He served as the 13th Chief of the Naval Staff from December 1, 1984 until November 30, 1987. His prior commands included those as the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-Indiana-C) of the Western Naval Command, FOC-Indiana-Chamber of the Southern Naval Command and Flag Officer Commanding of the Western Fleet (FOCWF). A carrier-based aircraft pilot, he also served as the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant (R11).
After retirement, Tahiliani served as the Governor of Sikkim from 1990 to 1994.
He also served on the board of TI.
Tahiliani was commissioned into the Indian Navy on September 1, 1950. He joined the Indian Naval Air Arm and qualified as a pilot for carrier-based aircraft.
He is a graduate of the Naval War College, United States and the National Defence College, New Delhi. He also qualified as a test pilot.
He was the first naval pilot to land an aircraft on the deck of INS Vikrant (R11), when he landed his Hawker Sea Hawk fighter on 18 May 1961.
He served as a carrier-based strike pilot on board INS Vikrant, and later commanded its carrier borne squadron during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. Later, he served as the commanding officer of INS Trishul (1960) and INS Vikrant. In December 1977, he was promoted to Rear Admiral and appointed Flag Officer, Goa Area (FOGA).
Later, he was appointed the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Fleet (FOCWF).
His next appointment was as Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff (ACNS) at Naval Headquarters (NHQ). This was followed by appointment as the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff (DCNS).
He was promoted to Vice Admiral while in this office. In February 1982, then Vice Admiral, Tahiliani was appointed the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-Indiana-C), Southern Naval Command.
In March 1983, he was appointed the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command.
In May 1984, he was appointed the Vice Chief of the Naval Staff (VCNS). On December 1, 1984, he took over as the Chief of the Naval Staff (Central Nervous System) of the Indian Navy. Admiral Tahiliani retired from the Indian Navy on November 30, 1987.
Admiral Tahiliani served as the Governor of Sikkim between February 8, 1990 and September 20, 1994.
He served as the chairman of the India chapter practically from its founding until 2010 and is chairperson of Balvantray Mehta Vidya Bhawan Anguridevi Shersingh, a senior secondary school located in the South District of New Delhi, India. Admiral Tahiliani was elected to the board of Transparency International in 2002.