Recently, the Indian Air Force appointed Air Vice Marshal Pawan Mohey VSM as Assistant Chief of Air Staff (ACAS)–Training. This is a landmark moment in the history of the Indian Air Force as AVM Mohey is the first helicopter pilot in the last three decades to hold the position of ACAS Training. The last helicopter pilot to head it was AVM Ranjit Malhotra AVSM VM, in 1994. The training directorate deals with policy formulation related to training of personnel. Though this is an important step in moving towards equality in staff appointments within operational fleets—fighters, transports, helicopters and the navigation stream—a lot more needs to be done.
The IAF has been a fighter-dominated service throughout its history, where helicopter and transport pilots have not been given promotions and postings as fighter pilots. This results in a lot of good helicopter and transport pilots quitting service at an early stage. There are various Directorates in Air Headquarters such as Directorate of Plans, Projects, Personnel Officers, and Intelligence. In these directorates, helicopter and transport pilots do not get the same opportunities as fighter pilots.
The missing helicopter and transport pilots in top ranks
As per data available on Bharat-Rakshak.com, in the last three decades, there has been no ACAS appointments (the highest appointment in the directorate) in the Directorate of Plans from the helicopter, transport and the navigation stream. This directorate deals with policy related to procurement of aircraft and other equipment to enhance IAF’s operational preparedness. In the Directorate of Projects, which oversees all the ongoing projects of IAF, out of the eight ACAS in the last decade, none have been from the helicopter, transport or the navigation stream. In the Directorate of Personnel Officers, there have been no appointments from the helicopter, transport and navigation streams in the last two decades to the position of Air Officer Personnel. This directorate deals with formulation of HR policies related to IAF officers. In the Directorate of Intelligence too there has been no ACAS from these streams in the last two decades. The role of this directorate is to gather intelligence for IAF.
There are diplomatic postings in IAF, where officers are posted as Air Attaches or Defense Attaches with embassies abroad. The general trend has been to assign only one diplomatic posting to helicopter and transport pilots and rest to fighter pilots. This data is based on observation from Bharat-Rakshak.com and information available on the websites of different embassies abroad.
As per the data, in training establishments in the last three decades or so, helicopter and transport pilots have never got a chance to command the prestigious Flying Instructors School (FIS) despite there being instructors from helicopter and transport fleet posted to FIS. A few such pilots have also topped this course. The irony here is that helicopter and transport pilots have been posted as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command in Bengaluru in recent years, but none have commanded FIS, which comes under the training command. One fails to understand the rationale behind such an arbitrary policy.
When it comes to heading regional commands, helicopter and transport pilots have never been appointed as the head of Western and South Western Air Command. In its 89 years of history, the IAF has had only one Chief from the helicopter fleet – Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major (from March 2007 to May 2009) – and none from the transport stream. This only reflects that the policy of postings in IAF has been inconsistent and appears to be ambiguous, especially in the absence of any written policy.
IAF needs policy change
The posting policy in IAF must be made in a way that promotes synergy between all operational branches. This can come through reforming the current promotion policy, which only favours fighter pilots. The staff postings can be rotated between the operational branches on a regular basis. Even in field postings, there is a practice of having Chief Operations Officer and the Air Officer Commanding of different operational branches. However, this practice is majorly being followed only in bases that have transport and helicopter units. This model should also be followed in bases that have fighter squadrons.
The appointment of AVM Mohey to the position of ACAS Training is therefore an unprecedented moment in the history of IAF. It presents an opportunity for the IAF to revisit its promotion and posting policy. This is important as we need the best minds from all operational branches of IAF in positions of policy making and handling operations to enhance preparedness.
Shorya Sood is pursuing his MPhil in political studies from Centre for Political Studies, JNU. He is an aviation enthusiast and follows IAF with great interest. He tweets @shorya1007. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)