Hot Wash: India’s Journey to Operational Preparedness to face Security Challenges: Kargil to Galwan and the Way Ahead By Team STRIVE

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On 01 Aug 2021 a webinar on the above subject was organized by the STRIVE in conjunction with SVIF. During the Webinar following panelists spoke:-

Lt Gen (Dr) Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM– Readiness of the Indian Army: the scope will entail the lessons that emerged from Kargil Conflict, improvements made since then, an appraisal of actions during LAC Standoff.

Air Marshal Anil Chopra, PVSM, AVSM, VM, VSM– Role of the IAF in winning the wars of the future across the entire spectrum of conflict: The scope of the theme included; air operations that impacted the Kargil operations, logistics support during Indo-China Standoff, capability of the IAF to face and degrade the PLA AF in a sustained campaign and how could the IAF respond to deter China from undertaking local conflicts/transgressions against India such as the Galwan, Doklam, Depsang, Chumar and Sumdorong Chu.

Sri Nitin Anant Gokhale– Spoke on the appraisal of the future battlefield scenario, India’s state of readiness to face it across the entire domain of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) and how the CNP can be leveraged to meet the challenges of two and a half front war.

Team STRIVE for the Conduct of the Webinar– Lt Gen Dushyant Singh, PVSM, VSM introduced the subject, Brig Pankaj Sinha, SM, VSM was the moderator, Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi, AVSM, VSM at the end of the Webinar summed up the proceedings and Col RP Singh provided the technical support.

During his opening remarks, Lt Gen Dushyant Singh flagged the indomitable spirit & raw courage of the young leadership and the valour of rank and file on both the occasion which helped India to come out a winner in both the conflicts. However, the higher direction of War in Kargil had left much to be desired. A wide-ranging reform to upgrade the Defence preparedness, which is a work in progress. He further set the stage for the discussion during the Webinar by raising the following questions:-

• One of the problem areas during the Kargil conflict was voids in ISR set up. Is it now ready to face the challenges of the new dimensions of Warfare?

• Probability of Pak Chinese collusivity in the current stand-off and how it is likely to impact the outcome of the conflict?

• What is the probability of the disruptive form of warfare in the future and how well India is ready to face this new form of challenge?

• One of the shortcomings noticed during the Kargil conflict was less than the optimal synergy between Army and Air Force. How much progress has been made to address this aspect?

• How well India is ready for the Grey Zone warfare unleashed by India’s adversaries?

Salient Points of the Talks

Lt Gen (Dr) Rakesh Sharma– Salient points flagged were as follows:-

• In Kargil India had responded strongly but in the case of operations at LAC, India has soft-pedalled the intrusion.

• In case of LC India decided not to cross it. Similarly in the case of LAC also similar approach was adopted.

• As far as perceived ISR failure is concerned it was more of a failure of assessment to discern the intrusion.

• There is a need to have an effective supply chain and effective infrastructural build-up.

• In Kargil Indian Army and Indian Air Force were working independent of each other. Even today, though, things have improved but full integration is yet to be achieved. The three services should be fully integrated and not complementary. Even plans should be made together and not separately.

• In every war India has been taking a myopic view of fighting either to gain territory or deny territory. The terminal objectives should be clearly spelt out in terms of attainable objectives and the form and shape of warfare be planned accordingly. However, the current state of decision-making is a manifestation of the tyranny of strategic limitation in thinking at the decision-making level. In 1962 Air Force was not used, in 1965, a ceasefire was agreed to a little too early, 1971 PoWs were returned without extracting the advantage of this situation. In 2002 during Parakram coercive diplomacy was attempted without any result – this also is a result of failure on the part of leadership in Uniform to brief correctly the political leadership and the bureaucracy.

• Indian Armed Forces have been suffering from decades of strategic and operational cliches/ rhetoric. The doctrines should not be empty words but should clearly define the intent in tangible terms. India need not prepare to fight a two-front war but be ready to fight a war that can degrade the enemy’s capability substantially. Currently, the Country faces the challenge to modernize the armed forces, which should be technology-driven and should be capable to handle changing face of warfare. National Military strategy should emanate from National Security plan, which itself should flow from National Security Strategy, that will help in building response capability across the entire spectrum. Need of specific Arms and Equipment should emanate from such an integrated plan and acquisition should be planned accordingly.

Grey Zone warfare – China appears to have done due diligence on her strengths and weaknesses. They appear to have realized that in a territorial war they might not be able to subdue India now and that is why they are going for non-contact form of warfare. India needs to expect more cyber based attacks on those installations which may impact the Indian economic and strategic interests. Similarly, India needs to be ready for a well-planned information warfare. India needs to have a separate organisation to deal with Cyber warfare and exploitation of E/M Spectrum. Similarly, India needs to leverage the capacity and capability of information warfare to respond to China.

Air Marshal Anil Chopra– Major points that need to be flagged from his talk were as follows:-

• Response of IAF during Kargil Conflict was graduated as initially Air Force was not in the loop of planning. Army initially asked for only Attack helicopter support. The IAF was asked to provide unlimited air operations only on 28 May 2021 that too without crossing the LoC. The disjointness was evident from the fact that IAF and IA had two different names for the operations. The IA named it Op Vijay and the IAF as Op Safed Sagar. Such a stark difference of approach between two Services is bewildering to say the least.

• It was clearly understood that helicopters were not useful at such altitudes and against shoulder-fired missiles. Also, two fighter planes and a Mi -17 was lost and the IAF quickly learnt its lesson in the first two days itself and then a conscious decision was taken to fly at an altitude of 30-40000 feet.

• Real impact on operations started showing results when the enemy’s supply lines started getting interdicted by the IAF.

One of the lessons that clearly came out was need for better jointness between Army and the Air Force. Team Strive is of the view that the time has come to go beyond jointness to integration.

• During the current standoff the coordination was better between the two services. IAF provided great support to maintain good logistic support to ground forces. Even UAV-based support for ISR was substantial.

• A lesson is emerging that it takes long time to complete the acquisition process in case of Air Force, because of the cost and the testing of the offered technology. Therefore, it is important that the procedure be simplified, and the deficiencies are made up in a time-bound manner. Also, more indigenization will be the way forward.

• An important lesson emerged that the Air Power is an offensive element to influence the outcome of the battle. Therefore, using air power as a part of the reaction response to an adversary’s initiative seldom fetches the desired outcome and as such it should be used in a manner that enemy is forced to react.

• Further improvement in the infrastructure in terms of more air strips and wider variety in the platforms to cater for different altitudes and better AD systems will add to the effectiveness of Air Power. China is known to have S-400 AD system, Offensive air power will have to have plans to tackle it. In this regard the new acquisitions of Chinook and Apache Helicopters and Rafale added value to the quality of air support. It is also felt that once S-400 join Indian Air Force Indian capability against PLAAF will enhance substantially.

Nitin Anant Gokhale– Main points of the talk that need to be flagged are as follows: –


o Indo-Pacific– Quad is taking shape and India is fully co-optedbecauseunlike others India is the only country which has a long-disputed land border with China. India needs to be pragmatic and needs to find ways and means to fight her battles on her own.

o Neighbourhood– many of our neighbours are not with us. Besides deep pockets of China which influences the relationship with neighbours, India herself is also responsible for this state because of its neighbours getting the impression that India over promises but under-delivers. India needs to do much more on this account.

• India’s response to China’s pressure tactics was superb. In fact, China lost India strategically. India showed national will, but this new resolve needs to be converted into building capability to prosecute a punitive action against China.

• Threat of two-front war does exist but in case India builds capability to deal with China, Pakistan will get the inherent message, therefore we need to upgrade capability to deal with China firmly.

• Chinese action hastened India’s infrastructure build-up pace which in long run will come handy.

• Building up the comprehensive national power (CNP) should be aim of India. For this building economic muscle is the prerequisite. India needs to review the decision to join RCEP. India needs to go for many more FTAs and alliances both bilateral as well as well as multilateral. Alliances with Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Mongolia should be thought of. In this connection Defence based diplomacy could be used as a tool to build relationships. Both Philippines and Vietnam want AKASH missile system and India should consider it favourably.

• Areas in which India needs to work to enhance capability are as follows:-

o Its planning process needs to be strengthened. A Joint doctrine for training and planning needs to be developed. Aim should be clarity of the objective. It needs to be appreciated that it is a fight between two different political systems and therefore it is essential that Indian planners manage to get a peep into the minds of Chinese planners.

o India needs to have more people who understand China and for that a set of specialists fully conversant with Mandarin needs to be build up so that whatever is happening in China can be monitored in real-time and by those who can discern the aim and objective of the developments. In this connection, more Think tanks need to be established who are dedicated to work on china, the Chinese psyche and Chinese philosophy.

o Its offensive capability should be based on Tri-Service response and leveraging of technology as a force multiplier. India needs to invest in long-range missile technology. IAF need to develop the capability to deal with the Chinese capability of AD which is based on S-400. Although Rafale has been added to IAF’s kitty there is a need to further enhance IAF’s capability for which air crafts of F-35 type needs to be added and for that the proposal to acquire 110 MMRCA needs to be taken to fruition on priority in a time-bound manner. However, it needs to be clearly understood that India needs to have the capability to fight its own battles on its own and that flags the need to be ATMA NIRBHAR in equipment and economic terms.

o Its ISR capability at all three levels namely strategic, operational and tactical level needs to be built up. In this connection system of exchange of information between the three services and the security agencies under the MHA needs to improve.

o Drone and anti-drone warfare is the future. India needs to improve its capability and capacity in this domain. Better training in this domain will prepare the force better to deal with future battlefields.

o India needs to leverage Information warfare as an element in the War waging capability.

o Offensive capability in the domain of Cyberwarfare needs to be build up.

o Not only more intimate jointness among the three services but a mechanism for more frequent dialogue between Political leadership and the military leadership needs to be build up.

Although most of the question were already substantially addressed but some of the issues which need to be highlighted for the Q&A session were as follows:-

• More than Intelligence failure it was assessment failure. Also, since Kargil conflict, many new dimensions have been added to int acquisition and its interpretation capabilities, particularly in the domain of electronic intelligence. However better coordination between the Services, with agencies working under MHA, more cooperation in the domain of intelligence sharing with other countries/stakeholders and more specialized assessment capability is the need of the hour.

• The decision of not crossing the LoC was probably based on the then-existing capability to fight in a terrain which was quite different beyond LoC, need to avoid the war getting escalated to other areas and finally fear of nuclear threshold getting crossed.

• Graduated response of Air Force was due to lack of jointness in the planning process.

• It is true that India had major deficiencies during Kargil conflict. Many of those issues had been addressed by the K Subramanian Committee and work is in progress to further make up the deficiencies.

• Chinese for the first time have been forced to withdraw due to resolute action by India, they are likely to go for more non-contact warfare in future.

• China is likely to use disruptive forms of warfare in future and we need to build this capability, which in the present form is quite rudimentary.

• Infrastructure builds up is a work in progress and thrust needs to continue on it.

Summing Up
Issues flagged were as follows:-

• Indian Army needs to think beyond CI-CT Warfare. Need to be ready for Grey Zone warfare.

• Planning needs to be done jointly keeping the end state in mind, which needs to be decided within the political objective. Another element in planning is to sustain against the enemy’s strength and attack his weaknesses. Planning should also be to provoke reactions rather than reacting to the enemy’s initiatives. The modernization of IAF is only likely to be completed by 2026 and this aspect needs to be factored in the planning. India needs to plan for the battlefields of tomorrow rather than that of yesterday. India needs to plan strategically, and plans should be such that CNP is applied against the adversary.

• AirPower is an offensive element and that needs to be taken into account while doing joint planning.

• Acquisition should be well planned and not as a knee-jerk reaction. Air Force needs to go for more PGMs, more AWACs and the capability to deal with the threat due to Chinese and Pakistani SAMs. Atma Nirbharta is the way ahead.

• Defence budget, particularly for capital acquisitions, needs to be enhanced.

• Capability for non-contact warfare like Cyber, info, psychological needs to be improved.

Kargil to Galwan and the Way Ahead, Role of Air Force by Air Marshal Anil Chopra



Operational Preparedness: Kargil to Galwan & the Way Ahead by Mr Nitin Gokhale

Compiled by team STRIVE  (Lt Gen Dushyant Singh (retd) and Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi (Retd)

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the respective author/ speakers and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that they belong to or of that of STRIVE