Thirty-Four facts from Report Airpower at 18,000': the Indian Air Force in the Kargil War
India and Pakistan fought Kargil war in the high mountains of Indian-controlled Kashmir in May, June, and July 1999.
Below are the 34 facts from 70 page report Airpower at 18,000': the Indian Air Force in the Kargil War
High in the mountains of Indian-controlled Kashmir in 1999, India, and Pakistan fought in an intense border clash for limited but important stakes. the Kargil War lasted for seventy-four days
Kargil War is the one instance of recent Indian exposure to high-intensity warfare that pro-vides insights into the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) capabilities, limitations, relations with its sister services, and interactions with India’s civilian leadership.
In the Kargil War, the IAF rapidly adapted to the air campaign’s unique operational challenges, which included enemy positions at elevations of 14,000 to 18,000 feet, a stark backdrop of rocks and snow that made for uncommonly difficult visual target acquisition, and a restriction against crossing the Line of Control that forms the border with Pakistan.
The con?ict also highlighted some of India’s military shortcomings.
The covert Pakistani intrusion into Indian-controlled Kashmir that was the casus belli laid bare a gaping hole in India’s nationwide real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability that had allowed the incursion to go undetected for many days.
The seeds of the Kargil con?ict were ?rst planted in March and April 1999. #en, deter-mined units of the Pakistan Army crossed the Line of Control (LoC) into the Indian portion of contested Kashmir in the remote and rugged Himalayan heights overlooking Kargil between the Kashmir Valley and the Ladakh plateau.
Pakistani troops moving by foot and helicopter occupied roughly 130 outposts on India’s side of the LoC before the intruders were ?rst detected by local shepherds on May 3.17 At least eighteen artillery batteries, most of them from across the LoC in Pakistani-controlled territory, were said to have supported the operation. Indian sources later reported that the occupying force numbered from 1,500 to 2,000 combatants, with perhaps four to ?ve times that many troops mobilized to help supply the most forward elements on the Indian side of the LoC.
The intruders were well armed, well trained in mountain warfare, and accustomed to operating at high elevations.
They generated indigenous militant Islamist radio traffic within Pakistani-occupied Kashmir to convince Indian signals intelligence monitors that the incursion was insurgent activity over which Pakistan had no control.20 finally; the intruders took special care to move only at times that would allow them to avoid detection by periodic Indian winter air surveillance operations.
The Indian Army’s 121st Infantry Brigade assigned to monitor the LoC above Kargil launched a succession of probing patrols on May 5 that con?rmed the in?ltration.
The full scale of the intrusions was validated on May 8 by IAF pilots in Cheetah light helicopters as they ?ew surveillance sorties along the Tololing ridge in the Dras subsector of the Kargil region.
In beginning Indian Army, leaders did not realize what they are facing.
Once they understood more fully, what had transpired along the LoC, the army’s leaders ?nally responded by moving ?ve infantry divisions, ?ve independent brigades, and 44 battalions from the Kashmir Valley to the Kargil sector, ultimately mobilizing some 200,000 Indian troops in all.
May 26 - Operation Vijay started. Vijay means Victory
Objective of Operation Vijay - “The objectives was to drive out the intruding forces and to restore the LoC to its previous status.
On May 11 and asked, it to help turn the tide through a commitment of armed helicopters to support the embattled ground troops.
The IAF began conducting initial reconnaissance sorties over the Kargil heights as early as May 10, less than a week after the presence of the enemy incursion was ?rst con-?rmed by Indian Army patrols. It also began deploying additional aircraft into the Kashmir Valley in enough numbers to support any likely combat tasking, established a rudimentary air defense control arrangement there because there were no ground-based radars in the area, and began extensive practice of air-to-ground weapons deliveries by both ?ghters and attack helicopters at Himalayan target elevations.
On May 14, Air Headquarters activated the IAF’s air operations center for Jammu and Kashmir and mobilized its ?elded forces in that sector for a possible all-out air counter offensive.
During a pivotal May 25 meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (whose members were the prime minister, defense minister, home minister, ?nance minister, and external affairs minister) chaired by Prime Minister Vajpayee, General Malik explained the seriousness of the situation in the Kargil sector and the need for the IAF “to step in without delay.” At that, Vajpayee reportedly said: “OK, get started tomorrow at dawn.” Tipnis then asked the prime minister for permission to cross the LoC while attacking enemy targets on India’s side of the LoC. To that, Vajpayee responded adamantly: “No. No crossing the LoC.”43 With that binding rule of engagement ?rmly stipulated by the civilian leadership, the die was ?nally cast for full-scale IAF involvement in the counter offensive.
Kinetic air operations began in earnest at 0630 on May 26 with six attacks in succession by two-ship elements of MiG-21, MiG-23, and MiG-27 ?ghters against intruder camps, materiel dumps, and supply routes in the general areas overlooking Dras, Kargil, and Batalik.
The IAF ?ghters that were pressed into these ?rst-day attacks conducted 57mm rocket attacks and stra?ng passes against enemy targets. A second wave of air attacks began that afternoon, followed by high-altitude reconnaissance over?ights by Canberra PR57s and subsequent low passes by MiG-21Ms to conduct near-real-time battle damage assessment
The IAF code-named its contribution to the campaign Operation Safed Sagar— Hindi for “white sea.
During the second day of surface attack operations, the IAF lost two ?ghters in close succession. a MiG-27 from 9 Squadron
The second ?ghter loss, a MiG-21 from 17 Squadron ?ying top cover for the strikers, sustained an infrared surface-to-air missile hit
The pilot, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, also succeeded in ejecting safely but was executed shortly after he was captured following his landing. His body was subsequently returned bearing fatal bullet wounds and clear signs of brutalization.
On the third day of air operations, an IAF Mi-17 helicopter was downed, again by an enemy shoulder-?red Stinger surface-to-air missile
Aircraft had not been con?gured with a self-protection ?are dispenser to draw away any incoming heat-seeking missiles.
IAF moved with dispatch to equip all of its participating ?ghters with ?ares in order to provide an active countermeasure against any enemy infrared-guided missiles
In all, the IAF ?ew some 460 ?ghter sorties throughout the campaign dedicated exclusively to maintaining battle space air defense.
IAF strike aircraft operated primarily from three northern bases, Air Force Stations Srinagar, Avantipur, and Udhampur. !e closest of those to the ?ghting, Srinagar, was more than 70 miles away from the war zone.
Before the formal start of Operation Safed Sagar, the MiG-21bis squadron permanently stationed at Srinagar was joined by additional MiG-21M, MiG-23BN, and MiG-27ML squadrons, while additional squadrons of MiG-21Ms and MiG-29s deployed northward to Avantipur.
IAF had deployed some 60 of its frontline aircraft to support the war
Mirage 2000Hs from 7 Squadron to be ?tted with Listening pods for use over Kargil. At the same time, ASTE helped modify the Mirage 2000H’s centerline weapons station to carry 1,000-pound U.S.-made Pave way II laser-guided bombs instead of the IAF’s French-produced Matra precision munitions, which were prohibitively expensive
A major interservice shortcoming highlighted by the ?rst two weeks that followed the initial detection of the incursion was the near-total lack of transparency and open communication between the Indian Army and the IAF with respect to the gathering crisis. Without question, the onset of the Kargil confrontation revealed a lack of effective air-ground integration in India’s joint arena at the most senior leadership level
The report is excellent and one should read the full 70-page report.
About the author who wrote the report.
Benjamin S. Lambeth is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a position he assumed in 2011 after a thirty-seven-year career at the RAND Corporation. A longtime specialist in international security a! airs and air warfare, he holds a doctorate in political science from Harvard University and served previously in
the Office of National Estimates at the Central Intelligence Agency. Also a civil-rated pilot, he has ?own or ?own in more than 40 different combat aircraft types with the U.S.
Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and eight foreign air forces. In 1989, he became the ?rst American citizen to ?y the Soviet MiG-29 ?ghter and the ?rst Westerner invited to ?y a combat aircraft of any type inside Soviet airspace since the end of World War II. In 2002,
he was elected an Honorary Member of the Order of Daedalians, the national fraternity of U.S. military pilots. He is the author of Russia’s Air Power in Crisis (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999), e Transformation of American Air Power (Cornell University
Press, 2000), NATO’s Air War for Kosovo (RAND, 2001), Mastering the Ultimate High Ground: Next Steps in the Military Uses of Space (RAND, 2003); Air Power Against Terror: America’s Conduct of Operation Enduring Freedom (RAND, 2005), Air Operations in
Israel’s War Against Hezbollah (RAND, 2011), and! e Unseen War: Air Power’s Role in the Takedown of Saddam Hussein (Naval Institute Press, forthcoming).
Airpower at 18,000’: The Indian Air Force in the Kargil War
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22 September 2012
Thirty-Four facts from Report Airpower at 18,000': the Indian Air Force in the Kargil War