IAF was not allowed to be used in an offensive role

As the 50th anniversary of India’s defeat in the war at the hands of China approaches, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne said here on Friday that the outcome of the 1962 war would have been different had the IAF been allowed in an offensive role.

Referring to the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistani intruders, he said the conflict would have stretched to another three months had the IAF not been used. He was replying to a question at a press conference if the outcome of India-China 1962 war would have been different had air power been used in an offensive role.

The IAF chief said that air force was not allowed to be used in an offensive role and it was confined only to provide transportation to the Army. “These are open and glaring lessons we should have imbibed,” he added.

“I can assure you there will be no such limitation. The IAF will play a leading role in not just against that or any other sector but anywhere whenever the need arises,” Air Chief Marshal Browne said. Last month, the Army Chief General Bikram Singh also said that the Army would effectively counter any transgression into India’s borders anywhere.

Military historians and experts have held diverse views on India’s handling of the 1962 war and have debated the issue if offensive use of air power would have made the difference, without bringing any sharp clarity to the still-debated issue.

The former Air Vice Marshal A.K. Tewary was of the view that India could have defeated China in the 1962 war had its air force been used.

He claimed that the then political-bureaucratic combine sought the U.S. Air Force's help and did not even consult the IAF leadership. “In the final analysis, the use of combat air power would have turned the tables on the Chinese and the 1962 war could well have been a debacle for China,” Air Vice-Marshal Tewary had said in an article in the Indian Defence Review.

Quoting top military and bureaucratic leadership of that time, he said the “costly and catastrophic omission” of not using the IAF was a result of several factors that “impinged on the decision-making process at the highest level,” including the “influence” on Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, of Prof. P. M. S. Blackett, the then Adviser for Defence , as well as the counsel of then U.S. Ambassador John K Galbraith who “over-estimated the capability of the Chinese air force in the absence of proper air defence infrastructure in India.’’

Another factor was the analysis of then Director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB) B. N. Mullick, a close confidant of Pandit Nehru, that Chinese bombers would bomb Indian cities in response to the use if IAF's combat jets, he said. He said the then Army commander responsible for North Eastern Frontier Area (NEFA) Lt. Gen. B. M. Kaul, had conceded in his book that “we made a great mistake in not employing our air force in a close support role during these operations.”

He said both the Army and the IAF were focussing on the north-eastern sector to upgrade the infrastructure there. He said that six new C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft would be deployed in Panagarh in West Bengal to take care of the Eastern sector and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands territory.

Two squadrons each of the frontline Su-30 aircraft and the yet-to-be-procured French Rafale fighters would also be deployed. The IAF chief said the government also cleared a project worth Rs 1,750 crore to upgrade the Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) and helipads in the north-east but the work had slowed down due to several reasons.

Pointing out that IAF would have been 75 per cent modernised in respect to the fleet, radars, air fields and missile and weapons systems by 2022 , the IAF Chief said that four more squadrons of Su-30 MKI fighter would be raised in the near future even as the tenth unit of the fighter aircraft was being inducted in Punjab, near the border with Pakistan.

“By this December, and early next year, we will be inducting a new Su-30 squadron, based in Punjab. That will be the tenth squadron of Su-30 and the process will continue for at least six months from January to June,” he said.

To a question on refusal of an Air Force pilot to fly the Congress MP Rahul Gandhi during his visit to Assam last month, Air Chief Marshal Browne praised the helicopter pilot, stressing that safety of the Congress leader was more important than anything else.

He said the air force will not break any rule to achieve its target but would always keep in mind the safety of occupant, pilot and the crew. “I am very proud of the pilot who refused to fly Mr. Rahul Gandhi, because it is not the question of allowing or refusing. It is the question of doing it right,” he pointed out. The IAF helicopter pilot had refused to fly to Guwahati from Kokrajhar due to bad weather.

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