Lt Gen Manoj Pande, India’s 15th Andaman and Nicobar Command Chief

Lt Gen Manoj Pande of the Indian Army was appointed the 15th Commander-in-Chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (CINCAN), replacing Lt Gen Podali Shankar Rajeshwar who served for a brief period of six months.

At present, the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) is the only integrated theatre command in the Indian Armed Forces headquartered in Port Blair. Pande will report directly to General Bipin Rawat, India’s first and incumbent Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). His deputation to ANC is the second major principal staff appointment at Integrated Defence Staff after Rawat assumed charge as CDS.

Earlier, Lt Gen Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon was appointed Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (Intelligence)/Director General of Defence Intelligence Agency in March 2020.

Profile

Lt Gen Manoj Pande is a graduate of the National Defence Academy and was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers (Bombay Sappers) in 1982, later commanding an Engineers Regiment in Indian-Occupied Jammu & Kashmir.

During the course of his career, he pursued higher studies at Staff College Camberley (UK) alongside Higher Command Course at Army War College, Mhow (India) and the National Defence College.

As a Lieutenant Colonel, Pande participated in UN missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea. His assignments as a Brigadier included command of the 474th Engineering Brigade in Zirakpur (Western Command).

It is quite probable that Pande’s nomination was confirmed on account of his engineering experience coupled with critical appointments overlooking China (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam) as well as his tenure in Southern Command through which he liaised extensively with the Indian Navy and Coast Guard.

After promotion to Major General rank, Pande served as General Officer Commanding of the coveted 8 Mountain Division, otherwise referred to as the ‘Forever in Operations’ division headquartered in Khumbathang. It is reputed across Indian military circles as the decisive force responsible for India’s proclaimed victory in the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan. For an officer like Pande who belongs to an engineering background, command of this division reflects the institutional trust upon his capabilities since this seat has usually been occupied by conventional fighting arms officers who are generally considered more ‘nuanced’ in high-altitude combat.

Later, in the same rank, he served as Additional Director General Military Operations (ADGMO) in Army Headquarters, assisting the DGMO and all formations in operational planning.

After elevation to Lieutenant General rank, Pande served initially as Chief of Staff at Southern Command, still the only Indian Army formation that maintains an amphibious warfare element (54th Infantry Division). His next appointment was General Officer Commanding of 4 Corps or ‘Gajraj Corps’ (Eastern Command) that guides mountain divisions overlooking China from Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. In this capacity too, Pande was the first Corps of Engineers officer to hold this slot.

Appointment as CINCAN

Command of ANC is another pioneering achievement for Pande. His previous Indian Army contemporaries who served as CINCAN during tri-service rotations were either from the Infantry or Armoured Corps. In fact, none of his predecessors leading ANC (from navy and air force) came from an engineering background, thus prompting the question, why now?

Pande’s engineering background would complement strategic understanding of the archipelago’s surrounding environment thereby enabling optimisation and timely completion of military infrastructure projects, at least during his term.

It is quite probable that Pande’s nomination was confirmed on account of his engineering experience coupled with critical appointments overlooking China (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam) as well as his tenure in Southern Command through which he liaised extensively with the Indian Navy and Coast Guard.

Geostrategic Context

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are situated to the northwest of the Strait of Malacca, thus offering an as-yet unexploited chokepoint against perceived aggression by the PLA Navy. Although the waters along India’s eastern seaboard particularly Bay of Bengal remain under Indian influence, the status quo risks being challenged.

For India to keep proper tabs on Chinese naval movements, it is imperative that a credible military infrastructure be setup in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. To that end, in January 2019, the Modi 1.0 government approved a 10-year-long military infrastructure project worth INR 5,650 crore to upgrade the ANC, thereby enabling additional troops, warships, aircraft, drones and missile batteries.

In parallel to this are Japanese-funded projects for a 15-megawatt diesel power plant on South Andaman Island and the construction of new Electronic Intelligence (ELINT)/Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) stations along the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to monitor PLA Navy submarine movements. Reportedly, this project would be integrated into the US-Japan ‘Fish Hook‘ project known as the Sound Surveillance Systems (SOSUS).

Future use of the archipelago’s facilities by Japanese and Australian maritime forces is also a possibility.

Conclusion

Pande’s engineering background would complement strategic understanding of the archipelago’s surrounding environment thereby enabling optimisation and timely completion of military infrastructure projects, at least during his term. Moreover, he can expect thorough civilian administrative support from Vice Admiral (Retired) Devendra Kumar Joshi, the incumbent Lieutenant Governor of the islands who is himself a former CINCAN (September 2009 till December 2010).

Zaki Khalid

Zaki Khalid

is a freelance national security and strategic affairs commentator whose writings have appeared in South Asia Journal, The Nation, Russian International Affairs Council, The Frontier Post and Pakistan Observer, to name a few. He can be reached on Twitter @misterzedpk

Leave a Comment

Login

Welcome! Login in to your account

Remember me Lost your password?

Lost Password