The government has gone by the seniority principle in announcing the next Army chief, with Lt-Gen Pande being the senior most Lt-Gen in the force. The country’s next chief of defence staff (CDS), however, is yet to be announced, well over four months after Gen Bipin Rawat’s untimely death in a helicopter crash, though Gen Naravane is considered to be the frontrunner. A CDS can serve till the age of 65, while the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs serve till 62 or for three years, whichever is earlier.
Lt-Gen Pande, who turns 60 on May 6, will take over as the Army chief at a time when there are still no signs of any de-escalation in the almost two-year long military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.
He is well-versed with China, having first served as the 4 ‘Gajraj’ Corps commander in the north-east, which looks after both the Line of Actual Control as well as counter-insurgency operations, and then later as the general officer commanding-in-chief of the Eastern Command from June 2021 to Jan 2022 before he became the Army vice-chief.
There is also the drastic need to slash the non-operational flab in the Army, which has a skewed 84:16 ratio in terms of revenue expenditure (day-to-day operating costs and salaries) relative to the capital one for modernization.
“Lt-Gen Pande will have to take forward the transformation of the manpower-intensive Army into a lean, mean and future-ready fighting machine, with a much better teeth-to-tail ratio,” a senior officer said.
Commissioned in the Corps of Engineers (The Bombay Sappers) in December 1982, Lt-Gen Pande opted for the `general cadre’, which includes the `combat arms’ of infantry, armoured corps and mechanized infantry, on his promotion to the rank of Brigadier from Colonel.
Officers from `combat-support arms’ like artillery, air defence, engineers, aviation and signals can apply for the `general cadre’ at that rank. “Only some are approved for the `general cadre’ stream. The Army has been commanded by officers only from the infantry, armoured corps and artillery till now,” another officer said.
As a `general cadre’ Brigadier, Lt-Gen Pande went on to command an infantry brigade along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan in J&K, and then a mountain division in the high-altitude area of western Ladakh as a Major General.
Apart from extensive experience in dealing with the two long unsettled borders with both China and Pakistan, Lt-Gen Pande was also the chief of the unified Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) from June 2020 to May 2021.
With ANC being India’s only `geographical’ or `theatre’ command till now, with all Army, Navy, IAF and Coast Guard forces under a single commander, this will stand him in good stead as the country moves towards integrated commands in the next few years.