Skip to comments.Kargil strategy behind IAF chief’s tough talk (Nuclear War in Asia?)
Posted on 01/12/2013 5:25:50 PM PST by James C. Bennett
NEW DELHI: IAF chief Norman K. Browne's assertion that India has a few strings in its bow to get a delinquent Pakistan to halt frequent ceasefire violations could stem from confidence in tactics the air force developed in operations along the line of control (LoC) during the 1999 Kargil war.
Use of air power had never before been attempted at heights of 14,000 to 18,000 feet and IAF's critical contribution in demoralizing intruding Pakistani forces by destroying supply lines and dumps rewrote existing air combat manuals.
IAF's rapid innovation after initial setbacks to refit top-end fighters with laser-guided bombs and evolve tactics to evade deadly shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles during the two-month war waged between late May and July 1999 is now a fully fleshed doctrine.
Forced to deal with small targets, including dugout clusters barely visible against an icy black and white background, due to strict instructions not to cross the LoC resulted in IAF working out strategies without the option of targeting bases in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK).
IAF got around tough odds by placing GPS devices in cockpits, fitting Mirage 2000 fighters with laser weapons, upgrading guidance systems bombs and taking recourse to steeper dives that tested the skills of pilots in Mig 21, 23 and 27 aircraft.
A voluminous Carnegie endowment paper published in September 2012 offers what seem like prophetic insights in the context of today's threats and Browne's robust response may indicate that the IAF has learnt its Kargil lessons well.
After the Kargil war, Indian experts at elite institutions like the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment at Jamnagar planned for scenarios dealing with limited engagements requiring a rapid and inventive response to violations along the LOC.
In 1999, Pakistan's Kargil planners like Gen Pervez Musharraf seriously miscalculated that international pressure will check India as world opinion would be wary of an enlarged conventional conflict. The Vajpyee government's decision to limit action to India's side of the LoC scuttled this assumption.
The possibility of such a conflict dragging on for two months was not factored in by Pakistan that had hoped a surprise intrusion will leave it in control of some 130 tactically invaluable outposts overlooking the road link from Leh to Siachen.
The IAF is now prepared for a "high intensity, high stakes" conflict that can run on for months, the Carnegie paper suggests, adding India's overwhelming conventional force preponderance is a factor that Pakistan and its backer China need to keep in mind.
The Kargil war saw India reassess implications of the nuclear deterrent possessed by both nations that did not - and may not in the future as well - make conventional war obsolete. This means proxy war engaged in by Pakistan and its allies is not the only scenario short of war.
The use of air power to hit terror camps was discussed by the cabinet committee on security after the 26/11 strikes with then IAF chief Fali Homi Major favouring the option which, however, did not find favour with the political leadership.
During the Kargil war, Pakistani air force fighters did not attempt to cross the LoC to the aid of troops under IAF attacks. Although some instances of aggressive manoeuvres, even "lock-ons", were reported, no clash that could have expanded the war's scope happened.
The possibility of Pakistan adopting a higher risk calculus or a misjudgment of the other's threshold can lead to a wider conflict and Indian planners have kept in mind a scenario where IAF will have to battle for air dominance with its Pakistani counterpart.
Not breaching the LoC in 1999 paid rich dividends but the IAF and army have both realized the need for closer meshing of tactics and strategy as they plan for conventional wars along the northern borders with Pakistan and China.
Both sides have nukes.
It would be a tie.
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