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Use of Air Force would have changed the outcome of 1962 war, says Air Chief

Vinay Kumar
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IAF was not allowed to be used in an offensive role

Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne.
Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne.

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 over the weekend that the outcome of the 1962 war would have been different had the Indian Air Force 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 the India-China 1962 war would have been different had air power been used in an offensive role.

The Air Chief said that the Air Force was not allowed to be used in an offensive role and it was confined only to providing 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, had 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.

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 the then U.S. Ambassador John Kenneth 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 the 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 of 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 focusing on the north-eastern sector to upgrade the infrastructure there. He said six new C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft would be deployed at Panagarh in West Bengal to take care of the Eastern sector and the Andaman & 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 northeast but the work had slowed down due to several reasons.

Pointing out that the IAF would have been 75 per cent modernised in respect of fleet, radars, air fields and missile and weapons systems by 2022, the IAF Chief said 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.

The Air Chief said more Sukhoi squadrons would be deployed in Eastern and Southern sectors as well. Setting speculation to rest, he said the process to get Medium-Multi Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) from France was “well on track” and would reach a decisive stage before the end of current financial year.

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 said: “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.” The IAF helicopter pilot had refused to fly to Guwahati from Kokrajhar due to bad weather.


  • Political-bureaucratic combine did not even consult the IAF leadership

  • Army and the IAF focussing on the north-eastern sector


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