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Generation shift in air force

New Delhi, July 29: When the portly Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik hands over the baton of the chief of air staff to his deputy this Sunday, it will mark not only a change of guard at Air Headquarters but also the beginning of a generational shift in the top brass after 40 years.

Air Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne, now vice chief of air staff, is set to become the first military chief to have been commissioned into service after India’s last full-fledged war involving land, air and naval forces in 1971.

As a precursor to that change, Air Chief Marshal Naik today handed over the baton of the chairman, chiefs of staff committee, to the chief of naval staff, Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma.

Naik was commissioned into the fighter stream of the air force in 1969, two years before the war that led to the birth of Bangladesh. Verma, who will on Sunday become the senior-most military officer in the country, was commissioned into the navy in 1970.

The army chief, General V.K. Singh, who was in action in Bangladesh in 1971, was commissioned into the 2nd battalion of the Rajput Regiment in June 1970, about two weeks before Admiral Verma was into the navy. He still becomes junior to the navy chief because the admiral became a chief first.

That is usual, because promotions in the navy and the air force, which have fewer officers than the army, are faster.

Browne, when he becomes the air chief marshal on Sunday, will be the first chief to have been commissioned into service post the 1971 war. He joined the Indian Air Force in June 1972.

In the current line of succession, Lt General Bikram Singh, now Eastern Army Commander at Calcutta’s Fort William, is set to take over from General V.K. Singh in June next year.

Lt General Bikram Singh was commissioned into the Sikh Light Infantry in 1972, several months after the December 1971 war. In the navy, with the retirement of Admiral Nirmal Verma scheduled for August 2012, the senior-most officer eligible for the chief’s post is Vice Admiral Devendra Kumar Joshi, currently the flag officer commanding-in-chief, western naval command.

Vice Admiral Joshi, who was chief of the integrated defence staff to the chairman, chiefs of staff committee in New Delhi before taking over in Mumbai, joined the navy in 1974, three years after the Bangladesh war.

Air Marshal Browne was chief of the western air command before he became the vice chief of air staff.

He is a pilot with more than 32,00 hours of flying fighter aircraft and was also a Fighter Combat Leader and an instructor at Gwalior’s Tactics and Combat Development Establishment, which puts fighter pilots through their paces.

Browne has trained with the UK Royal Air Force in Jaguar aircraft and is an alumnus of the Air Command and Staff College, US (1987-88). He was joint director at the Air War Strategy Cell at Air Headquarters and was among the first officers to establish military-to-military ties with Israel in 1997 when he was Defence Attache in the Indian Embassy at Tel Aviv.

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