Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

October 1999 (Vol. XXIII No. 7)


India’s Military Response to the Kargil Aggression
By Vinod Anand *


A critical examination of the Kargil conflict will reveal to students of military history that many of the Clausewitzian dictums “on war” are truisms. The presence of three elements in war, “fog, friction and chance” could be easily perceived during the conduct of the Kargil operations. The situation was quite cloudy and opaque, especially before the launch of Operation Vijay. And even after the commencement of the operations, information about the intruders was not easily forthcoming. Besides the nature of the difficult terrain, unsuitable clothing and equipment, a host of other factors, added to the element of friction. These elements contributed to the impediments to an early and time-bound conclusion of the conflict. There were a number of chance happenings, in fact, favourable events, which contributed to our military success. The opening of Zojila Pass earlier in May and availability of an acclimatised reserve of two infantry battalions which had been relieved from Siachen, enabled the Indian Army to contain the intruders initially and thus stabilise the situation. A brief recapitulation of events leading to the launching of Operation Vijay would help us in understanding the nature of India’s military response to the Kargil aggression. Kargil also holds a number of monumental lessons for us, which we cannot ignore.

The artillery duels and firing of small arms have been a regular feature along the LoC (Line of Control) between India and Pakistan in the troubled state of Jammu & Kashmir. The LoC came about as a result of the Simla Agreement of 1972 signed between the two parties, superseding the earlier ceasefire line. As a matter of routine, there would be an increase in the intensity of shelling by Pakistan across the LoC whenever Pakistan wanted to support the infiltration of militants and mercenaries across the LoC or whenever there were diplomatic parleys between the two countries. This activity was undertaken in order to keep the pot boiling in the Kashmir Valley and draw the attention of international community, besides diverting the attention of its own populace from domestic affairs. The upsurge in artillery shelling across the LoC had increased both in frequency and intensity since September 1997 as compared to earlier years, when Pakistan moved long range guns to Baltistan. 1  

Therefore, when the month of May 1999 dawned in Kargil, it was business as usual with heavy artillery shelling on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh road. As the news of intrusion by infiltrators started flittering in, the local Brigade Headquarters started dispatching reconnaissance patrols on the premise that infiltrators may be using the Kargil route to reach the Valley. Two of these patrols walked into well-laid ambushes of the enemy. On May 14, eight days after Lt. Saurabh Kalia’s patrol disappeared, Indian reconnaissance parties encountered a number of defensive positions being occupied by the intruders with the intention of holding on to the high peaks held by them.

The defence minister had visited Siachen on May 12, and was apprised of some local militants having been caught in the Turtuk area. 2   However, by May 14, it was confirmed that large number of infiltrators had sneaked in and occupied the unheld areas in the Kargil sector. The defence minister described the intrusion as sporadic and announced that the army was well prepared to meet the situation. On May 16, he went on to add that “intruders will be evicted in 48 hours”. 3   Next day, he again asserted that the army had cordoned off the area entirely and that military objectives would be realised within the next two days. Meanwhile, General V.P. Malik, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) had left for a tour of Poland on May 10.

The above events have been recounted to indicate that hardly anyone was aware of the correct situation on the ground. By May 17, the Army had commenced side-stepping additional infantry and artillery to meet the developing military situation. On May 19, GOC 15 Corps, Lt. Gen. Krishan Pal gave a Press conference and made two points: first, the infiltration was fully backed by the Pakistan Army, and, second, the well-trained infiltrators were on a suicidal mission.

Thereafter, it was decided to carry out an air survey of the Kargil sector. On May 21, one Canberra aircraft (the oldest bomber aircraft in the Indian Air Force) was dispatched on the mission of surveying the border. It could not be sent on May 19 and 20 because of bad weather. The Canberra was shot at and its engines damaged but it landed back safely at Srinagar. It reported that upto eight helipads could be seen on the Indian side of the LoC and there were a number of pockets of intrusions. It was perhaps then that the gravity of the situation became evident and the army started seriously considering the use of air power. The COAS had finally returned by then from his foreign tour. Initial requests by the army for air support were side-stepped, citing the likely ineffectiveness of air strikes due to the mountainous terrain and the qualitative upgradation of the military response. The CAOS as chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee could not enforce a military decision (that is, use of air power) which was objected to by a service chief. On May 24, the two prime ministers spoke on the telephone but matters could not be resolved. Meanwhile, the two director generals of military operations (DGMOs) had also spoken to each other on the telephone and the Pakistani DGMO tried in vain to obfuscate the issue.

On May 24, the first meeting of the apex Cabinet Committee on Security was held. It was decided to launch Operation Vijay and use air power to evict the intruders. After the meeting, the prime minister described the Kargil situation as a “war-like” one. 4   Meanwhile, over 50 soldiers had been killed, and useful time had been lost which could have been gainfully utilised to interdict and pulverise the pockets of intrusion by the use of air power.


Pakistan’s Political Objectives

“No one starts a war, without being clear as to what he intends to achieve by it.” This is the refrain of Michael Howard, a renowned American scholar of military history. Clausewitz also explains at length that “war is continuation of policy by other means”. Therefore, what was the political purpose or policy in the launching of such a risky misadventure? Pakistan’s politico-military establishment had realised that the embers of indigenous militancy in the Valley were dying down and there was a considerable Kashmiri resentment at the arrogant and high-handed behaviour of the foreign militants. At one stage, the APHC (All Party Hurriyat Conference) had even agreed to consider taking part in the electoral process. However, this decision was hurriedly reversed largely because of the advice by Pakistan that a major effort was on the way to revive the ongoing struggle in the Valley. The Kargil aggression was a way of indicating to the Kashmiris Pakistan’s commitment to a proxy war in the Valley. The other purpose was also to show that foreign mercenaries were ready to sacrifice for the cause of the Kashmiris. The indirect benefits of such a course of action would be to draw out the Indian Army from the Valley, thereby relieving pressure on the insurgents in the Valley. As an additional political objective, the intent was to spread insurgency to areas around Chorbat La, Turtuk and Chalunka in the Shyok Valley. There was also, perhaps, the question of punishing the Sunni Muslims in areas around Kargil, who do not appear to have cooperated with the Pakistani scheme of things. And in Pakistan’s view, the Simla Agreement of 1972 was dead from the day it was signed. There was no question of ever honouring the bilateral intent of the agreement and considering the LoC as a de facto international border. The Kargil aggression was another effort in a series of attempts that had been made earlier to question the validity of the Simla Agreement which, the Pakistanis claimed, had been signed by them under “duress”.


Pak Military Plans, Aims and Objectives

The Pakistan operation plan in Kargil was a brilliant tactical move but as hindsight has proved, it turned out to be a strategic disaster. There were too many assumptions and presumptions made and the likely post-conflict situation had not been thoroughly wargamed. The main Pakistani players in the Kargil plan were Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the COAS, the Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Aziz Khan, Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmad, GOC 10 Corps, Force Commander Northern Areas (FCNA) Maj. Gen. Javed Hassan and Lt. Gen. Tauqif Zia, the DGMO. The prime minister was also kept informed. Other Pakistan Army corps commanders and politicians were informed only on May 19, after the fighting had broken out. 5  

The planning for Kargil started soon after Gen. Pervez Musharraf took over as COAS in October 1998. The key ingredients of the plan were:

  1. To occupy the dominating heights overlooking the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh road which were left unheld by the Indians during the winter period.
  2. After having thus established a firm base, the next step was to cut off the line of communications to the Ladakh sector, thus, undermining the ongoing Siachen operations.
  3. To use the lodgement thus established for infiltration of militants and mercenaries into Kashmir Valley.

Pakistan’s strategy had been built around internationalising the Kashmir issue and simultaneously undermining the sanctity of the LoC, which had been in existence for 27 years. Pakistani planners believed that with the Kargil operation, they might secure the intervention of the UN or a third party as they had succeeded in doing earlier in the 1947-48 and 1965 operations. The severing of the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh artery that facilitated build-up of supplies and troops would have not only affected Leh and Siachen but also prevented side-stepping of military resources to the Kargil sector once the battle was joined with the Indian forces. 6  

The other major element of the plan was secrecy and surprise. In order to maintain surprise, all major troop movements were made into the Northern Areas in the period preceding the operation. 7   Movements and readjustments within the sector were kept to the minimum and these were done at night. Radio silence was observed till Indian Air Force strikes began. Battalions of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) which were under the FCNA were formed into a number of columns and groups. 8   There was a sprinkling of Special Services Group (SSG) teams for undertaking commando operations. These columns were led by regular officers and were armed with state-of-the-art light weapons and equipment, Stinger missiles and 12.7mm anti-aircraft guns. Logistically, these columns were well-prepared and provided for. They were well trained, waited out the worst of winter and every column occupied 10 to 12 posts as the snows melted in April.

When battle commenced, the total force level in Batalik, Kaksar, Drass and Mushkoh Valley was assessed to be 800-900 regulars with 1,000 or so fighting porters. It was also believed that a similar number was waiting on the other side of the LoC to join the battle. This force was being provided with artillery support from well-prepared artillery emplacements from across the LoC. The artillery component consisted of 25 pounders, 105 mm howitzers, 155 mm howitzers, 5.5 inch howitzers, 120 mm mortars and some 122 mm multi-barrel rocket launchers. However, the most potent force multiplier was the use of gun locating radar ANTPQ-37 that directed accurate counter-bombardment against Indian artillery gun positions in Drass and Kargil. 9  

One of the major flaws in Pakistan’s strategy was that it wanted the world to presume that such a well-trained, well-prepared and well-armed force supported by a preponderance of artillery, was an indigenous Mujahideen force. This force started intrusions around the middle of April and was to have consolidated its positions by the third week of May. However, the Indian Army opened Zojila Pass earlier on May 15, and Indian reinforcements started rushing into the Kargil sector, throwing intrusion plans out of gear. By the third week of June, after the capture of Tololing Heights by the Indian Army, the tide had turned decidedly in favour of India.


India’s Politico-Military Response

When the meeting of the apex Cabinet Committee on Security took place, it was realised that the intrusions posed a challenge not only on the military front but also on the political and diplomatic fronts. Pakistan’s perception or rather mind-set (as revealed to Stephen P. Cohen of the Brookings Institution by the Pakistani leadership in the mid-Eighties) was that “a bold strike by the Pakistan army to capture areas in Jammu & Kashmir may go unchallenged because of weak and indecisive political leadership at Delhi.” And especially so when the nuclear deterrence was in place and also at a time when scholars like Stephen Cohen and many others in the world were propagating the theory of South Asia being a nuclear flash-point. Such a thought process, Pakistan assumed, would invite an early intervention by the international community and enable Pakistan to retain the initial gains made after an early termination of hostilities. 10   The Indian political leadership did not oblige Pakistan; it upgraded the military response by launching air strikes. This also conveyed the message of India’s firm resolve to vacate Pakistan’s aggression. The political directive given to the Indian armed forces was very cut and dried, that is, to evict the pockets of intrusion and restore the sanctity of the LoC. No time-frame was given. The only restraining factor was that the LoC was not to be crossed, and if it became necessary to cross it, the Cabinet’s approval had to be sought. This proved to be a very prudent decision as the later events showed. The national objective was to attack Pakistan on flanks where it was weak, that is, political and diplomatic fronts simultaneously with attacks on the military front.


India’s Military Plans, Aims and Objectives

India’s military strategy in Kargil was based on three objectives. The first was to contain the enemy’s pockets of intrusion and prevent their further build-up and consolidation. After having achieved this objective, the second step was to evict the intruders and restore the LoC. The third and final step was to hold the ground so vacated and deny the same to the enemy.

Any military appreciation of a situation takes a minimum of four basic factors into account. These are: terrain; enemy strength and dispositions; own strength and dispositions; and the factor of time and space. The terrain had peaks with very steep gradients, which were difficult to climb even for mountaineers. The well-trained and well-prepared and initially well-motivated enemy in the four areas of Drass, Batalik, Kaksar and Mushkoh Valley held these heights. At the commencement of operations, own forces were inadequate in strength. To launch a deliberate attack against well prepared defences in the mountains, the attacker needs a favourable force ratio of almost 9:1 as against 3:1 in the plains. Due to the difficult nature of the terrain, one could not even estimate the time it would take to conclude the operations. All this had a bearing on the military plans, which were made to tackle the situation.

The key ingredients of the Indian military plans in Kargil were:

  1. To side-step reinforcements from Leh and Srinagar to contain the ever increasing barnacle-like encrustation of hills and peaks by enemy intruders.
  2. To address the pockets of intrusions sector by sector in order of priority of threat to Kargil i.e. Drass, Batalik, Mushkoh and Kaksar respectively.
  3. To use overwhelming and concentrated firepower, including air strikes to interdict enemy supply lines and neutralise enemy ground positions.

The Drass Heights which dominated a very long section of the Kargil road and camping ground in Drass where the Brigade HQ is located, were undoubtedly the vital ground or centre of gravity of the entire Kargil region. The clearance of the Drass Heights was, therefore, the first priority. Although Batalik did not pose any immediate threat to Kargil, it would have opened the route for further intrusions into Nubra and Shyok Valleys, thus, turning the flank of the Siachen sector. Therefore, this was allotted second priority. The last priority was allotted to the Mushkoh and Kaksar intrusions as they were considered less important and could be tackled once the Drass Heights had been captured.

While clearing the objectives, the tactics were to soften up the enemy with fire assaults, keep his head down, carry out multi-pronged thrusts, surround the enemy and thereafter deliver the final strike in the shape of infantry assault. As a normal part of the battle procedure, a quick reorganisation at captured objectives was to be undertaken to ward off expected counter-attacks by the intruders.


Force Levels

In the initial phases, only one brigade was available. As the gravity of the situation started becoming clear, an infantry brigade from the Leh sector and a mountain division along with the reserve brigade of 15 Corps were rushed in to tackle the intruders. By the time the attacks on Tololing Height were launched, there were five to six infantry brigades in the Kargil sector consisting of a total of 16 to 18 infantry battalions. The infantry brigades were, in turn, under the two divisional headquarters. 11  

Artillery was side-stepped into the Kargil sector after milking the resources from dormant sectors of the Northern Command and reserves of the Western Command. When deliberate attacks on enemy positions commenced, there were five to six regiments of 155 mm Bofors, about six regiments of 105 mm Field Regiments, some units of 130 mm medium guns, 160 mm heavy mortars and 120 mm mortars. There were one or two sub-units of 122 mm multi-barrel rocket launchers.

By the middle of June, two mountain divisions from the Eastern sector were moved to the Western sector to meet any eventuality which could arise out of a possible escalation of hostilities. Meanwhile, defensive formations had also moved to their operational areas.


Dialectics of Crossing the LoC and Military Options

Initially, it seemed that the proverbial Hamletian predicament of “to be or not to be” was applicable to our dithering on whether to cross the LoC or not. Eventually, our carefully calibrated and ambiguous strategy of stating that the “LoC will not be crossed but it would be crossed if it became necessary in the supreme national interest” paid handsome political and diplomatic dividends. 12  

There were three military options open to the planners for making the enemy recoil from its intrusions in Kargil. These were:

  1. Cross the LoC in a suitable area anywhere along its length of 720 km.
  2. Cross the LoC in the vicinity of the Kargil area of operations.
  3. Open up another front along the international border as was done in the Indo-Pak conflict of 1965.

A critical examination of the military implications of the above possible courses of action would reveal that as the time passed, the military utility of crossing the LoC also diminished in direct proportion. Considerable time had already lapsed in appreciating the correct situation and bringing in the Indian Air Force (IAF) on May 26. While the Indian forces were rushing in to contain the intrusions, Pakistan had started moving its reserve formations opposite the LoC. One division of the Central Strategic Reserve and one division of the GHQ Reserve were moved in to augment the Pakistani defensive posture all along the LoC. These troops were deployed in likely areas of incursion across the LoC by the Indian Army. There were also other difficulties in concentrating two forces in a suitable time-frame, one for carrying out a counter-offensive along the LoC and the other for containing the Kargil intrusions.

The second option of crossing the LoC in the vicinity of the Kargil intrusions was also militarily unsound for a number of reasons. The pockets of intrusions had a depth of 5 to 10 km and were spread almost all along the entire sector. Pakistan had already sealed the gaps between intrusions across the LoC. Own penetration would have had to go through or in the near vicinity of the intruders. This would have invited heavy causalties, stretched our lines of communications and logistical resupply chain and compromised the element of surprise.

Eventually, not crossing the LoC which turned out to be a sound decision politically and diplomatically, was also a sound decision militarily. The third option of opening up another front across the international border (IB) had wider ramifications. The analysis of this option has been done subsequently.


India’s Overwhelming Military Strategy

India’s overall military strategy revolves around a posture of “dissuasive deterrence” against Pakistan and a policy of “dissuasive defence” againt China. 13   A strong dissuasive deterrence capability against Pakistan implies maintaining a pro-active posture with a significantly favourable force ratio in the region of 2:1. However, since the early, Nineties, due to dwindling defence budgets and over-burgeoning voids of equipment, armaments, ammunition and stores, this favourable force ratio started declining. The problem was compounded by delays in upgradation and modernisation plans of all the three services. The combat effectiveness ratios had, perhaps, declined to such an extent that Pakistan was no longer deterred to carry out the Kargil aggression and we were on the defensive.

The third option of opening up another front across the IB would have obviously invited an adverse reaction from the international community and hostilities would have escalated into a limited war. The cryptic remark of the COAS, Gen. V.P. Malik, that in case war is thrust on us, “we will fight with whatever we have” had a number of military implications and is a reflection on the state of defence preparedness. The lack of any significant conventional edge, therefore, would not have given us any clear or decisive victory in case we had adopted the third option of crossing the IB. Further, Pakistan having anticipated our moves, had also moved its defensive formations along the IB, which prevented the Indian Army from achieving an element of surprise. Any incursion across the IB would have most likely resulted in a stalemate. It would have also escalated the conflagration to such an extent that it would have invited the intervention of the international community. Crossing of either the LoC or IB would have also changed the international community’s perceptions about India being a mature nuclear power, which exercised utmost restraint in the face of extreme provocation by Pakistan.


Nuclear Dialectics

Though there was lot of nuclear rhetoric emanating from across the border during the conflict, it is believed that when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Beijing, he was advised on the state of readiness of the Indian nuclear arsenal. This, perhaps, had a sobering effect on Pakistan’s PM and generals, and prevented further escalation of the conflict. The escalation could have easily taken the shape of either Pakistan using its air force or launching any other misadventure anywhere along the LoC or IB. The nuclear factor also imparted an impetus to the efforts of the international community in diffusing the situation by dealing firmly with the perpetrator of the Kargil aggression. The recklessness and misadventure of Pakistan in Kargil cleared the fog in the collective minds of the G-8 nations, P-5 Nuclear Club and particularly America, about the role of Pakistan, and its calling its regulars and mercenaries indigenous Mujahideen. Throughout the conflict, India down-played the nuclear factor which reflected that India was a mature nuclear power. However, India on its part, was also restrained from escalating the situation, perhaps, because of the nuclear factor in the background. Earlier in 1987, during the Brass Tacks manoeuvres, when Pakistan had moved its armoured division opposite Ferozepur in Punjab, war was prevented largely because of the likely presence of nuclear weapons with Pakistan. The only incident of armed conflict between two nuclear nations was that of the Sino-Russian intense border clashes on the River Ussuri in 1969. However, this conflict did not progress beyond a point, perhaps because of the nuclear factor. As mentioned earlier, Indo-Pak artillery duels and border clashes along the LoC are a regular feature and they are likely to continue in the future without the likelihood of their escalation into a large-scale war because of nuclear deterrence in the subcontinent. 14


Indian Air Force Strategy

At the commencement of operations, the air force was reluctant to launch strikes due to a number of inhibiting factors. The difficulties of operating at high altitudes, the high speeds of aircraft, problems of identification between friend and foe and restraints on crossing the LoC prevented the air force from fully utilising its combat potential for battlefield air interdiction and close air support tasks. The downing of a Mig-27 and a Mig-21 on May 27 and of an MI-17 helicopter on May 28 and presence of hand-held Stinger missiles with the intruders forced the air force to change its strategy.

On May 30, the IAF stepped up its air campaign by pressing into service state-of-the-art Mirage 2000 aircraft for air strikes against the intruders. 15   It could standoff and release laser-guided bombs with pinpoint accuracy. It also had the necessary electronic warfare systems on board. The IAF also shifted the weight of air strikes to posts and camps in the rear for interdiction of lines of communications. It located and destroyed logistic bases like Muntho Dalo. The Mig-21 and Mig-27 followed the Mirage-2000 fighters and attacked the enemy positions with missiles, rockets and bombs. A total of about 1,200 air strikes were carried out which included reconnaissance sorties, search and destroy missions, escort missions and close air support tasks. The helicopters, including the helicopters meant for carrying out the tasks of the forward air controller who guides the fighter aircraft onto targets, undertook over 2,000 sorties in Operation Vijay. The use of the air force had a tremendous morale-boosting effect on our ground troops and, at the same time, it demoralised the intruders. It was perhaps for the first time that battlefield air strikes were carried out at night, thus, engaging the enemy relentlessly during both day and night, without giving him any respite. The use of the air force contributed greatly to the maintenance of the momentum of own operations, softening up of objectives and reducing own casualties and degrading the combat potential of the intruders.


Naval Dimension

Due to the escalation of tensions, the Indian Navy was put on high alert as a direct result of Pakistan’s build-up. Before the commencement of operations, the navy was to carry out its exercises in the Eastern theatre; however, later on, as a result of the developing situation, the scene of the exercises was shifted to the Western theatre, that is, the Arabian Sea. The Indian Navy was well poised to control the sea lines of communications and put an effective blockade of oil and vital routes to Pakistan. The naval formations had moved right up to the mouth of the Gulf and were within striking distance of the enemy. The aircraft carrier was also kept in a state of operational readiness with seven days notice to meet any eventuality. The amphibious units of the army were also moved from Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the Western theatre. 16

Thus, the preventive naval deployment inhibited the Pakistanis from embarking on a misadventure at sea. It is believed that with favourable balance of Indian naval power, the maritime front had a strategic influence on the ongoing operations on the land frontier.


Success in Battle

By the first week of June, after adequate build-up of troops, fire support means and logistics, a major offensive was launched in the Kargil and Drass sectors. These were accompanied by air strikes. By June 20, the crucial Tololing Heights which overlooked the Kargil-Leh road had been captured completely. On July 4, when Nawaz Sharif was being told by Clinton to restore the sanctity of the LoC, the army had recaptured Tiger Hill from the intruders using the strategy mentioned earlier. By this time, almost 80 per cent of the intrusions had been vacated. By July 8, the army shifted its weight of attack to Batalik and recaptured major vantage points along the Jubar Heights in the Batalik sector. With this, the threat to turning the flank of Siachen and cutting off of Leh had been removed. By now, there was panic among the Pakistanis.

When the DGMOs of the two sides met at Wagah on July 11, to discuss the modalities of withdrawal by the Pakistanis, over 95 per cent of the area had been cleared of the intruders due to relentless military action against the intruders. Some pockets of intrusions remained in Mushkoh Valley and in the Kaksar areas, which were finally vacated by the third week of July. Thereafter, the army commenced executing phase three of the plan, that is, consolidation of the recaptured areas and restoring the sanctity of the LoC. On July 14, the prime minister declared Operation Vijay a grand success.


The Learning Curve

Kargil has revealed many chinks in our armour. Do we intend to learn from history? Our history is replete with examples of our having failed to learn from our failures and debacles. Whether it was the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 or the Indo-Pak War of 1965 or even the intelligence failure in Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka in 1987, we ignored the lessons which were to be learnt from these episodes. George Bernard Shaw once stated, “Alas! Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that men never learn from history.” Perhaps, the time is ripe for learning from our past mistakes and disproving the cynics. The need for evolving a national security doctrine was never stronger than it is now. The NSC (National Security Council) was formed on November 20, 1998, but it is yet to carry out a strategic defence review or evolve either a national security strategy or a doctrine. The first step towards evolving a doctrine and a strategy would be a clear and unambiguous statement of our national security objectives. The military strategy would be only a smaller but significant portion of our over-all national security strategy and will flow out from our national objectives. It seems that during the entire Kargil affair, the NSC was unable to perform adequately the expected role for which it has been tasked. The failure of our surveillance and intelligence machinery is so monumental that if we do not learn from it and do not revamp our intelligence structures, it will amount to committing treason. 17  

The other flaw in our outlook on defence matters which, we have been attempting to rectify, is the integration of the MoD (Ministry of Defence) with our Services Headquarters. This is a situation unique to our country—the only one where this dysfunctional anomaly exists. The need to integrate the MoD with Services Headquarters has been widely accepted but attempts by our defence minister to achieve this integration are yet to succeed. He had imparted impetus to the exercise of integration with the MoD in the month of January 1999 but these efforts have petered out, largely because of bureaucratic obstacles. It is believed that the DGDPS (Director General of Defence Planning Staff) had presented a paper on this issue. There are any number of reports and recommendations already in existence, which could have formed the basis for restructuring and integration. The Arun Singh Committee Report of 1991 was one such model which could have been chosen for implementation. 18  

So what happens in the absence of suitable higher defence organisations and structure? It reflects on the preparedness of our defence forces to meet any assault on our sovereignty. There is a lack of long-term perspective in building the capabilities of our armed forces. Even though we have five-year defence plans, our actual implementation of defence budgets is on an annual basis. The ninth five-year defence plan which was approved in principle last year, after having been successively downsized by the MoD and MoF (Ministry of Finance), is yet to be sanctioned. The earlier five-year plans met with varying fates.

In the era of the Nineties, the successive downsizing of the demands of the defence services by the MoD and MoF was to the tune of 20 to 22 per cent of the original demands. The cuts of such magnitudes were neither justified nor discussed by either the MoF or MoD with Services HQs. This resulted in the defence services losing out almost one defence budget every four to five years. This, in turn, resulted in deficiencies of ammunition, war-wastage reserves and stocks. The mission reliability of equipment and armaments was also affected. The lack of funds also restricted training for war. The programmes for modernisation and upgradation undertaken in the late Eighties were inexorably delayed.

As a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the defence expenditure has dwindled as of now to 2.31 per cent as compared to 3.59 per cent in 1987. This translated into a significant decline in the then favourable force ratio of 2:1 against Pakistan. This had a negative impact on our armed forces’ state of training and readiness. Gen. Pervez Musharraf had made a statement to the effect that the conventional edge of the Indian Army had eroded because of its pre-occupation with Pak-inspired insurgency and various other factors like constraints of the economy. That is, perhaps, why he was not deterred from marching into Kargil.

If we have to acquire war-prevention capabilities, we need to restore the conventional edge in favour of our defence forces. The nuclear factor in the subcontinent also dictates that we build up strong conventional defence capabilities so that the nuclear threshold is not crossed in an earlier time-frame. 19   The implementation of plans for modernisation and upgradation can no longer be delayed. There is also requirement to fill up the voids in our armaments, stores, and war-like materials, spares, equipment and ammunition that have been created over a number of years. This will require stepping up our defence expenditure to approximately 3.5 per cent over the next two five-year plans which would release adequate funds to fill up existing voids and for sustained development of our defence capabilities. 20  

We also need to look at the methods and procedures of apportioning of the defence budget to the three services. The budget to each service is allotted based on past precedents and some historical and mathematical ratios without taking a holistic view. There is a complete absence of joint defence planning. There is no mechanism to decide whether procurement of a flight of Sukhois or purchase of a naval frigate or a squadron of armed attack helicopters or a squadron of tanks would give us the required military utility or combat value effectiveness in consonance with our overall military strategy. The post-Kargil purchases of equipment need to be tempered with our objectives of getting the maximum “rumble for the rupee”.

It is quite evident that we have to introduce the RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs) technologies to improve the cutting edge of our armed forces. Whether it is the state-of-the-art battlefield surveillance systems, ground and air based sensors or long-range precision weapons, night-vision devices, air-mounted radars or satellite surveillance and communication systems—all these armaments and equipment would give a tremendous force-multiplier effect to our forces. Some of these would be capital-intensive initially, but would pay back over a longer period because of requirement of lower manning-levels and the resultant savings on manpower costs. Further, these technologies would help us in reducing the “fog, friction and chance” in future wars.

In this era of information-age knowledge-based warfare, jointmanship between the three services is also becoming an essential factor for success in war. 21   The elements of jointmanship were seen in the joint army and air force effort in vacating the aggression in Kargil. However, we are yet to evolve a joint doctrine or joint structures for prosecution of wars and conflicts, which are becoming increasingly complex to handle. 22   The phenomenon of each service having its own singular perception on prosecution of war is not unique to India. Such differences in the perceptions of each service exist in countries like the USA and UK also. After its failures in the Vietnam War, Iran and Haiti, the USA introduced legislation, that is, the GNA (Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986) for unification of the armed forces of the USA. We already have some recommendations of the Arun Singh Committee, which deal with the concepts of joint and integrated structures in the armed forces. We need to introduce legislation on the lines of the GNA to force the issue.

Within the army itself greater attention needs to be paid to modernisation of the infantry on priority basis. The border manning and internal security duties need to be handed over to the paramilitary forces. This may require augmentation and modernisation of paramilitary forces. The long-range precision strike power of the artillery needs to be enhanced to give deterrent punishment to the enemy in case “many more Kargils” are launched. If future wars are going to be limited in scope, duration and depth, with inhibitions on escalation, then we also need to have a re-look at the structuring of our deep battle assets in terms of armoured and mechanised formations, without, in any way, diminishing their combat capabilities. 23   Also, the ratio of information assets to ordnance assets within the Indian Army is one of the lowest among the armed forces of the world. While in the USA this ratio is 1:4, and in the UK it is 1:8, in our armed forces it is less than 1:20. What it means is that we have a preponderance of weapon platforms but do not have matching capabilities in surveillance and target acquisition assets like satellites, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), gun locating radars. For instance, we have Prithvi missiles, long-range guns and multi-barrel rocket launchers but do not have information assets to exploit their full potential and combat capabilities. To optimise defence expenditure, a trade-off between the two, as an interim measure, is warranted.

It is also quite evident that the long-delayed modernisation and upgradation plans of the air force and navy need to be imparted an impetus. Both the strategic and tactical components of the air force need to be strengthened. The future wars would not only be fought on land, air, sea and in the electro-magnetic spectrum but also along information highways and information fronts. However, in the subcontinent, like in the past, the future wars would continue to be dominated by land warfare. Concepts of victory through air or sea a la the Gulf War of 1991 and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) air strikes on Kosovo, do hold some lessons for us, but in the subcontinental context, it would be a joint air land campaign, possibly supported by the navy, which would win us the next Kargil-like war.



Militarily, politically and diplomatically, Operation Vijay was a grand success. The images filtering across TV screens showed the grit and resolve of our soldiers in meeting the challenge to the security of the nation on the icy and steep heights of Kargil. The sacrifices of our jawans united the entire nation. This, in turn, boosted the morale of our troops further. The restrained behaviour of India, in spite of grave provocation from Pakistan, conveyed to the international community that India was a mature and responsible nuclear power. The military successes in the recapturing of Tololing Heights and Tiger Hills turned the tide in favour of India and hastened the process of withdrawal of the intruders. The forcible withdrawal of the intruders, largely due to the Indian military pressure and good diplomatic spadework, has caused embarrassment to the Pakistani politico-military establishment. Thus, we have been promised many more Kargils. And if we want to avoid more Kargils and if we want to truly respect the sacrifice of our martyrs, we have to learn from the lessons of Kargil. Without doubt, Kargil is a wake-up call for our political-military establishment and intellectual elite. There are larger questions of how to deal with the state of Pakistan but one thing which is certain is that we cannot ignore the long-term sustained development of the capabilities of our armed forces.

Remember that Mohammed Ghauri attacked Prithviraj 17 times before he achieved success. And the Pakistani nation claims to be the inheritor of the traditions of Ghauri and Ghaznavi. If we do not learn from the lessons of history, we will be condemned to repeat it.



*: Senior Fellow, The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).  Back.

Note 1: See Prem Shankar Jha, “Grim Truth About Kargil”, Outlook, June 21, 1999, p. 10. Back.

Note 2: Defence Minister, George Fernandes’ interview to Sunday, June 13-19, 1999, pp. 12-13. Back.

Note 3: Ibid., p. 24. Back.

Note 4: Rashid Ahmed, Sunday, June 19, 1999, p. 24. Back.

Note 5: The conversation between Gen. Musharraf and Gen. Aziz Khan, tapes of which were released, revealed the entire game plan of the Pakistani establishment. Also see Parveen Swami, “A Long Haul Ahead,” Frontline, July 2, pp. 11-13. Back.

Note 6: Ibid. Back.

Note 7: Lt. Gen. Aziz Khan said, “The reason for success of this operation was this total secrecy. Our experience was that our earlier efforts failed because of lack of secrecy. So, the top priority is to accord confidentiality, to ensure our success.” Back.

Note 8: For confirmation of participation by the Northern Light Infantry, seek Ikram Sehgal, The Nation, July 31, 1999. Also see Ghulam Hasnain, “Under Cover of Night”, Time magazine, July 12, 1999. Back.

Note 9: See Indian Army website on internet, http://www. Back.

Note 10: Also see Inder Malhotra, “Pak Perfidy”, Sunday, June 26, 1999, pp. 16-17. Back.

Note 11: Additional details of units and formations which were moved, were given out by Lt. Gen. Krishna Pal, GOC 15 Corps, during a Press briefing. See Times of India, July 23, 1999. Back.

Note 12: For additional understanding of the concept of the LoC, see Lt. Gen. (Retd.) V.R. Raghavan, “The True Line to Defend,” The Hindu, July 30, 1999. Also See Maj. Gen. Ashok K. Mehta, “Why India Should not Cross the LoC,” Sunday, July 4-10, 1999, pp. 24-25. Back.

Note 13: See Manoj Joshi, “Now Hyper War,” India Today, May 10, 1999. Also see “Army Seeks Ultimate Man-Machine Balance,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 5, 1999, and allusion to revision of the army doctrine to that of limited engagement. Back.

Note 14: See Vinod Anand, “Warfare in Transition and Indian Subcontinent”, Strategic Analysis, vol. XXIII, no. 5, August 1999. Post-1971, the absence of large-scale war in the subcontinent has been largely attributed to the nuclear factor, especially since 1987. Also see Vice Admiral Raja Menon, “The Nuclear Calculus”, Outlook, July 26, 1999. This explains how Pakistan may have miscalculated the nuclear calculus in the absence of a clearly articulated and transparent nuclear strategy of India. Back.

Note 15: For capabilities of the Mirage-2000, see AVM (Retd.) Narendra Gupta, “Air Power at Work,” Frontline, July 16, 1999. Back.

Note 16: See Asian Age, July 26, 1999. Back.

Note 17: A detailed account of successes and failures of intelligence has been given by Ranjit Bhushan in “Given a Raw deal”, Outlook, June 21, 1999, pp. 30-31. Also see Manoj Joshi. “Intelligence Failure,” India Today, June 14, 1999. Back.

Note 18: On the need for evolving joint and integrated intelligence structures, see Vinod Anand, “Achieving Synergies in Defence”, Strategic Analysis, vol. XXXII, no. 10, January 1999, pp. 1506-1507. Back.

Note 19: See Vinod Anand, “Minimum Deterrence”, The Pioneer, July 13, 1999. Back.

Note 20: Also see interview of Brajesh Mishra, national security adviser, appearing in Hindustan Times, July 8, 1999, where he states that “for ten years the defence budget has been curtailed and we will not allow this to happen again. We have also learnt that we should speak softly but carry a big stick.” Back.

Note 21: See Vice Admiral Raja Menon, “View to a Clean Kill”, Outlook, June 7, 1999. For reasons of the delay in providing air support to the army, see interview of Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, India Today, July 26, 1999, p. 52. Back.

Note 22: See n. 18. Back.

Note 23: See Jaswant Singh, Defending India (Bangalore: Macmillan India, 1999) pp. 253-257. Here the author has argued that armour and mechanised formations have been preferred against the other kind of formations. The bias in favour of mechanisation needs to have a relook. The spending on armour and plains infantry, together, accounts for just over half (50.45 percent) of the entire defence allocation in 1997 and is 4.5 times that on mountain divisions. Back.