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File photo of CDS General Bipin Rawat, who died in IAF chopper crash in Coonoor on Wednesday. Image Credit: ANI

Dubai: The head of India’s armed forces General Bipin Rawat, who died in a helicopter crash, was India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDC), a position that the government established in 2019.

Rawat, a four-star General, was also an adviser to the Defence Ministry and handled coordination and integration of the combat capabilities of the Armed Forces. Prior to taking over as the CDS, he served as 57th and last Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee as well as 26th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army.

The 63-year-old was travelling with his wife and 12 others in a Russian-made Mi-17V5 chopper when it crashed near Coonoor in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

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General Rawat came from a military family with his father having served in the Indian Armed Forces. His career included leadership roles in the country’s northeast, as well as United Nations peacekeeping missions abroad. General Rawat had commanded a Multinational Brigade in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As the coordinator of the various wings of the Indian military and the principal uniformed adviser to the government, Rawat had the task of overhauling and streamlining an Indian military.

He facilitated indigenisation of weapons and equipment to the maximum extent possible while formulating the overall defence acquisition plan for the three services.

When he took over as Chief of Defence Staff, General Rawat vowed to work to create more synergy among the three services.

“The CDS is mandated to facilitate integration, ensure best economical use of resources allocated to the armed forces and bring uniformity in the procurement procedure. I want to assure you that the Army, Navy and Air Force will work as a team and the CDS will ensure integration among these,” he had said.

Closer collaboration with the Pentagon

He had pulled the Indian military closer to the Biden administration and visited Washington in October 2019 to discuss closer collaboration with the Pentagon. During his visit to the US, General Rawat was inducted to the United States Army Command and General Staff College International Hall of Fame.

General Rawat joined the Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1978 and had four decades of service behind him, having commanded forces in Jammu and Kashmir and along the Line of Actual Control bordering China. He was credited with reducing insurgency on India’s northeastern frontier and supervised a cross-border counter-insurgency operation into neighbouring Myanmar.

In 2015, Rawat oversaw Indian “surgical strikes” into neighbouring Myanmar, when para-commandos entered the country to attack Naga rebels who had ambushed and killed Indian troops.

He earlier survived a helicopter crash in 2015 in the northeast state of Nagaland.

Outstanding soldier, true patriot

In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that General Bipin Rawat was an outstanding soldier and a true patriot.

“He greatly contributed to modernising our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional. His passing away has saddened me deeply,” Prime Minister Modi wrote.

He also said that as India’s first CDS, General Rawat worked on diverse aspects relating to armed forces including defence reforms. “He brought with him a rich experience of serving in the Army. India will never forget his exceptional service,” Modi wrote.

Rawat was born in Pauri in now Uttarakhand state in a Hindu Garhwali family. His father Laxman Singh Rawat, who was also in the Army, rose to the rank of Lieutenant General.

Rawat attended Cambrian Hall School in Dehradun and the St. Edward’s School, Shimla. He then joined the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, and the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, where he was awarded the ‘Sword of Honour’.

Rawat was also a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington, and the Higher Command Course at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. At the DSSC, he did his MPhil degree in Defence Studies. He also had diplomas in Management and Computer Studies from the University of Madras. In 2011, he was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy by Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut, for his research on military-media strategic studies.

Same battalion as his father

Rawat was commissioned into the 5th battalion of 11 Gorkha Rifles on December 16, 1978, the same unit as his father. He had much experience in high-altitude warfare and spent 10 years conducting counter-insurgency operations.

After his promotion to Major General, Rawat took over as the General Officer Commanding 19th Infantry Division (Uri). As a Lieutenant General, he commanded III Corps, headquartered in Dimapur before taking over the Southern Army in Pune.

After being promoted to the Army Commander grade, Rawat assumed the post of General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) Southern Command on January 1, 2016. Following a short stint, he assumed the post of Vice Chief of Army Staff on September 1, 2016.

General Rawat was chief of the 1.3 million-strong Army from 2017 to 2019 before his elevation to defence services chief.