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May 27, 1999


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Crisis will defuse: expert

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Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi

Former Air Marshal Kapil Kak lauded the Indian Air Force for successfully carrying out a mission that is extremely difficult.

"To pick enemy targets on top of a few peaks across a huge range of mountains and glaciers is like looking for a needle in a haystack. And as the latest reports state, we yesterday successfully hit the targets. It only shows the high professionalism of the Indian Air Force," he told Rediff On The NeT.

It is difficult to understand the problems that missions of this kind entail, which he sought to explain.

"You have to, from the hundreds of mountain peaks, find the peak where the militants are holed up. No doubt the ground troops guide the pilots and have given them prior information, yet it is difficult. Then, on sighting them, the pilot has to move his plane into the right angle to let lose a volley of gunfire that can effectively hit and destroy the enemy, yet be careful of lurking enemy fire and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. To shoot a ground target on the high mountains also means that the basic ballistic configuration changes, making shooting even more problematic," he said in an exclusive interview.

In the high mountains, operating just five to six kilometres inside the Line of Control that separates India and Pakistan, it is the helicopter gunships that have proven more effective against the militants, as was admitted by Defence Minister George Fernandes yesterday.

"In 1971 war, we used Vampires in the mountains and even then had difficulties because of their high speeds. Today, all jets are supersonic that literally whiz past. Hence in such a scenario, the slow-moving helicopters will be more dangerous to the enemy," he pointed out.

He said the present operation is a classic 'Fighter Ground Attack Mission' profile which involved detailed interaction between the ground troops and the fighter aircraft.

"It is the ground troops who have to give information on which peak the terrorists are, what weapons they are likely to possess, and provide detailed maps of the mountains to guide the pilots," he said.

He emphasised that there could be no half measures nor any turning back.

"There is no point in doing this job halfway. I don't know how many sorties were flown yesterday, but the IAF can fly 800 sorties a day. Air power has flexibility, firepower and immediacy in terms of real time. We have to now continue till we meet our objectives," he stated.

The IAF's mission will be completed the day the Indian Army can move in and take over the heights with the IAF providing logistics and reconnaissance support.

He agreed with Air Commodore Subhash Bhojwani's assertion that using air power is by itself seen as an escalation of the battle. "But this is not war, it is just India's attempt to prevent its territory from being taken over. And the very fact that the decision-makers took 18 days to finally use air power only shows the restraint with which we have acted," he pointed out.

The former air marshal, who now works as a national security advisor at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, doubted if the use of air power was a portent of things to come.

"Such a situation is unlikely again because we in India are a restrained, diffident and somewhat timid lot. Even this time, we did not escalate the situation but responded to a situation that had escalated when Pakistan pushed in around 1000 militants at one go rather than the usual 15-20 that keep sneaking in every few weeks," he said. "Any future use of the IAF would depend as per the situation.''

On the reasons for Pakistan's attempt to take over the heights, he said, "I think the Pakistani political and military leadership believed that India would not respond as it did, that it would get bogged down in self-doubts by which time the militants would have had completely taken over the heights and altered the demarcation of the Line of Control. Hence, the strong Indian response must have come as a shock, making it clear that India will not allow any unilateral alteration of the borders."

The IDSA advisor was confident that the situation would defuse, though he admitted that it might take some time.

"The entire operation is being carried out by Afghan mercenaries and militants, with about 20 per cent Pakistani input. Thus, the Afghans are fighting a war for Pakistani, which is ideal for Islamabad. Any escalation would involve Pakistan directly and I doubt if both sides really want that. But it will take some time," he declared.

He refused to put a time-frame on 'Operation Vijay'. "This is really an army job. No doubt the IAF's involvement makes for dramatic media coverage, but in the end it is the army that has to evacuate the heights and repulse the intruders. And the IAF will stay involved as long as it is beneficial and useful," he said.

The latest involvement of the IAF marks only the third time that the air force has been used in combat on the sub-continent.

The IAF was ignored in the 1962 war but used in the 1965 and 1971 wars. "Not using the IAF in 1962 was a blunder. It would have turned the tide against China since they lacked anything to match our planes in those days," he pointed out. "But in 1965 and 1971, the air force was used effectively and air-ground operations worked in coordination to perfection."

The latest operation is also a tribute to the IAF's fighting skills and the close coordination between the Western Air Command and the Indian Army's Northern Command.


Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak on the Kargil crisis. Live! Thursday, May 27, 2030 hours IST.

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