You are here

Harry asked: How the Indian Air Force could have been better utilized to support the ground troops during Operation Vijay?

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • Anit Mukherjee replies: The war in Kargil was unprecedented on several levels. That the Pakistani army would attempt such an audacious but strategically inept operation was not envisaged by any Indian political, intelligence or military official. As a result, the war and its geographical location came as a complete surprise. Perhaps, due to that, both the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force had never planned, trained or equipped themselves to fight the war that they did. The unique terrain and the extreme altitude also presented formidable challenges. Despite that, the Indian Air Force (IAF) performed ably as its pilot went in harm’s way and some paid the ultimate sacrifice. Thus, there were significant problems in Army-Air Force operations during this war. To begin with, though the three services in India follow the “coordination model” of jointness, they lack interoperability. In simple words, the IAF lacked the capability to communicate with ground troops. As a result, the strike missions flown were pre-planned with fixed time-over-targets (ToTs). Both the Air Force and the Army had not practiced or trained with hand held laser designators. Surprisingly, till date their drills are based on Ground Liaison Officers and Air Control Team (ACT) with tentacles that require dedicated and scarce Air Force officers to enable robust cooperation. This is a concept inherited from the World War Two era as most modern militaries have taken advantage of advanced communications equipment to practice better interoperability.

    The employment of Air Force helicopters in an attack role has been the subject of a controversy due to the shooting down of a Mi-8. Air Force officials contend that the Army was wrong to request for helicopters while some in the Army maintain that the Air Force was reluctant to engage in offensive operations.

    Overall, the war in Kargil presented unique challenges and junior officers and men in both the Army and the Air Force performed admirably. There were disagreements between senior officials, some of it perhaps unavoidable, that vitiated working relations to some extent. Unfortunately, however, joint lessons learnt were never commissioned by either the Chiefs of Staff Committee or the Ministry of Defence, as a result we know very little about the joint conduct of operations.

    To put it in a more direct manner, the answer to your question will only be known when the operational documents of both services are studied or the participants interviewed. That unfortunately, while still possible, has not happened.