General Manoj Pande took over as 29th Chief of the Indian Army on May 1, 2022. His appointment made some unusual news because he is the first officer from the Corps of Engineers to don the mantle. Broadly, the Indian Army comprises of three streams viz. Combat Arms, Combat Support Arms and Services. The elements that compose the Combat Arms are Armoured Corps, Infantry and Mechanised Infantry. The Combat Support Arms are Artillery, Air Defence (AD), ArmyAviation, Engineers and Signals. The Services consist of Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps, Electric and Mechanical Engineers, Intelligence Corps, Pioneer Corps and other minor crops. In addition, there are the Services like Army Medical Corps and Remount Veterinary Corps which are expected to play a specific role only.
The appointment of Gen. Pande from the Corps of Engineers represents the breaking of a glass ceiling for combat support arms. Until his appointment, officers from the Engineers have served as army commanders and vice chiefs, but have never held the army chief’s post. Folklore has it that the best chief the Army never had was Lt. Gen. PS Bhagat who in an unprecedented step was superseded by granting a yearlong extension to Gen. Bewoor, who was later succeeded by General Tapishwar Narain Raina. Only five generals from the Indian Artillery, a combat support arm, have made it to the rank of the Chief of Army Staff. Gen. Pande’s appointment is purely on the basis of merit and seniority.
Gen. Manoj Pande was commissioned on December 24, 1982, in the Bombay Sappers of the Indian Army. The other two Service Chiefs are his coursemates from the 61st course of National Defence Academy (NDA) Khadakwasla. Gen. Pande was posted as the Vice Chief of the Army Staff in February this year after having commanded the Eastern Command. Prior to that, he served as the Commander-in-Chief Andaman and Nicobar Command (CINCAN) – a special tri-service command that safeguards India’s strategic interests in Southeast Asia. As a Colonel, Manoj Pande commanded an engineer regiment during Operation Parakram in the Pallanwala sector along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. As a Brigadier, he commanded an engineer brigade in the western sector, an infantry brigade along the LoC and a mountain division in the high altitude area of western Ladakh besides a Corps in the Northeast. Among his international stints, the General Officer has served as chief engineer in the United Nations mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Being born in May 1962, General Pande will serve as the army chief for two years as the Service Chiefs have a term of three years or when they turn 62, whichever is earlier. The new Chief’s tenure is filled with challenges that include the effects of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and the standoff with the Chinese at friction points on the LAC. All this comes along with the government’s focus on indigenisation and self-reliance against shrinking budgets. Given that the three service chiefs are coursemates, they can set the tone to enhance tri-service synergy, and set up the integrated commands – two land-centric theatres, an air defence command, and a maritime theatre command.