8 October 2012
Key query still unanswered
INEVITABLE it perhaps was that discussions triggered by Air Force Day festivity ~ coming as they did in proximity to the “un-golden anniversary” of the worst military drubbing the nation has suffered ~ would revive the query on whether India should have employed its air assets against the Chinese in 1962. Inevitable it definitely was that Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne would endorse the view that it was a blunder to keep it a uni-dimensional affair. However, since public memory has faded over five decades, the Chief and others of similar thinking might consider enlightening today’s folk on the comparative strengths of the two air forces in 1962, whether the IAF was equipped, trained or positioned to operate at high altitudes, the degree of synergy that existed with the devastated army. As well as offering an analysis of the political, military, diplomatic and economic implications of enlarging that conflict beyond a frontier flare-up. It was not as though the IAF would automatically dominate the skies over NEFA and Ladakh.
Fast-forward to 1999, another “limited” action in Kargil, and a few of those queries pose themselves again. The IAF did not respond immediately to the army’s call for air support: the then chief, ACM AY Tipnis, was categorical that he deemed the use of combat air power to be “escalatory” and awaited higher clearances ~ the NDA government partially agreed, the pilots were ordered not to cross the LOC.
It also took 24-36 hours for the air force to finalise terrain-dictated operational tactics: and the two MiGs and the helicopter that went down were actually cases of aircrew error, though the “mood of the hour” prevented that being acknowledged. Some experts lamented that the jets flew too fast to deliver the type of strike called for at Kargil: something forgotten from 1971. Then, in a little-publicised action, four obsolescent Harvard trainers had been withdrawn from the academy, veteran fighter-pilot Bertie Weir stepped down a rank and exited Air Headquarters to head that detachment tasked with “taking out” the infiltrators entrenched on the Rajouri hills. The Harvards “rocketed” the infiltrators, when the Pakistani jets “arrived” the Harvards dived into the valleys to elude them. History and hindsight are not irrelevant, but they do not provide all the answers. Presently a determined effort appears underway to raise the army and air force profile in the North-east. Yet weaponry and manpower are inadequate unless the political muscle is mustered to order requisite, “escalatory” action.