATV project is actually near completion. Or at least, near hitting water.Hindustan Times
reported that Admiral Mehta received a rap on his knuckles for his comments on Russia, and how the Gorshkov deal shouldn't be renegotiated. It's complicated. It's possible that the comments were planted by the Ministry itself as a possible offset to the stubborn Russian position. Or it could have been an exasperated Chief (an aviator of the old mould, incidentally), who was chuffed that the darn Admiral
wouldn't be inducted in his tenure after all! Either way, I personally thought Admiral Mehta's opinion deserved our cheers. For what it's worth anyway.