Lessons from Kargil con­flict

Un­less we have serv­ing mil­i­tary pro­fes­sional in­ducted at se­nior and below lev­els in MoD, un­less we have serv­ing mil­i­tary pro­fes­sional at var­i­ous lev­els in­clud­ing con­trol and man­age­ment in the DRDO, con­cerned DPSUs and OF, we are likely to con­tinue in the


The enor­mity of the Kargil in­tru­sions sur­prised the world but more sig­nif­i­cantly the In­dian se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment. There is lit­tle doubt that once dis­cov­ered, re­sponse of the In­dian war ma­chine got go­ing. The grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion of the In­dian Army on dis­play and the world watched with ad­mi­ra­tion as hill af­ter hill, bar­ren, de­void of cover and oc­cu­pied by well for­ti­fied Pak­istani reg­u­lar army soldiers were as­saulted and re­cap­tured. Of course, the bar­rage of a hun­dred Bo­fors guns helped pul­verise en­emy de­fences to con­sid­er­able ex­tent. There are many ifs and buts in con­flict sit­u­a­tions and same was the case in this con­flict. For ex­am­ple, if the Pak­istani Army had main­tained sur­prise till the time the snows shut off both the road axis lead­ing to Ladakh, evic­tion of the en­emy would have been that much more dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially since Pak­istan’s next phase of op­er­a­tions was to wrest the Si­achen area. What hap­pened even­tu­ally is an open book; an em­phatic mil­i­tary and diplomatic vic­tory for In­dia, greater glory to In­dian Mil­i­tary and a blow to Pak­istan as it stood shamed. Not with­out rea­son two Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ters later ac­knowl­edged that “Kargil war was Pak­istan’s big­gest blun­der and dis­as­ter.” The grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion of the ju­nior lead­ers sur­prised the en­emy com­pletely, throw­ing them in dis­ar­ray. Vic­tory over the en­emy is cel­e­brated ev­ery July 16 as Op Vi­jay Diwas by pay­ing homage to the mar­tyrs who sac­ri­ficed them­selves in evict­ing the in­trud­ers, many earn­ing gal­lantry awards in the process. What is sig­nif­i­cant and vi­tal is not only to de­duce the cor­rect lessons but fol­low up on them, which per­haps has not hap­pened in the re­quired mea­sures to date. Some of these are de­scribed in suc­ceed­ing para­graphs.

The scale and ex­tent of the in­tru­sions that the en­emy could un­der­take un­ques­tion­ably in­di­cated mas­sive in­tel­li­gence fail­ures both at the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal lev­els. Con­sid­er­ing the num­ber of NLI bat­tal­ions sup­ported by SSG that Pak­istan was able to sur­rep­ti­tiously de­ploy, all move­ment be­yond Skardu should have been brought to the no­tice of the Cabi­net Com­mit­tee of Se­cu­rity by the Joint In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. R&AW’s claim that they had sent a note to the mil­i­tary about pos­si­ble in­tru­sions is an ab­so­lute joke. Just look­ing at Tolol­ing with ref­er­ence to Dras in­di­cates that the ground level tac­ti­cal in­tel- ligence gath­er­ing too was nix. Have we learnt the les­son and im­proved? Judge for your­self that years later it is due to a re­port in the New York Times that In­dia be­came aware of pres­ence of some 11,000 Chi­nese in POK and Pak­istan.

We need to have incog­nito boots on ground in all ar­eas of Strate­gic im­por­tance to us; a cul­ture that is grossly miss­ing in our po­lit­i­cal and bu­reau­cratic es­tab­lish­ment, dis­count­ing the mil­i­tary that is de­lib­er­ately kept away from strate­gic de­ci­sion mak­ing. This prac­tice of not throw­ing our eyes be­yond bor­ders and the think­ing that tech­ni­cal in­tel­li­gence by it­self can make up such strate­gic void is out­right stupid, doesn’t recog­nise nu­ances of 21st cen­tury con­flict sit­u­a­tions and li­able to cause us dearly in fu­ture as well, un­less rec­ti­fied. Spe­cial Forces play a cru­cial role in to­day’s asym­met­ric war­fare en­vi­ron­ment in pro­vid­ing con­tin­u­ous strate­gic in­tel­li­gence. We fail to ac­knowl­edge this and ex­ult in rapidly ex­pand­ing the num­bers of our Spe­cial Forces with­out mak­ing any ef­fort to op­ti­mise their po­ten­tial. Even dur­ing the Kargil con­flict, Spe­cial Forces were hardly used for the type of tasks they are sup­posed to be tasked, even used in di­rect as­saults for which they are not or­gan­ised, re­sult­ing in need­less ca­su­al­ties. The main sup­port base of the en­emy, the Gul­tari ar­tillery po­si­tion, could have been ren­dered in­ef­fec­tive by Spe­cial Forces, as would have their nu­mer­ous he­li­pads but they were not tasked for these be­cause of the stip­u­la­tion im­posed of not cross­ing the line of con­trol.

The ap­pre­ci­a­tion that the area of the in­tru­sions, es­pe­cially Mushkoh area could not be sub­jected to en­emy in­gresses dur­ing win­ter months was grossly wrong, con­sid­er­ing that we our­selves were hold­ing much higher and glaciated heights since 1984 at the Sal­toro Range over­shad­ow­ing the Si­achen Glacier area. As it hap­pened the en­emy did ingress, that too at mas­sive scale, dur­ing the win­ter months. These were Pak­istani Army per­son­nel but even were they to be ter­ror­ist infiltrators, as Pak­istan wanted to por­tray, mass in­fil­tra­tion was very much pos­si­ble. In the thick of win­ter of 1990, 7 As­sam Ri­fles had am­bushed and gunned down no less than 97 Pak­istani infiltrators who had come through the glaciated Ea­gles Pass im­me­di­ate south of Tangdhar in North­ern Kash­mir. These infiltrators wore ski cloth­ing, bum-pads to slide down the snowy slopes and were car­ry­ing ad­di­tional weapons in kit­bags. In Kargil, va­ca­tion

of some posts dur­ing win­ter fur­ther fa­cil­i­tated the in­tru­sions. In the case with a rad­i­cal and de­ceit­ful en­emy like Pak­istan who had been in­dulging in cross-border fir­ing in Jammu and Kash­mir with­out rea­son, the con­cept of leav­ing wide gaps was sui­ci­dal. To­day, while the Divi­sion in Ladakh in Kargil re­gion has nine bat­tal­ions up­front eye ball to eye­ball with the en­emy, we should have found the man­power to do so ab-ini­tio, which would have pre­vented the Kargil in­tru­sions. Re­gret­tably not even one third of these nine bat­tal­ions still have metal roads link­ing up the for­ward de­fended lo­cal­i­ties. We are in the same state along the line of ac­tual con­trol (LAC), both in terms of gaps and roads par­tic­u­larly in Eastern Ladakh where some 642 sq km of ter­ri­tory has been lost over the years be­cause of these rea­sons, dis­count­ing erst­while De­fence Min­is­ter Antony’s po­lit­i­cal state­ment in Par­lia­ment of not hav­ing lost even an inch.

One of the ma­jor rea­sons for our suc­cess in the Kargil con­flict was the con­cen­trated fire by some 100 Bo­fors guns that plas­tered en­emy po­si­tions on the hill­tops and ridges. Though In­dia had im­ported 400 Bo­fors guns, fur­ther im­port of even spares had been stopped be­cause of the Bo­fors scandal and no ef­fort had been made over the decades to pro­duce an in­dige­nous ver­son of these guns. Mer­ci­fully, it was pos­si­ble to can­ni­balise these 400 guns to get the 100 Bo­fors op­er­a­tional. The ar­tillery con­tin­ues to be starved of new ar­tillery guns. The pro­posal to im­port Howitzer guns from BAE Sys­tems, USA ap­pears to have been shelved de­spite suc­cess­ful tri­als be­cause of devel­op­ment of the in­dige­nous ‘Dhanush’. But the ques­tion is how many years will it take to fill up ex­ist­ing ar­tillery voids? Pro­cure­ment of ad­di­tional 130mm guns is no sub­sti­tute where how­itzers need to be tasked.

The Kargil in­tru­sions were deep into our ter­ri­tory and the Air Force could have lit­er­ally knocked out en­emy po­si­tions on the hill­tops pro­vided they had laser guided weaponry, which they did not pos­sess. It is only to­wards the end of the con­flict that some im­pro­vi­sa­tion was re­sorted to and en­emy lo­gis­tic sup­port ech­e­lons and one sup­port base could be tar­geted. There had been ap­par­ent lack o imag­i­na­tion, fore­thought and pri­ori­ti­sa­tion on this count know­ing full well that con­flict along the LoC and LAC will pri­mar­ily re­quire tar­get­ing such po­si­tions. If the Air Force had the laser guided bombs dur­ing the Kargil con­flict then cou­pled with Bo­fors fire, en­emy po­si­tions par­tic­u­larly on Tiger Hill and Tolol­ing could have been pul­verised thor­oughly and saved pre­cious lives of troops as­sault­ing up­hill with­out cover. Hope­fully, this re­quire­ment of laser guided bombs is be­ing met in sync with op­er­a­tional plans of the Army al­beit in­ter-Ser­vice syn­ergy con­tin­ues to be an il­lu­sion sans a CDS no mat­ter the pre­tenses.

As re­gards tech­ni­cal sur­veil­lance and night fight­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, yes few UAVs have been in­ducted and de­ployed and yes we have few in­dige­nous satel­lites up, but we are nowhere close to 24x7 satel­lite cover in all ar­eas like China has along the LAC. Ev­ery sol­dier does not have night fight­ing sights. Hand held sur­veil­lance de­vices are lim­ited, bulk of which can­not look through in con­di­tions of fog, mist, snow. The im­ported unat­tended ground sen­sors are in­ef­fec­tive in snow and DRDO has not been able to de­velop suit­able re­place­ment. In­duc­tion of MAVs to front­line troops is in­or­di­nately de­layed. Radars have been de­ployed in lim­ited num­bers but the Bat­tle­field Sur­veil­lance Sys­tem (BSS), to op­ti­mise all in­tel­li­gence, un­der devel­op­ment has been bogged down in red-tape of the ser­vice bu­reau­cracy it­self. There is even acute short­age of GPS at the army’s cut­ting edge.

Fi­nally are the vi­tal voids of a na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy and a com­pre­hen­sive de­fence re­view, both of which are con­trib­uted to­wards why the Kargil in­tru­sions hap­pened in the first place. Un­for­tu­nately, vir­tu­ally no progress has been made on these counts. Even the rec­om­men­da­tions of var­i­ous com­mit­tees have not been im­planted de­spite the fact that these stud­ies were only pe­riph­eral to and never ex­am­ined these vi­tal is­sues in holis­tic fashion. The mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to be kept away from strate­gic de­ci­sion mak­ing. The MoD con­tin­ues to be run by gen­er­al­ist bu­reau­crats who are not even ac­count­able. There are no signs of the DRDO, DPSUs and OF be­ing re­or­gan­ised. Un­less we have serv­ing mil­i­tary pro­fes­sional in­ducted at se­nior and below lev­els in MoD, un­less we have serv­ing mil­i­tary pro­fes­sional at var­i­ous lev­els in­clud­ing con­trol and man­age­ment in the DRDO, con­cerned DPSUs and OF, we are likely to con­tinue in the same state – de­void of strate­gic cul­ture and an er­ratic de­fen­cein­dus­trial com­plex de­spite the hike in for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment in de­fence. If this is not rec­ti­fied we can con­tinue to cel­e­brate Op Vi­jay Diwas an­nu­ally and sa­lute the Kargil mar­tyrs with­out ac­tu­ally salut­ing them.


Lt Gen­eral Hooda pay­ing homage at Kargil

War memo­rial in Dras on July 26, 2014

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