Monday, May 24, 2010

“As I Saw it”

Air Marshal Ashok Goel (Retd.)
11, Silver State, Pilibhit Byepass Road,
Bareilly-243005 (U.P.) INDIA
Mob: 9411900090, 09999722636

“As I Saw it”
Adventure for Pak
Blunder for India
Victory for those Who Perished

Kargil -99 caused the biggest flutter in the Indian subcontinent. This brought the two neighbors close to the nuclear holocaust inspite of the fact that we were far away from a full fledged declared war of the yester years (1965-1971).

A large number of books and reviews have been written by military leaders & civilian defence analyst. Not only that a high level committee was set up under the steward ship of the most experienced and renowned defence & security analyst of the country Mr. K Subramaniam. Most interestingly the two books which talk most eloquently – one by General VP Malik (Retd.) who was the Army Chief during the period of Kargil war and the other by Shri LK Advani who was Dy PM ( a defacto PM) and the Home Minister of the Govt. (NDA Govt. from April 98 to May 2004) are actually main actors of the Kargil making .

As the anniversary of the Kargil gets closer the main actors of the event become more vocal and anticulative in palming off the responsibility and shaking off their lapses. What prompted me to write this article was the news item in the “Hindustan Times” of 19 Jun 2008. “Lack of Visualization led to Kargil: - Gen Malik. In a foreword to book “Indian Army vision 2020” Gen Malik writes “ The Fact is that even after 60 years of independence, knowledge and experience of defence and military issues is lacking in most of our political leaders and civilian bureaucrats”. Though not sharing their own lapses and neglect of responsibilities.

Much has been written about the historical and military perspective of the Kashmir issue since independence. So I shall confine my self to Kargil as “I Saw it”, from the closest quarter.

The biggest players of this event were:-
(a) The Govt. the highest echelon of the Political Leadership.
(b) The top rug of the military leadership – The Army Chief, GOC-in-C Northern Command,15 Corps Cdr , and the 3 Div Cdr.
(c) The intelligence agencies primarily the IB & RAW.
(d) The role of Air Power.
(e) And the role played by the dedicated and committed soldiers and the junior level leaders. Who saved the situation of the fiasco created by our senior (Political & Military) leaders.

The Role of the Political leadership

May 1998 was the pinnacle of the NDA Govt. Having done the nuclear test in May and put India in the nuclear power list of the Nations , the biggest strategic achievement. Now the aim was to resolve the Kashmir issue for ever or create such a diplomatic environment that Kashmir issue should be freezed for ever. So that Vajpayee/Advani duo could go in the annals of the history. Political leadership was keen to encash the political gains of these two events. Hectic diplomatic activity had commenced. Vajpayee was overly keen to establish a political dialogue at the earliest with his counter part in Pakistan. This journey also was to be formalized in a dramatic manner to invite maximum media attention. Hectic activity commanced in Sep 1998. To the extent “PMO directed the RAW in Oct 98 (ARC who collects aerial intelligence”) to go slow on Pak. This kind of a directive was to send a message across the border that all our intentions are towards normalization of relations Vajpayee went to Lahore by “Bus” the famous “Bus Yatra” in Feb 99. It is a well known fact that Musharraf The Army Chief of the Pak did not show up with full respects to the visiting head of a neighboring country who was purely on a good will and a friendly mission. An indication enough for any leadership with foresight and insight to the astute feelings of an adventurous military leader like Musharraf.

May be this massage of Oct 98 “Go slow on Pak” would have trickled down to the Indian Army leadership as well, and made them complacent down the lime.

It is a well known fact that Srinagar Leh axis runs closest to the LOC in Dras –Kargil Sector. Not only that the terrain on the Indian side is hostile to defend, where as the terrain on Pakistan side is favorable to launch an offensive. Strategically Pakistan always intended to block/ disrupt or permanently dislocate the “Srinagar Leh Highway” in Dras Kargil Sector.

After being commissioned in the year 1963 first posting was to Jammu in No. 43 Sqn. (A Dakota operational Sqn). The main task was to operate to Kargil and Thoise to provide logistic support to the troops deployed in forward areas. I was fortunate to be deputed to be the base Cdr of AF clement at Kargil from Feb to May 1964, working along with 121 (Ind) infantry brigade was all education. Brig Cdr Brig Chopra (an armoured corps officer) always used to mention that Dras-Kargil Sector is the most sensitive sector because of its close proximity to the LOC and terrain factors. Being a transport pilot interactions with the Army remained a part of service life. I was once again with the Army’s most prestigious Institutions College of Combat “MHOW” (Now renamed Army War College). This was during 1980-81 to undergo the “Higher Command Course”. Fortunately Gen Sunderjee was the commandant. Who always believed in real time situations to be part of “sand model discussion”. Dras-Kargil sector was one such situation discussed during the course Not only that he had planned a similar offensive during 1987-88 during his tenure as the Army Chief. I was a privy to that plan along with Gen BC Nanda Army Cdr Northern Command, Air Marshal MM Singh AOC-in-C WAC and some other officers. The plan was conceived, articulated discussed at 15 corps HQ for weeks. The same was presented at Army HQ, however was not found feasible due to nearly whole of the IAF being deployed for the air defence. One has to visualize how senior commanders of the Army, could remain so insensitive to this sensitivity of Dras-Kargil Sector.

ARC’s role:-

Till mid 97 the user agencies could approach ARC only through RAW for their operational tasks. This used to delay the process by a week. Billy Bedis initiative made the functioning of ARC transparent and user friendly. The user agencies could send their indents for operational tasks directly to ARC, mission used to be launched the very next day. The prints and the analysis were delivered with in forty eight hours. During Kargil ops ARC Mi-17 were positioned at Srinagar and the prints and the PI analysis were delivered to the formation cdr’s directly- within forty eight to seventy two hours.

VCAS and AOC -in- C WAC and equivalent rank officers from other services were invited to ARC HQ for a presentation on ARC’s functioning, role and support to be provided. Most of the AF officers only attended the presentation. They were also taken to the other facilities with in Delhi Area. They were all invited to visit ARC bases and were offered to fly in ARC’s mission aircraft Gulf Stream and “B-707 (SASS aircraft)”. Only person who availed this opportunity was Air Marshal AY Tipnix (VCAS at that time) and some of his operational staff. He flew two missions in B-707 strategic air borne surveillance aircraft. He sent a letter to the Raw chief complimenting the operation, role and the effort. Some of the contents of that letter are quoted below.

I would like to convey my appreciation for providing me an opportunity to observe ARC’S Elint Operations on Board the Boeing-707. …………………………..

The missions, one along the IB/LAC with China and the other along the IB/LAC with Pakistan were well planned and executed……………My warmest compliments to both the crews-cockpit and technical. The ops manager has enthused a very positive work culture.

Future conflicts will require the IAF to proceed to high value targets, located deep within enemy territory, and penetrating hostile radar envelope of surveillance and weapon control systems. The survivability of our crew and aircraft will be very largely dependent upon our EQ efficiency; real time intelligence on the Electronic Order of Battle (EOB) of the adversary are central to mission planning and programming of warning receivers and jammers. In this task the ELINT……….My brief first hand experience has reinforced my confidence in our combined abilities and mutual trust.

Deployment of Air Power – The Kargil Commences

After Oct 1998 it was only on 07 May 1999 that DGMI from Army HQ had called up Billi Bedi (Director ARC) to provide Air Reccece Mission in Dras-Kargil sector. When the info was filtered down to the air operation it was surprising and astonishing to decipher that the area to be covered was our own territory. Immediately mission was planned and launched the next day. However we did not succeed due to inclement weather. First six days that is upto 13 May 99 inclement weather did not allow the success of our missions. By, this time ground situation was becoming explosive and the media was very active in projecting the scenario as a war like situation. Most the civilian pilots were reluctant to fly in the war like zone. Since I was fully qualified and operational on Gulf Stream type of aircraft fitted with MCRS ( Multi Camera Reconnaissance System), first three successful missions were flown by me personally. The PR mission flown on 18 May indicated 6 MI-17 helicopter of Pak Army parked in Mushok Valley area of our territory. These photographs were shown to the honourable RM he was aghast. This could not have happened with few weeks preparation this plan & preparation must have taken months of planning and preparation.

Even the Jaguar of the IAF were deployed in photo missions , but the results provided did not have the clarity, analysis and interpretation as compared to what could be provided by the ARC Gulf stream aircraft. Jaguar had limitation of height (not beyond 30,000 fit) endurance (45 to 60 minutes on task) and high vibration level restricted the clarity. The analysis and interpretation was by the personnel with limited experience. On the other hand ARC’s Gulf Stream aircraft operated at 45000 – 50000 feet, stable and silent platform (more than most of the Jet airliners) and an endurance of five and half hours. And the most important part of analysis and interpretation, ARC had experienced and dedicated PI’s on it strength, who were on the job for last 5 to 15 yrs or even more. Most of then were deputationist of the IAF & Army initially, however they had opted to be absorbed in ARC in that profession.

The missions launched by ARC were always discussed at Air HQ and such missions were under taken with full “Air Defence Cover” and air escort missions by Mirage 2000 or Mig 29 aircraft of the IAF.

The role of Air power remained restricted to “PR & Elint” missions only, till 25 may 1999. After deliberations at the highest level on 25 May it was decided to use the air power in an offensive role.

From the reports of the local Army commanders, the air attacks were effective and successful. On the same day, the IAF lost two fighter aircraft, a MiG-27 which went down after engine failure and MiG-21 which was shot down by a Pakistani surface –to-air missile (SAM) 9. The next day , on May 28,the IAF suffered another loss when a Mi-17 helicopter, while on an offensive mission in Drass sector was shot down by a man – portable Stinger SAM fired by the intruders. All 4 crew members, including the two pilots were killed.

During a final briefing to the press, the Air Force spokesman summing up the experience gained during the air operations in Kargil said that the air operations had taken place in an environment that was totally new in the history of world military aviation. The IAF had to unlearn what had been taught before as it was operating with a new set of paradigms such as ballistic trajectory of weapons in high altitude operations.

Air Marshal Vinod Patney ,Air Officer Commanding in-Chief Western Air Command, who conducted the air operations in Kargil, summarized the air effort as follows.31

1. Strike missions 550
2. Escort missions 500
3. Reconnaissance missions 150
4. Helicopter sorties for
Casuality evacuation and airlift. 2185

(d) The role of the intelligence agencies

Reference to Subramaniam Committee :-

A lot has been talked about Subramaniam Committee.

Sixteen meetings were held between the Subramaniam committee and ARC and RAW during the period of Aug 99 till Dec 2000.

I quote relevant portions "No intelligence failures had attributed on account of functioning of RAW and ARC. However, certain equipment inadequacies were highlighted such as :

(a) Satellite imagery resolution.
(b) All weather capability with sub metere resolution
(c) Availability of UAVs.
(d) Better coordination.

Some of the observations of Subramaniam Committee are relevant:-
However, it acknowledges that the Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB) did convey certain inputs on activities in areas under Gilgit-based FCNA (Force Commander Northern Areas) of Pakistan to the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Cabinet Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Director-General Military Operations (DGMO).

There is a general lack of awareness of the critical importance of and the need for assessed intelligence at all levels. JIC reports do not receive the attention they deserve at the political and higher bureaucratic levels. Of the 45 intelligence inputs generated between May 1998 and April 1999, only 25 percent went through the JIC.

A Kargil-type situation could perhaps have been avoided had the Indian Army followed a policy of Siachenisation to plug unheld gaps along the 168 km stretch from Kaobal Gali to Chorbat La... Such a dispersal of forces to hold uninhabited territory of no strategic value would have dissipated considerable military strength and effort and would not have at all been cost effective. The alternative should be a credible declaratory policy of swiftly punishing wanton and willful violation of the sanctity of the LOC."

Specific to Kargil Operation:-

Army HQ asked for photographic intelligence of the LOC in Oct 98. After that no requisition was given by them. Requisition was given only on 07 May 99 to photograph our own territory. Numbers of missions were flown and I would like to place on record the comments of the CAS on the operations:

"I would like to place on record my sincere appreciation for the sterling work done by the ARC during Operation Vijay. The electronic and optical information provided by the ARC before and during the actual operations was of immense value to the conduct of air strikes.

The co-operation extended by your men in carrying out missions under difficult and demanding circumstances is an eloquent testimony to the excellent leadership and guidance provided by you to the organization.

I am confident that the co-ordination between our organizations achieved during the operation will continue in times to come."

Not only that there used to be nearly daily meetings between the DGMI or even with the CO AS.

I quote Gen VP Mallik the then CO AS.

"I highly appreciate the efforts of ARC in making our tasks easier. But you will appreciate I can not publicly acknowledge these contributions. As the Army has to show their commitment.

But I have no hesitation in admitting that it was your organizations, sterling effort that Army could link up and correlate their operational plans and execute them timely and successfully, otherwise the causality figures could have been much higher."

Even after my retirement whenever Gen Mallik met me always complimented the efforts of the ARC.


There is much evidence available to suggest the agencies concered with intelligence gathering, RAW and IB, had in fact provided their political masters and military commanders with ample warning about Pakistani intentions and activities. RAW went as far as telling the government that the Pakistanis were getting ready to launch a major operation in Kargil. It is also now evident that the three responsible political leaders, the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Home Ministers, were all warned about what was brewing by their respective snoops. That they did not seem to act is indicative of their naivete, irresponsible attitude or sheer incompetence or they were absessed with the Bus Yatra and to its likely favourable fallout. The fact that two of the officials directly involved, the then RAW chief and the then Home secretary were rewarded with cushy post retirement position suggests that there might be quid-pro-quo for silence. Arvind Dave became the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh and B.P Singh was sent to the World Bank; their appointment became effective immediately on the day of their retirements. Not only that successor of Arvind Dave (who retired on 31st July, 1999) As Dulat (who was an OSD during Kargil operation) on his retirement as RAW Chief was inducted in the PMO as security advisor on Kashmir Affairs.

Lack of strategic intelligence could have been made up by the observation on the ground through scouts and petrol’s. Let us not forget that two shepherds observed the Pakistanis first and reported their presence to the forces. They had one pair of binoculars between them. Purposeful and planned patrolling would certainly have revealed the presence of 1500/2000 troops spread over an area of about 1400 square kilometers even if their ingress was not contemporaneously detected much earlier.The aggression across the LOC in Kargil clearly indicated a well planned military operation with a view to capture territory across the LOC, which would provide a springboard for further offensive operation inside Indain Kashmir. An operation of this magnitude could only be planned at the highest level in Pakistan with complete approval of the government.

We have to accept that our political leaders did not show enough foresight, they neglected, “National Interest” (of security) to gain political advantage. At the same time senior military leadership cannot escape the responsibilities of derelition of duty in safe guarding the “National Frontiers”. Those who should have been censured were awarded and decorated. We have to come out of that shell of a “holy cow” attitude.

India’s decision to limit the scope of operations in Kargil by not crossing the LOC despite suffering greater losses in the process was calculated not to enlarge the conflict or provide an excuse to Pakistan to seek UN intervention. The Army and the Air Force took this restriction in its stride and forged ahead .We saved the situation because of our highly professional, committed troops, Junior leaders (JCO’S) and officers who were fighting in the field. The commitment and sacrifice of those who perished is commendable and “Nation Salutes” them.

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