Air HQ (AoP’s Branch) formulates the Promotion Policy and Procedure, which is then approved by the Ministry of Defence. To keep pace with careers in the civil, the Air Force has also reviewed its promotion policies to make the service more attractive and has published them for the knowledge of all officers.
Candidates passing out from the Air Force Academy or Air Force Technical College are directly commissioned as Flying Officers (Lieutenants). Technical officers who are graduate engineers are given ante-date in seniority of 2 years for pay and promotion compared to other officers of the IAF. The reason is to attract the best possible talent in the technical field.
Officers, after serving as Flying officers for 3 years, are promoted to Flight Lieutenants ( equivalent to Captain/Lieutenant) of the other services. However to become a substantive Flt Lt, the officers must pass Promotion Examination 'B.' This examination consists of papers in General Knowledge, Staff duties and Professional subject. An officer must secure 60% to pass this examination.
On completion of six years of total service, an officer of the IAF is granted the substantive rank of Squadron Leader (Major/Lt Cdr). This is a far cry from the earlier promotion policy when an officer of the Flying Branch became a substantive Squadron Leader after 11 years of service. Ground duty officers were earlier promoted as Squadron Leaders after 13 years of service.
One of the conditions for promotion is that all officers must pass promotion exam C. This again consists of papers on Current affairs, Air Power, Air Force Law, and General Service training. An officer becomes a substantive Wing Commander (equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel/ Cdr) after 12 years of commissioned service. Promotions up to the rank of Wing Commander are referred to as time scale promotions.
But above the rank of Wg Cdr, all promotions are based on seniority and merit. An officer of the Flying Branch will become eligible for consideration to the rank of Group Captain (Colonel) after completing 16 years of service. Ground duty officers who are non flyers will be considered for Group Captain rank after 18 years of service.
Eligible officers will be empanelled and considered by Promotion Board No 2, which is presided over by the Vice Chief of Air Staff. Specialist officers of the concerned branch are co-opted as members of this promotion board. For example for technical officers, the AOM (Air Officer in charge Maintenance) is co-opted as member.
No 2 Promotion Board is usually convened once every year in the month of April/May. Eligible officers after due consideration depending upon their service qualifications and annual confidential reports will be considered for the rank of Group Captain. As a rule the last 10 years ACR's (Annual Confidential reports) are considered and an average worked out on a 9 point scale.
Officers who have added service qualifications like staff college, Qualified Flying Instructors Course, Long Defense Management course are given extra weightage. The Board will clear a number of officers for promotion to the rank of Group Captain depending on the number of vacancies available (and as per a ratio for Flying Branch officers (fighter/transport/helicopter pilots & navigators) and Aeronautical Branch (Mechanical and Electronics).
Subsequent promotions to the rank of Air Commodore and Air Vice Marshal come under the purview of the No 1 Promotion board of which the Chief of Air Staff is the presiding officer. The AOA is in attendance. The board, usually held in February/March will consider the last 10 years ACR's as well as service qualification like command of a wing or station. All recommendations of the promotion boards (1 and 2) are put for approval to the Ministry of Defence, which has the last say in all matters of promotion.
Normally all officers are considered for promotion for 3 consecutive promotion boards, and after that face the concurrent promotion board. 25% of all vacancies are reserved for concurrent list officers. Officers who are bypassed for promotion in all boards are given the time scale rank of Group Captain after 25 years of service.
A Special Promotion Board, presided over by the CAS and comprising the four senior-most Air Marshals, consider air officers of the rank of AVM for promotion to the rank of Air Marshal. Promotion to the rank of Air Marshal as well as the Air Officer Commanding- in- Chief is approved by the ACC (Appts Committee of the Cabinet) and the Air Chief's appointment by the Prime Minister himself.