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

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.

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.