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Modi govt starts process to pick new IAF chief, could opt for merit over seniority

Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, the incumbent IAF chief, retires 30 September. There are 5 IAF officers in contention to succeed him.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has set the ball rolling on the selection of the new chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF), a decision that may involve deep selection just as it did for the incumbent Army chief and the next Navy chief.

Deep selection is when the chief is selected not automatically on the basis of seniority, but from a group of contenders who are deemed to have the merit even if they are not the senior-most.

Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, the incumbent IAF chief, retires 30 September. Top sources in the government told ThePrint that five IAF officers were in contention to succeed him, including Air Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria, the man who will take over as vice-chief on 1 May.

Air Marshal Bhadauria, whose initials feature on the tail number of the Rafale trainer jets, retires the same day as Dhanoa.

In the past, Air Marshal N.C. Suri became the Chief of Air Staff after Air Chief Marshal S.K. Mehra despite both having the same day of retirement — 31 July 1991. This was possible because Mehra demitted office in the forenoon of 31 July 1991, thus enabling Suri to become chief.

“There is no rule that says the senior-most officer becomes the chief automatically,” a senior official who did not wish to be identified told ThePrint. “The government has the right to select from the list of names brought before it.

The others

The senior-most officer in the IAF after Dhanoa is Air Marshal B. Suresh, the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief (AoC-in-C) of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Southern Air Command.

Another contender for the post is Air Marshal R. Nambiar, the AOC-in-C of the crucial Western Air Command. Air Marshal Nambiar was brought to the Western Air Command from the Eastern Air Command after the retirement of Air Marshal Chandrashekharan Hari Kumar, who oversaw the 26 February IAF air strikes against Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps in Pakistan’s Balakot.

Another senior officer was set to head the Western Air Command that looks after the crucial border with Pakistan and parts of the China frontier, but Air Marshal Nambiar was brought in because of his operational experience.

A Kargil war veteran, he undertook the maiden test flight of the Rafale in Paris after India signed the deal for 36 fighter jets with France.

The other two officers who are in contention are Air Marshal H.S. Arora, heading the Gandhinagar-based South Western Command, and Air Marshal Rajesh Kumar, heading the Allahabad-based Central Air Command.

Sources said the names of these five officers had been sent for a thorough background check, as happens in the case of all appointments at the top.

Also read: Balakot proof is ‘blowin in the wind’ which Pakistan doesn’t want to see: IAF chief Dhanoa

Breaking the tradition

Breaking the tradition, the Narendra Modi government has gone in for deep selection at the top level rather than just appointing the most senior officer. The government’s argument is that merit decides who gets the post.

The first deep selection happened in the Army, when General Bipin Rawat became the chief in December 2016, superseding two officers.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa, who assumed the post the same year, was the most senior officer of the IAF after his predecessor, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, at the time of his elevation.

In the Navy, the government has appointed Vice-Admiral Karambir Singh as the new chief, superseding the contender by seniority, Vice-Admiral Bimal Verma, who has now approached the Armed Forces Tribunal against the decision.

Also read: Did IAF win 1971 war? Pak scholar says no. Ex-Indian Navy chief says debate with facts


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  1. Any command chief is capable of taking over as Chief. To allow politicians to choose and select among them will lead to seeking political patronage
    Hence promotion to Chiefs should only based on seniority

  2. Wise way of politicising the defence service. This will lead to groupism in defence services. Already CBI, RBI, IT, ED, EC are split into BJP group and Cong group. In future only supporters of ruling government will prosper.

  3. Unfortunately, there happens to be vast difference.
    First actually till mid 60s the Cabinet Secretary was equal to the CinCs and not the Chief.
    The other aspect is that the Civil Services are All India basis only in name.
    They actually form state cadres and any other movement is on Voluntary and Deputation Basis.
    They generally come to the Central Government as Director on Volunteers basis. In their case they have options to be Chief Secretary in State or Addl Sec / Secretary in GoI.
    Further theirs is Appointment and they get shunted around.
    For example with change of Govt in MP, Rajasthan etc the old Chief Secretary, DGP etc have been shunted around. New DGP has been appointed and the earlier one has gone as DGP Police Housing Board.
    The Services unfortunately don’t function in that manner.
    The Seniority should be the sole criteria unless something has come to light. If that be the case then the person should not be there even in the Service.

    By the way there are no ACRs for the CinCs.
    The Chief don’t change with the Government.
    There can be no different criteria/ views for the Air Chief. The least controversial way is to respect and go by Seniority.

    The problem is that there is no way of establishing merit. There are no ACRs for the CinCs especially Army Cdrs.

    2. In the name of Merit and Deep Selection what takesplaceisgiveandtakeandPoliticisation.Bureaucracy on the other hand is Transient in nature.
    Politicians have been in league with them from Day one.

    The Defence Services on the other hand are the last bastion of the Nation.
    Not meant to be aligned to any Political Parties or Policy accept safeguarding the Constitution and the Nation.

  4. What is the Great hurry to leak it to the Media?

    When Jawahar Lal Nehru wanted to get another British Officer to Head the Indian Army stating that the Indian Army Officers lacked experience.
    Nehru was not only opposed by Lt Gen Nathu Singh, but Nathu Singh told him to get Prime Minister also from England as no Indian Politician had the requisite experience.

    Nehru offered the COAS Appointment to Lt Gen Nathu Singh who refused stating that it should be rightly Cariappa who should be made the COAS, as Cariappa was the Senior.

    At that level the AMs / C-in-Cs reach by merit and by tradition the seniority must prevail as fair and natural selection to keep up with the tradition and morale of the services and to keep the political aleniation or the politicisation of the services.

  5. The rank of air chief marshal equivalent to cabinet secretary is a promotion out of empanelled air marshals. Since there is only one vacancy, only one can get this promotion. Generally seniormost air marshal was promoted but there is nothing wrong in promoting best amongst the equals. All select rank promotions in the armed forces are based on the merit. At every rank of promotions all empanelled officers are equal in operational and administrative experience but best are selected for promotion as per merit. If seniority is to be taken as criteria for promotion then it should be for all higher ranks and not only for the top post.
    Even promotion to rank of cabinet secretary is not on seniority but on merit.

  6. Sadvi Pragaya… could be a candidate promoted by Modi ji for this post. Or another RSS follower like COAS like Good man because Mr. Bipin Rawat.

    • 1st of all write some proper English or don’t write…2ndly even sadvi Prangya is better that any mussie c*nt who 300 people in Sri lank in the name of religion….so stfu and go back to your hole

  7. In armed forces the officers get their grading for promotions based on Annual Confidential Reports. So, an officer gets his seniority based on his performance. The government needs to base the selection according to seniority. Otherwise the armed forces would be politicized in the sense that some of the officers ina group in the elevation range might take to sycophancy…

  8. It is astonishing that the present government is behind breaking the norms followed in DEFENCE. Seniority must be followed otherwise —–. Please don’t break the rules in Defence Forces.

  9. Seniority alone can’t be the yardstick to become the chief.
    Present national & global scenario is entirely different. The person should be capable of handling the airforce at the same time should be capable of handling tough & tricky situations instantly. Should be capable & intelligent enough to get international current affairs, intelligence reports etc. Should have good network, capable of getting modern equipments & technologies to safeguard the nation. In essence should be smart & fast in decesion making & actions.

  10. Going by its record, BJP is again looking for a pliable chief…
    Political interference everywhere.
    This party is ruining the autonomous character of national institutions -RBI, CBI, Judiciary, Armed Forces one by one.
    This way, this party will only alienate itself from the masses.
    The nation will pay for its misadventures, unless it’s wings are clipped in time.

  11. All the air command chiefs, army commanders and naval fleet chiefs are capable and competent officers as they have gone through thorough scrutiny at many levels. While in principle, the idea of merit is sound but who will decide the merit. I am afraid we are in the process of politicising armed forces which will make it pliant and inefficient organisation. This will be a sad day. I am afraid the desire to control armed forces in political circles is across the political spectrum and we may suffer Chinese debacle like situation, if we don’t learn from our past mistakes. To say that some army commander is more meritorious than others is not only mischievous but is dangerous. Principle of merit should not be brought into play as a routine but as an exception, where there has been some flow in seniormost officers profile.

  12. Merit according to whom and based on what parameters? The best is to appoint the senior most who will have 3 years tenure so that he can do something worthwhile.

  13. All the AMs are first among equals. Hence to say a further deep selection will be done for the next ACM is pure hogwash. This govt is hell bent in politicising the appt of chiefs as was done in army and navy. The senior hierarchy of armed forces has already started sucking up to the bureaucrats and politicians in the hope of becoming the next chief. A very dangerous precedent has been set.

    • Its not the bureaucracy or politicians who decide the next chief ,but only the prime minister.
      Unless the PM is weak or confused or indecisive, lobbying will be a negative.
      I don’t think Dhanoa did so well in the balakot incident, etc. There are flaws in IAF planning and execution. A new air chief must take a very hard and intensive line on executing operations successfully and must carefully select all officers from the bottom up.
      Although all Air Marshals have competence otherwise they may not have made it so far, its important to select the best person of the lot who can make IAF a real and efficient ruthless machine and plug all the holes and produce outstanding pilots and strategy.
      Seniority alone cannot be a consideration. At the topmost position, the relative merit of the candidates should be gauged.
      That said, I don’t know if its correct to say that Rawat was a better army chief choice than the others who were superseded. Some IAF chiefs like ACM Tyagi have also been involved in corruption scandals.

    • @Jaideep, please note that it’s Air Marshal not Air Chief Marshal. It’s better you don’t comment if you don’t know the ranks but don’t misguide and spread fake news about the ranks.

  14. AM b Suresh is NOT senior most. His date of commission is Dec 1980 and bhaduria commission date is June 1980. Hence , the appointment is correct. Please check before spreading rumours.

  15. B Suresh is NOT senior most after ACM dhanoa. B Suresh date of commission is Dec 1980 and bhaduria date of commission is Jun 1980. Hence, present going to be vice chief bhaduria would be the senior most after ACM retires. please do homework before publishing article.

  16. This is politicisation of the Armed Forces. When a person reaches the second highest level then to say deep selection is a joke. All five in running are Air Marshals and to say they reached without merit is the biggest lie being projected.
    At that level seniority is best method otherwise it leads to political interference and favoritism which destroys the ethos of Armed Forces. The current government has been fiddling with the appointment of Chiefs leading to the demoralizing of the forces by playing favorites.

    • Fully agree. To reach the post of vice chief calls for exceptional merit. Seniority should be basis for top post else lobbying for the post with beaucrates and politicians would begin and destroy the ethos of the service.

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