Thursday, November 7, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing - 1962 And Beyond


'Indian Air Force could have changed 1962 China war outcome' Air Chief Browne


'The lessons of Kargil, and impact on air intake airflow, when firing guns or rockets at very high altitudes, seems to have been lost. Because six years later, in 2005, we are talking of breaking mountains and attacking troops in the open. Are fighter bombers to be used to attack individual soldiers?'--

 THE RATIONALE GIVEN AND THE ARGUMENTS ARE PRESUMPTUOUS. I WILL TELL YOU WHY. If the Air Force cannot guarantee air support to troops on ground then either we will lose the next war or we have to have our own aircraft for battle field air strikes /close air support.  And which  Brigade , Divisional or Corps Commander is so incompetent that air strikes will be asked for targets which cannot be effectively engaged by Artillery or land based weapons? A former IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal (retd) A Y Tipnis, has blamed former PrimeMinister Nehru for India's defeat in the1962 war with China, amid a continuing debate on why Air power was not used during the conflict.  


Be clear about one thing--in times of war it Is the military and the political hierarchy which takes decisions as to the conduct of all defensive and offensive operations .No outsiders are involved unless the Nation is either on the brink of defeat ,or is not sure of its own military and diplomatic strength against an enemy who has proved itself to be stronger.                              

Whether use of offensive air power would have tilted the balance in favour of India , at a time when the Army and the Nation were not giving a very good account of of itself , is a moot point and we can make all sorts of conjectures now. May be if we had used the Indian Navy to seal the SLOC's Westwards from the Malacca Straits onwards , the Chinese may have sued for peace!! But we did not use the Navy aggressively!

Viewed pragmatically , the Country was not only militarily unprepared to fight a war but frankly speaking the National will and resolve was also lacking. As Indians , it was definitely not our finest hour--we were ready to buckle to soon. England,under the leadership of Churchill fought for more than a year against vastly superior forces --all alone. Sorry , but I disagree if now it is being said that the 'Government/Nehru' did not approve the ' use of the IAF '.

By no means am I disparaging the valiant effort of the soldiers and the airmen who did what they did to the extent possible
---But had the two Chiefs (that is if they had the resources and the combat power ) categorically stated with the confidence and authority expected from them that the ' IAF will be used and that is our decision'---let me tell you that no Government, Parliament,Bureaucrat or Politician (Nehru/Menon/Galbraith included) could have had the guts to over rule a line of action proposed by the Military .

In 1962 , the IAF had very limited training in so far as offensive support in the Himalayas , high altitude and partly jungle terrain was concerned. There was a lack of operational and logistic bases which could facilitate strikes in the genere of BAS or counter air operations.Yes , some amount of interdiction of supply routes , artificial landslides    ( in the Himalayan steep and barren hills this can be done, do not compare them with the Alps --that terrain and altitude is different ) , limited air cover and BAS/CAS probably could have been provided but definitely not of the magnitude to have turned the tables!

And we definitely did not have a deep strike capability nor identified targets in the TAR or the mainland (CATSPAW was a lesson learnt much later) or the munitions and aircraft capable of meaningful and painful interdiction.In any case the ethos of the airforce (then and more so now) does not support direct air effort(BAS /CAS) for troops on the ground.So what really could the offensive employment of the air force have helped, in say the denial of Tawang to the enemy??Bombing airfields in TAR or doing a Doolittle type of raid with Canberras in the hinterland would have not degraded the war potential of the Chinese.
             In the type of wars and the duration of wars which the international community ' allows' in the present era , strategic bombing and long term depth interdiction will in no way assist ground troops who may require immediate response to remedy critical situations. For this the Air -Force is somehow reluctant.Unless there is complete air superiority no Army can function without air cover.There is a non negotiable requirement of dedicated aerial resources which are earmarked, guaranteed, trained and made available for furtherance of offensive and defensive operations on ground.With out this synergy and jointness , all lessons of 62', 65 ',71' and Kargil will haunt us again.

Since independence , all our wars have been of short duration , depth interdiction is of not much relevance to the Indian Army which does not have the wherewithal or doctrine for a protracted war and the IAF's present ' we are too busy for the first four days' can cause more grief than joy to land based operations. At that point of  time our air defence network , communication and radar early warning network, associated communication system and inter services jointmanship was woefully rudimentary (the last factor, jointmanship , still is inadequate ,despite what the military pundits and experts may say). 

Let me add one more thing, even our available air lift and air supply effort was not adequate, the Country had to depend on the USAF and their C130's to provide air lift for troops and supplies . Once the panic set in we put in our irrational and hasty bid for a couple of squadrons of fighters, radars and transports as our air arm , at that point of time was too weak to sustain operations of the magnitude required for ' victory '.

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