Military & Aerospace

1971: India's Military Plan-I
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India could muster about seven infantry divisions against East Pakistan. One of these had been originally earmarked for the contingency plan in East Pakistan, two divisions had been taken off counter-insurgency operations in Nagaland and Mizoram, three taken from reserves located in the Siliguri corridor against the Chinese, and one brought from the UP-Tibet border, accepting risk in the region. But this division was not to be committed in depth in Bangladesh so that it could be moved back quickly in case of a hostile Chinese reaction. In armour, India had three regiments, two independent squadrons and an APC battalion against Pakistan’s one armoured regiment and a couple of independent squadrons. Our superiority in ground forces over Pakistan was not overwhelming enough for the nvisaged speed of operations. Only audacity in planning and boldness in execution would clinch the issue.

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In the air, India had a total of 45 squadrons in all of combat and transport aircraft against Pakistan’s 13 compared with 34 and 12 respectively in 1965. The Indian Air Force had replaced most of its vintage Vampires, Toofanis and Mysteres with the Russian built SU-7. It had also gone in for the MIG-21, now being assembled in the country,2 while Pakistan had acquired the Chinese-made Mig-19, somewhat inferior in performance to Mig-21. On the other hand, Pakistan had in service 24 Mirages which were superior in performance to any Indian aircraft.3 Both sides were however weak in deep-penetration bombing capacity and were numerically at near parity as in 1965.

The Chinese did not come in on Pakistans side in the 1965 Indo-Pak hostilities, but they issued an ultimatum and we were forced to retain almost all our troops facing them in their operational locations.

After the Chinese invasion in 1962, India had improved its early warning radar system with the help of US military aid, but this was abruptly cut off after the conflict in 1965. The project was however continued with help from other sources and with indigenous production. By the time operations started in 1971, considerable progress had been made in improving the system. The western theatre from Kashmir to the Arabian Sea, apart from the mountainous section, was adequately covered, but the eastern theatre, especially in the context of war in East Pakistan, was rather neglected. Nobody had taken a war in this region seriously, and as such this aspect of the warning system had received low priority.

In naval power, India had an edge over Pakistan in conventional warships like cruisers, destroyers and frigates besides an aircraft carrier. But these vessels were mostly obsolescent and not fit for fast manoeuvre. In fact, the aircraft carrier was chugging along at the time on only one boiler. The fleet’s overall performance had however been improved vastly through better organisation and the creation of western and eastern wings under separate naval command headquarters.

Book_India_wars_sinceThe navy’s strike capability was further increased by procuring missile boats from the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Pakistan had gone in for submarines of the Daphne and Midget class, hoping thus to neutralise India’s naval strength through underwater operations.4


  1. On 19 September 1965, in a note handed on behalf of the Chinese Foreign Ministry to the Indian Charge d’Affaires, J.S. Mehta, in Peking, the Chinese Government extended to the midnight of 22 September, the deadline of its ultimatum to India for dismantling military structures which it alleged had been built on the Chinese side of the Sino-Sikkim border.
  2. The MIG division in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd took steps in 1971 to manufacture under licence a modified version of the Mig-21 with an eye to improved performance.
  3. Asian Recorder, Vol XVIII, No .1, p. 10537, “Strength of Pakistan Air Force, an Indian Assessment.”
  4. Daphne class submarines, spareparts for torpedoes, tank and artillery ammunition were supplied by France to Pakistan. This was revealed by Mr SC Shukla, Minister of State for Defence Production, in the Rajya Sabha on 4 August 1971.

Before the war, the Indian Navy had found an answer to the Pakistani submarine menace by obtaining British Sea King helicopters which could operate from shore bases as well as from ships at sea. In addition, maritime reconnaissance was better organised by equipping the old Constellations with a more sophisticated radar system under Maritime Headquarters established by the IAF in Bombay.

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Traditionally Pakistan had one infantry division of four brigades deployed in East Pakistan. After the events of March 1971, as described earlier, this force was built up to a strength of about four divisions comprising some 35 regular infantry battalions, seven wings of paramilitary forces brought in from West Pakistan, 17 wings of the locally raised East Pakistan Civil Armed Forces, some sub-units of the industrial security force, and a large number of Mujahids and Razakars.

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