Lieutenant General Manoj Pande was on Monday announced to succeed General MM Naravane as India’s Chief of the Army Staff.
Lt. Gen. Pande is the first officer from the Corps of Engineers to rise to the post of the army chief. Earlier, the position was held by only infantry, artillery, and armoured corps officers.
National security analyst Nithin Gokhale wrote on Twitter that Lt. Gen. PS Bhagat, an engineer officer, was in line to become the army chief in the 1970s but the government of the day did not appoint him.
Lt Gen PS Bhagat came the closest to be the 1st Engineers officers to become Chief in early 1970s but was denied by Mrs Indira Gandhi. But Lt Gen Pande, who hails from Nagpur, and has commanded the 8 Div, 4 Corps, ANC and Eastern Command in the two previous ranks, broke the taboo— Nitin A. Gokhale (@nitingokhale) April 18, 2022
The appointment of Lt. Gen. Pande reflects the requirements of the day as warfare has now gone beyond infantry operations or armour wars as seen in the ongoing war in Ukraine where the much larger Russian military has struggled against Ukrainian forces that have used technology and innovation to their advantage.
Lt Gen Pande brings deep technological insight to the table
Modern warfare has evolved from tank battles and uphill infantry assaults of yesteryears. Now drones, cyber and electronic warfare, and the integration of frontline infantry personnel with high-end communication technology are decisive factors.
This has been seen in the ongoing war in Ukraine where Russian frontal tank assaults have been repulsed by internet-powered drones of Ukrainian forces. Intercepts from insecure Russian battlefield communication have also given Ukraine and the West insight into Russian war efforts.
Earlier, the importance of drones was seen in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Lt. Gen. Pande has experience of leading formations at both the Line of Control and Line of Actual Control. He has also commanded a mountain division in addition to being part of Operation Parakram’s mobilisation. With the mating of such military experience with technical insights, Lt. Gen. Pande appears to be a suitable person to oversee the army at a time when modern warfare is fast evolving with increasing focus on technology and innovation.
“Today we have an officer with a firm technical background as the army chief-to-be. In the history of warfare, never have we witnessed the overarching requirement of synthesising high-end technology with conventional kinetic warfare. Lt. Gen. Manoj Pande has a deep insight into both,” wrote Brigadier (Retired) SK Chatterjee about the next army chief.
Lt Gen Pande’s prior experience with jointness will be an asset
Prior to his current appointment of army vice chief, Lt. Gen. Pande had commanded the Indian Army’s eastern command and the Andaman and Nicobar command, which is India’s only tri-services theatre command.
Presently, the army, the air force, and the navy have their own commands. A theatre command would mean that a particular area – a theatre – is under the command of a single officer under whom all the three services would function together. The late Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat – India’s first CDS – was Narendra Modi government’s pointsman for the theatrisation efforts.
Now that Gen. Naravane, who closely worked with Gen. Rawat, is believed to be a top contender to be the next CDS after completing his army chief’s tenure at the end of this month, the appointment of Lt. Gen. Pande, who has experience of commanding a tri-services theatre command, is interesting as it would be in line with the ongoing efforts of inter-services synergy.