Major reshuffle at army and air force top brass, new appointments at key commands

New Delhi Sep 26 A major reshuffle with fresh appointments among the top brass of the army and air force have taken place, including at two key commands that are tasked with guarding India’s frontier with China.

Sources said that orders on the new appointment of the new Eastern Army Commander based in Kolkata and the Eastern Air Force Commander based in Shillong have been issued. These are the two commands that are responsible for defensive and offensive operations along the China frontier. The importance of the Eastern Army Command can be seen from the fact that the Indian troops who were engaged in the standoff against Chinese soldiers in Doklam last year, were part of the army’s 33 Corps under this command.

Even appointments of a new Vice Chief and Deputy Chief in the Indian Air Force have taken place. Air Marshal R Nambiar who is currently the Deputy Chief has been appointed as the head of the Shillong based Eastern Air Command. Air Marshal Anil Khosla who is currently the Eastern Air Force Commander has been appointed as the Vice Chief, replacing Air Marshal S B Deo who retires on September 30. Air Vice Marshal V R Chaudhuri has been promoted to Air Marshal and appointed as the new Deputy Chief. The Vice Chief and Deputy Chief are important appointments, with the former responsible for air operations and the latter for procurement and planning.

Air Marshal H S Arora, who is currently DG Air Operations under the Vice Chief, has been appointed as the head of the South Western Air Command based in Gandhinagar.

In the army, Lt Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane, who is currently heading the Shimla-based Army Training Command (ARTRAC) has been posted as the new Eastern Army Commander. Naravane will be the senior most officer in the army after the current army chief, General Bipin Rawat, retires in December next year. This would make Naravane the next in line to become chief, if the principle of seniority is followed. While the seniority principle has been followed in appointing army chiefs in the past, the BJP government selected Rawat to the top post in 2016 after bypassing two officers.

Naravane’s posting to ARTRAC last year came as a surprise, as an officer ideally should have led an operational command before being appointed as the army chief. His junior, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, who was the Director General of Military Operations during the surgical strikes in 2016, was posted as the Northern Army Commander in May this year. But, the order issued on Tuesday to appoint Naravane as the Eastern Army Commander will ensure that he acquires the required operational experience.

Lt Gen Abhay Krishna, the officer whom Naravane is replacing, has been transferred to the Central Command, based in Lucknow. The command is responsible for the Line of Actual Control with China in Uttarakhand, which has witnessed incursions in the past. Krishna has been shifted as an army commander a few times since the past year- from the South Western Command to the Eastern Command and now the Central Command. This shuffling is unusual at this level, because an army commander needs adequate time to fully lead his command.

At the Central Command, he will be replacing Lt Gen B S Negi, who is retiring at the end of this month. Even Southern Army Commander, Lt Gen Dewan Rabindranath Soni, is retiring. Lt Gens Sanjiv Chopra and PS Rajeshwar are being elevated to the position of Army Commanders to take up the vacant positions in the South and at the training command.