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