Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat with Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh (File photo)
NEW DELHI: In what will be a radical change in the promotion policy for top military generals if implemented, the defence ministry is “examining” a proposal that the commanders-in-chief (Cs-in-C) in the Army, Navy and IAF should primarily be selected on merit rather than seniority.
With the impending creation of integrated theatre commands, the proposed aim is to concomitantly evolve “a more progressive, common and merit-based” policy for the promotion of officers to three-star ranks (Lt-Generals in Army, Vice Admirals in Navy and Air Marshals in IAF) in general and Cs-in-C (senior three-stars who head different commands in armed forces) in particular, say sources.
“A tri-Service committee of the vice chiefs of the Army, Navy and IAF is likely to be formed to study the proposal and recommend suitable merit-based criteria for selection of Cs-in-C,” said a source.
Serious reservations against the proposal, however, have already been expressed by some quarters within the armed forces. “Only a handful of officers reach three-star ranks after being assessed on merit at every step in their careers. Why tinker with a policy that has worked well for decades? This so-called ‘deep selection’ will needlessly lead to politicisation of top ranks,” said a senior officer.
But the proponents of the change in policy contend merit, and not just seniority, should be the deciding factor in selecting the top ranks as the country heads for tri-Service theatre commands and organisations to build an integrated land-air-sea war fighting machinery. As per the existing policy, promotion to the C-in-C level is based on an officer’s date of birth and his date of commissioning almost four decades ago. In the Army, for instance, an officer must have a “residual service” of 36 months left (till he turns 60) from the date of his approval as a Lt-General in order to command one of the 14 corps in the force.
Then, after commanding the corps, he must have residual service of 18 months to be promoted as the C-in-C of one of the six operational and one training command. The residual service clause for Cs-in-Cs in Navy and IAF is 12 months. “In effect, with the date of birth, qualifying residual service and commissioning seniority being the all-important criteria in the existing policy, promotion of Lt-Generals to the C-in-C rank is automatic if there are vacancies,” said an officer.
Incidentally, though earlier governments had almost always followed the seniority principle to appoint a new military chief except in a few instances, the NDA government had appointed General Bipin Rawat as the Army chief in December 2016 by superseding two Lt-Generals senior to him. Gen Rawat was then appointed as the country’s first-ever chief of defence staff in December 2019.