Military & Aerospace

Kargil Controversy: Army trashes IAF perspective
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Issue Vol 25.2 Apr-Jun2010 | Date : 07 Jul , 2018

While Air Marshal Bedi in his article ‘KARGIL-AN IAF PERSPECTIVE’ has tried his best to educate readers, in his words, “inadequate understanding of fundamental percepts of air power… and hopefully set the records straight in the interest of inter service bonhomie”, he perhaps has also taken recourse to sift inputs from plethora of material available on Op VIJAY. Even after ten years, controversies keep on erupting on the conduct of this operation. These will continue in the future as well because certain facts have not come out in the open.

Bedi has written: “Apparently, it was the American Ambassador John Galbraith who advised Prime Minister Nehru not to commit the Air Force.” It is astonishing to note that the Service Chiefs, and the Air Chief in particular, were mute spectators in the 62 Sino–Indian conflict. He later goes on to say, in his own words: “The Chinese did not have any significant capability then.” Did the Air Chief at that time give his professional advice to the Government or did he go to the Prime Minister seeking employment of air power? Do you depend on a diplomat’s advice for professional employment of a particular service? Why then have the Service Chiefs?

“At the time of the Chinese invasion of India last year, one of the aircraft carriers of the US Seventh Fleet was ordered to the Bay of Bengal to help defend the Calcutta Zone if the need arose”, informs the Times of India of the 19th December 1963. It goes on to say, “The Chinese withdrew because they feared that the West would retaliate.” Did the Service Chiefs especially the Air Chief know this? Who was directing the military operations? Certainly not the Ambassador! It was a failure in the Higher Direction of War. Where was the jointmanship or bonhomie then? Obviously, there was a total lack of inter service understanding and planning.

The Air Chief would have become a hero had he rendered professional advice to the Prime Minister no sooner he had a grip over the operational situation as the Chairman COSC.

In his article in Indian Defence Review, Air Vice Marshal AK Tewary has stated that India could have defeated China in 1962 War had Indian Air Force been used. In his article, he says that the Air Chief was not even consulted due to the ‘politico-bureaucratic combine’. Tewary further writes: “In the final analysis, the use of combat power would have turned the tables on the Chinese and the 1962 War could well have been a debacle for China.”

The IAF did show hesitancy to come on board in the initial phase of the Kargil Operations. During the absence of the Army Chief from 10 May to 20 May 1999, the Chief of Air Staff took over the duties of the Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee (COSC) as well. In one of the early COSC meetings held at the Military Operations Room, Air Chief Marshal Tipnis almost gave a shut up call to the VCOAS who was requesting for air support. He advanced a theory that use of air power, even use of the armed helicopters (well within own territory) would escalate in to a total war between India and Pakistan. We in the Military Operations Directorate were aghast at such a reaction from the Air Chief especially when he was performing the duties of the Chairman COSC as well. At this juncture, how could the VCOAS go to the Government as suggested by Air Marshal Bedi.

In fact, in all requests for armed helicopters made by HQ 15 Corps/HQ, Northern Army, the Air Headquarters always made sanction from the Government a prerequisite. Within our own territory, while the Army was suffering casualties, it was being asked to take permission from the Government! Army was advised that they should first use artillery to its fullest. The Air Chief would have become a hero had he rendered professional advice to the Prime Minister no sooner he had a grip over the operational situation as the Chairman COSC. This would have been an excellent example of inter-service cooperation and camaraderie.

While Operation Badr took place due to intelligence failure at all levels, it was remarkable of Arvind Dave the then R&AW Chief to have admitted candidly to the Prime Minister Vajpayee in the Cabinet Committee of Security meeting in the Operations Room that the R&AW had failed.

For a moment, if the armed helicopter had been employed in the initial stages in Batalik Sector to our advantage as asked for by HQ 15 Corps, the Government would not have asked the Chief for his explanation! What inter service bonhomie are we talking about? Far too many questions/doubts were being raised by the Air Headquarters. Chief of Air Staff’s reluctance to employ air was good enough reason to delay the Government’s decision. The theory put forth nearly amounted to misleading the ‘powers that be’.

In the fog of war, especially in the initial stages, very little is known about the enemy’s intention and the correct operational situation. While Operation Badr took place due to intelligence failure at all levels, it was remarkable of Arvind Dave the then R&AW Chief to have admitted candidly to the Prime Minister Vajpayee in the Cabinet Committee of Security meeting in the Operations Room that the R&AW had failed.

After the return of the Army Chief from his foreign tour, in one of such CCS meetings, there was a verbal dual between the Army Chief and the Air Chief about employment of Air Force in Kargil Sector. Here again the Air Chief propounded his theory of use of air power resulting in open war between India and Pakistan. Coming from the head of the Indian Air Force, this view impacted all those who were part of the meeting.

The Prime Minister had to intervene and tell both of them that they should come to an understanding. So the contention of Air Marshal Bedi that the Government took the decision unilaterally is wrong. If the Air Chief had been giving divergent views right since the break-out of the intrusion till the above incident happened, what does the Government do? Consultations from the military leadership are relevant when the three Services are on board! I vividly recall that hardly any views were ever given by the Naval Chief in such meetings.

In one of the CSC meetings, the Defence Minister Fernandes and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh also participated. On 18 May, Jaswant Singh also towed the line of the Air Chief for not employing air power for reasons best known to him. So, in a nutshell, valuable time and opportunity was lost from 5 May till Government intervened to direct the IAF to join the battle with effect from 26 May. Who is responsible for this? It gave the Pakistani troops the time to entrench themselves fully. Were we attending a Sand Model Exercise or a War Game? Let us not blame the ‘politico-bureaucratic penchant’ for keeping the armed forces out of the loop. If the advisors are not in unison, this is bound to happen.

It is surprising to read in the article that had the IAF attacked targets across the LoC that were sustaining Pak intrusion into Indian territory, the conflict could have been concluded much earlier. I wish that the Air Chief had felt the same way when he took over the responsibility as Chairman of COSC during Army Chief’s absence! It is surprising to note, going by what Bedi says, that by May 22, the situation had become perilous and the COSC accepted the Air Force point of view. What was this point of view? In the initial stages, it was only resistance to employ air power except use of helicopters for transport support!

It was this factor and lack of professional advice to the Government and especially the Prime Minister that the Air Force was restrained from crossing the LoC. Of course, there were other compelling reasons as well. So it is wrong of Bedi to surmise that had the Air Force attacked targets across the LoC, the conflict would have concluded much earlier and with much less loss of life. When you are not even prepared to use air power in an offensive role then how can you preclude the application of air power in its classical sense? Surprisingly, the author agrees with all this as he says: “Notwithstanding, the air force supported the army in Kargil fully and effectively, except for the initial few days.” These few days were 21 days — full three weeks — the crucial days that made the enemy stronger and fortified, and the Army continued to suffer casualties. It took three weeks time for the Air Chief to realize that non-application of air power, even though at this belated stage, may ultimately result in the intruders not being completely evicted prior to setting in of winters!

The IAF once committed, rose to superhuman heights and their contribution was intangible in terms of psychological ascendency by raising morale of our troops.

HQ 15 Corps had wanted air operations to commence immediately to lower the morale of the enemy and show our resolve to escalate. Despite many demands placed, air operations were cleared only on 25 May and finally began on 26 May after the Government intervened. This sorry state of affairs could have been totally avoided had the Air Chief in his capacity as Chairman COSC acted professionally and not waited for the Army Chief to return from his foreign tour.

Targets selected for the air operations were enemy’s administrative bases, routes of maintenance and objectives of assaulting troops. With a view to ensure that the degree of error was minimized, demands for air support were passed on telephone by the ground formation commanders direct to G Staff of Corps HQ since they best knew the ground situation. At the same time, this procedure maintained surprise. Thereafter, priority for neutralization was given by Corps Headquarters. The subject airfields controlled the tasking.

A total of seven squadrons were available excluding adequate number of Mi-17 armed helicopters for ground attack. Two aircraft were lost in Yaldor Sub Sector on 27 May whereas one Mi-17 was lost while attacking Tololing on 28 May. Post downing of the aircraft, the IAF took to flying at heights above nine km above MSL. Due to rarified atmosphere resulting in jet stream effect and air craft computer not designed to operate at these heights, the accuracy suffered.

The Air Force now used Laser Guided Bombs (LGB). Here again the success rate was very limited. A couple of bombs did however fall on the Tiger Hill. While the cost of each LGB was more than Rs one crore at that time, the cost factor had no meaning since the Nation’s integrity was challenged and frontiers violated.

Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft were used for directing artillery fire through the Forward Air Controllers. At this juncture, as the aircraft were flying at altitudes of 25-30 km from the objective, the effect of neutralization on ground could not be ascertained. The Air Force now exploited the potential of Thermal Imagery. This was a success. It was good to see innovations being carried out and efforts made to neutralize targets.

After Pakistan defenses in Yaldor, Dras and Mashkow Sub Sectors crumbled and Tiger Hill taken, defeat of Pakistan was inevitable. At this juncture, the Indian Prime Minister spoke to his counterpart in Pakistan and gave him an option of accepting unilateral cease fire, which he did. The Pakistan DGMO Lt Gen Tauqir Zia asked for withdrawal. This happened on 9 Jul when both DGMOs met at Attari. The Indian DGMO asked the Pakistan DGMO to commence withdrawal with effect from 0600 hours on 11 July.

Up to this time, approximately 85–90 missions had been flown. Out of this effort, only a small percentage was effective/partially effective. Missions on enemy’s administrative base at Munthodhalo were very effective and a huge success. This enemy base was eliminated. Other enemy administrative bases located near Pt 4388, Tiger Hill, Padma Go and Pt 5060 were partially damaged. Effect of other missions was either not known or not observed by ground troops due to high altitude terrain and bad visibility at times.

The IAF once committed, rose to superhuman heights and their contribution was intangible in terms of psychological ascendency by raising morale of our troops. The IAF was like a Damocles sword on the enemy’s head. However, the level of air support available in Kargil Sector should not be taken as a yard stick for future operations. The IAF had full freedom of action here as there were no other operational commitments elsewhere to meet.

Artillery played a significant role in the success of operations. Destruction/damage caused to the enemy by artillery significantly facilitated the recapture of several objectives.

Gen Malik in his book KARGIL has not written about the events that took place in his absence especially about the CSC and CCS meetings, since he was physically not present. Bedi in his article has again been unfair when he writes: “It was not the scanty information at this stage as brought out that deterred the VCOAS from going to the Government but the embarrassing situation in which he found himself holding the can. Interestingly, some important three star players at the helm of affairs and the army chief himself were all away on various errands.”

In the national polity labyrinth, the Indian Armed Forces is the only institution loved, admired and respected by our countrymen. I quote words of Air Marshal K Krishnaswamy, “Being the youngest service of this esteemed institution, the Indian Air Force has an added responsibility of living up to the reputation built by sister services and further the traditions of the armed forces.”

I am sanguine that in any future operations, the three Services will fight as a Team and the respective Service Chiefs forget their personal likes or dislikes and rise to the occasion since the stakes are very high. Tipnis lost this opportunity of setting an example of jointmanship. He would have been a Hero! This would have been a fine and shining example of inter service bonhomie!

While each Service has to maintain its individual identity and glory, its culture, customs and traditions, at the same time, they must fight like a well knit war machine whenever they are called upon by the Nation to prove their mettle.

Those who attended these meetings would bear testimony to the veracity of the above facts. In the Armed Forces, we should be truthful and honest, and professional to the core. Our progeny will not forgive us for lack of professionalism and avoidable mistakes since they have total trust upon us. India simply loves her Armed Forces and it is for us to pay back to our Mother whenever the occasion demands.

Artillery played a significant role in the success of operations. Destruction/damage caused to the enemy by artillery significantly facilitated the recapture of several objectives. The major highlight was the employment of artillery in direct firing role. 155 mm FH 77 HOW (BOFORS) were easily the star performers of Op VIJAY. Use of BOFORS in direct firing role at a range of 6-8 kilometers from the target matched precision guidance. This gave the advantage of shooting in infantry at a very close range and adjustment of guns at points of decision.

And before I write off, this is what Group Capt AG Bewoor has to say in his article on Close Air Support in 1962: “I am therefore extremely skeptical about the IAF getting involved in CAS in the mountains, during the 1962 Operations, during the 1967–68 Sikkim tensions or in 1971. This belief gets validated with what we actually did in Kargil in 1999.”

I would earnestly urge the IAF to train, devise ways and means, practice drills and procedures, and create adequate infrastructure along sensitive border areas to support ground operations if the Nation is threatened both from the West, North and North East in all types of terrain configurations. We must see the writings on the wall!

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) Mohan Bhandari, (Retd.)

was in the Military Operations Dte during the Kargil conflict. He is the author of Solving Kashmirand Kargil Vijay.

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17 thoughts on “Kargil Controversy: Army trashes IAF perspective

  1. There is no doubt that the ACMs thought of not using the IAF for fear of escalation was faulty and lacked leadership as well as a strategy. Next time the COAS aould say he wint use artilery as the adversary has advised they would escalate the war.
    It was war and if he thought he woukd escalate it to provide support to our troops; he shouldnt have been in the seat in the first place.
    A complete military goof up , lack of strategy and void of clear thinking shown by ACM tipnis.

    Perhaps the top heirarchy make these blunders as they have chanelised themselves away from the real profession of soldiering to being liasoning officers who just mett down dictates of the IAS political nexus.

    The proof of IAFs sucess proved the Chief wrong…He just did not have in him to make a string decission. Had he Not stopped the IAF from what they did later in the earlier stages the war would have ended sooner with fewer casualties. But then the poor chap as a Chief was unable to give his forces enough chaffs and in one statement said ‘ Nubra 4 shouldnt have been there”.
    Perhaps if we had had a chief..nubra 4 woukd have come back!

  2. The Air Force and the navy and the Army are 3 services of through out of the world are needed to defend their countries. In a war they have to work together to fight there enemy, the Army will request help from the Air Force for targets which they need help with. What I am upset about is the defense minister who should work with three services to ensure this but in India he has failed to do so in the Kirgil conflict.]
    prem

    • PREM,
      Except Indira Gandhi’s period neither the national security adviser nor the defense, minster had any idea about war. George Fernandes or national security adviser Brajesh Mishra had any idea about war. But Modiji has posted the most suitable person’s in the two posts. With the help of internet, any person who has got technical knowledge and interest will be able to study and point out their mistake to the Army officers. This is what I am doing for the last six years. All my suggestions are reaching to Defense minister and he has taken action. in many cases. Whatever I have written in my comments are already reached to the defense minister. He has already increased the Naval strength near Nicobar island. If the enemy has got Stringer missile, Army or Airforce should never use Helicopter.

  3. What is the utility of engaging in the war of words between two sister departments after 18 years of Kargil war? I am a neutral person. After the Siachen Glacier is the highest battleground on earth in 1984, Indian Army could have anticipated a similar problem in the Kargil. But they did not do anything till Pakistan occupied Kargil. Indian defense officers are good fighters but they lack in war strategy. IAF pilots should be conversant with the war zone/ area before giving air support to the army. The fact is that they have no idea of the area when the war started. The problem with the army officers is that they do not know other departmental woking and procedures and pick up a quarrel with them like they are doing towards bureaucrats. All the misunderstanding could have been prevented if the Army officers should have identified the strategic points and taken properly action. Similarly, Navy officers lack in war strategy. Till 1995 Indian Navy was not aware Nicobar Island is most important the strategic point. in 1995 following a closed-door meeting in Washington between then Indian Prime Minister, P. V. Narasimha Rao, and then US president, Bill Clinton. At the time, Pentagon officials made a formal request to the United Front coalition government in New Delhi to open a base in the islands.Thank God China did not occupy the Island. Why do we require Aircraft carrier?
    With that money, we should have completed three layer barricade in the entire length of LOC to prevent infiltration. Helicopters are not suitable for hilly areas if the enemy has got the FIM-92 Stinger missile. If we won’t give proper instruction to our soldiers to shift the field gun to another location after a few round of firing, the enemy will find out the location using weapon locating radar and return fire accurately. Pakistan used the weapon locating radar effectively against Indian soldier.

  4. Army blaming Air Force and Air Force blaming Army is nothing new.It happens after every war or battle.No point in blaming the other service.It will happen in futurealso so long as the Services retain their identity in peace time and are not integrated for training and planning of operations.This can not be achieved after war has broken out ,which may itself be a surprise.Unless we have theater command under on Supreme Commander this blame game will continue.

  5. I feel that the Indian Army and the Air Force are not working together in a time off Christ, the Army is not inviting the IAF and the IAF do not like to work with the Army Kargil was a remider to the country.
    prem

  6. The Army and the Air Force have different concepts of the higher direction of war. When these concepts coalesce, strategic objects are achieved. When they don’t, the delay in synthesising the differing concepts leads to avoidable loss of territory and tactically advantageous ground positions. The capability of the Air Force to prevent such a situation from exacerbating to a perilous degree, is well known. Had the Air Chief not dragged his feet for three weeks, we would have put Pakistan on the back foot earlier than we eventually did. Crippling the enemy’s logistic supply and troop reinforcement routes is crucial to defeating any ground based incursion. The Air Force is best suited for this task as it can accurately observe and carry out precision strikes on bridges and defiles and passes on the routes of ingress. Had the Air Chief recalled the effectiveness of air strikes during Operation Overlord, in June 1944, he would not have dithered, as he did. Although Overlord was an offensive operation, as against Opertion Vijay, which was a defensive operation, similar objectives would have been achieved had the Indian Air Force bombers gone in deep on the Kargil front in the initial stages of the war and crippled the dastardly incursion by the Northern Light Infantry.

  7. This Is an age of Air power if you use your Air power you win the war, I feel in India case they need to be educated how to use it Power. The Indian politicians are unable to understand the power that they can use from the Air thou saving many lives. In 1962 war with China, India would have won that if the Indians used air power to stop supplies’ getting to the Chinese force. In 1965 the Indian air force fighting against the Pakistani was out gunned. The American were supplying arm and Aircraft the Pakistanis, they had the better air Crafts. In 1999 Kairgill had taken place it had taken the Army some time before they realized they need help from the IAF. The IAF were saying that they had nothing that could do the Job. To win a battle you need to draw in air support quick and the Army and the Air force have to work together and stop making excuses. The Indian will lesion to the Americans and do what they say, this is why the Pakistani problem is not solved, Government of India get a grip and end this long war show the world you are a powerful country.
    prem

  8. Mohan has provided much needed perspective to the whole issue of air support for Kargil operations. An important point is air force has the notion of strategic air power on the lines of USAF, but its employment has been essentially tactical and limited operational. This gap in perspective of role and its acquisition profile have crated the mis match.
    Second is the notion of differences in perception between Army and Air Force leadership. Later will not do anything unless cleared by the government, there has to be separate communication to Air HQ. COSC has no meaning and advice and direction of Chairman of no consequence. Logic that use of air power will lead to escalation is contrived and specious. Need to appreciate, ground offensives relate to integrity of territorial space whereas air intrusion apart from showing other-side in bad light has limited escalatory impact? That is why today use of air power as first response to trigerring event impacting thresholds is being considered.

  9. Dear, Lt Gen Mohan Bhandari

    Good day to you and all Indian Armed Forces

    Kashmir are Indian land and terriatories and India have the full rights on Kashmir no matters what terrorists says and it is good and benefits for Kashmiris people to
    remain under Indian control rather than terrorists control and its good for Kashmiris to understand and know their status and benefits,
    I wish to India and Indian Armed Forces all the success and support as they have been achieved,
    with all the best.

  10. Too much is said of IAF role in battles. Once the battle is over, both IAF and Army wish to get the victory medal. Each is disputing other’s story. Have you not heard of dispute of each other role at Longewala in 1971. Now Kargil is a new battle ground for credit after the battle is over. It is pity. It gives enemy time to state its version and with huge lobby effort, they manage to get their view entered in the record books.

    These disputes have to stop.

  11. Controversies of IAF or the Army have been abound since 1962. There is a bunch of overconfidence that a tiny ill equipped air force could have beaten back the Chinese advance in 1962.

    Keep dreaming.

    This controversy reared up its head again during the battle of Longewala in 1971. Army was claiming victory by not vacating the post even against very heavy odds. Much of the turning back and destruction of the Pakistani armour was done by the air force. But both the services cannot agree to that if Major Chandpuri had decided to vacate the post looking at the heavy odds then the air power would have been useless. It is 50-50 victory or victory of the armed forces. Yes there is a need to find major fault with rest of the Army formation in the area that nobody mounted a rescue of Major Chandpuri and his men. The Army was so inept that once the Pakistanis had been beaten, they did not even mount a capture of the retreating enemy, operation.

    Now again they cannot agree on whose vital help was essential to capture the Kargil heights from the Pakistani Army. Agreed that it was essentially an infantry operation, vital help by the Air Force helped them get to the top. Mirage fighter bomber role cannot be forgotten in this war, including destruction of their major supply base near Muskoh valley. That operation crippled the Pakistani supply and support centre to the captured heights.

    Hence, get out of this mindset of snipping at each other. Recognize others role and write only with both sides claiming laurels.

  12. Does this ass know that Attack Helicopters cant climb beyond a certain height and all aircraft lose performance at altitude? does he understand any thing about employment of air power? who the hell made him a general? Army dickheads didnt have intelligence and didnt KNOW cause they had their heads up their asses when the intruders were occuping the heights, no one wanted to create waves so they underplayed the problem initially, then to their horror they couldnt dislodge them even with a 12:1 ratio, now they are whining 13 years after the war????? Shame on you. They would have screwed up even more if not for some sane guys around else it was another prospective debacle.

    • one of the primary roles of any air force in the world is close air support to ground forces . the indian army is known to have been operating in high altitude conditions since its independence . so why hadn’t the air force customized its helicopters to provide CAS at such heights ? and they had over 15 years after the indian army started operating in siachen (the highest battlefield in the world) to do so . not to mention that the indian army has been operating in kargil (nearly 10,000 ft) since independence . most equipment of the army is customized to these requirements .

    • Mr. Whoever you are…. Irrespective of whether you agree or otherwise to the views of the author, it would be nice to remain civilised. We in the armed forces take great pride in being civilised before we Modernise… The author happens to be a general in one of the finest armies of the world. So control the crap that flows from you. You will never know the world of men who give you the liberty to type on the Internet.

      As far as the topic of discussion goes, our armed forces have miles to go before we can assimilate lessons of jointmanship or rise above one upmanship. It’s a truth that needs to change and change fast. God willing, we won’t have cynical people in the forces forever and sense will prevail.

    • Your idiotic comments are testimony to lack of professionalism in IAF-country is witness to their incompetence 1962,65,71 in West 99 and their safe playing at Siachan (all difficult task are done by Army Aviation ).Silence is golden. Heed to some advice which Gen has mentioned to redeem IAF.Amen.

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