The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Air force promotes merit over rank
- Duo benefits from air chief’s new policy

New Delhi, Nov. 9: The Indian Air Force has made the first set of appointments under a revised personnel policy that Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy has implemented with the aim to promote merit over seniority.

Air Marshal Ajit Bhavnani has been appointed senior air staff officer with the Central Air Command (headquartered in Allahabad) and Air Marshal Ashok Goel has been appointed inspector general (inspection and safety) at air headquarters in New Delhi.

This is the first time that the policy has been applied for appointments at the air marshal (equivalent to lieutenant general in the army) rank.

Krishnaswamy has for some time been advocating what has come to be called the “deep selection process”, jargon for a system that seeks to identify performers in the officer cadre, who may be rewarded despite being junior in service.

Air Marshal Bhavnani in particular is understood to be superseding other air marshals to the post. Bhavnani was assistant chief of air staff (personnel and officers), a post for officers in the rank of air vice-marshal (equivalent to major general in the army).

As the senior air staff officer in the Central Air Command, Bhavnani will be effectively in charge of the IAF’s fleet of Mirage 2000 aircraft.

The multi-role Mirages, which with the Sukhois make up the cutting edge of the IAF, are based in Gwalior and are said to have turned the tide in the air operations during Operation Vijay (the 1999 Kargil war) by precision-bombing of heights held by intruders with laser-guided firearms.

Bhavnani was also the first commanding officer of the Mirage squadron when the French-built aircraft were inducted into the IAF. As senior air staff officer, he would be at the centre of the first international combat aircraft exercises to be held in February in Gwalior when French Air Force fighters and IAF Mirages will fly sorties in tandem.

A batch of 10 new Mirages, ordered by the IAF in 2000, is also expected to join the fleet next year.

Goel’s appointment as inspector general, too, has raised eyebrows in the IAF because it is the first time the post is being held by a flier of transport aircraft. So far, the post has been held by fighter pilots.

Goel succeeds Air Marshal Vinod ‘Jimmy’ Bhatia. Bhatia was at the centre of a controversy during Operation Parakram when he had allegedly flown an AN 32 into Pakistani airspace across the Line of Control while on a maiden flight to Kargil. Bhatia was then chief of the Western Air Command. Subsequently, he was practically shunted to the air headquarters and was “accommodated” in the post till he retired last month.

Goel, who was senior air staff officer with the Eastern Air Command (headquartered in Shillong) is one of the most experienced pilots in the IAF with more than 10,000 hours of flying, 3,500 of them operational.

He has seen action in every major IAF operation since the 1965 war with Pakistan. He was the leader of the team which inducted the huge IL-76s into the IAF. The IL-76 transporters ferry some of the heaviest material for the services, including tanks and armoured vehicles.

IAF sources say the two appointments were made after screening several officers.

Explaining the difference, they said while seniority and fitness were the crucial determinants for promotions at this level in the past, the criteria was now being changed to merit plus fitness. It is likely that in making senior appointments henceforth, the air chief will consider at least three officers for each post before identifying the “right candidate for the right job”.

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