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Remember Kargil

Issue: 06-2009By Air Marshal (Retd) N. Menon, Bangalore

Foremost was the critical need to integrate higher military management. That has NOT YET happened.

Celebrated as Kargil Diwas, July 26 this year marks the 10th anniversary of India’s last military clash with the country’s western neighbour. To people like me, who had a grandstand view, Kargil operations will continue to be a saga of heroism by India’s foot soldiers and air warriors. The jawans and young officers of the Indian Army will recall the harsh and unforgiving environment in which they fought hand-to-hand with an entrenched enemy, losing many of their team members. The air warriors will remember the rarefied atmosphere in which they manoeuvred their aircraft, with precision and skill, to strike at fortified enemy positions, while Stinger missiles flashed past. And many senior officers will recollect the difficulties in planning and co-ordinating joint operations in unfamiliar terrain with sparse intelligence inputs.

India’s politicians and decision-makers, mired in the perplexing maze of caste and religion-based vote politics, very often seem apologetic and embarrassed about the country’s military victories. Kargil Diwas will see the usual bureaucratically ritualised functions and, perhaps, only the military will celebrate the occasion with a sense of pride. Kargil and its aftermath provided India with an opportunity to clean up its muddled security environment and create a more secure and safer country. But we procrastinated till the terror attack on Mumbai. Now, the government has woken up and efforts are on to tighten our porous and perforated security envelope.

In the area of military modernisation, progress has been sporadic and the gap between India and its likely adversaries has widened. China has pulled away, with a focussed approach to capability creation and power projection. Pakistan, by a series of deft diplomatic moves, has become the beneficiary of military largesse, both from China and the US. The post-Kargil recommendations of the Group of Ministers has not yet been fully implemented, due to differences between the army, navy and air force, and the unwillingness of the political class to enact necessary and binding legislation. Each service charts its own course, and a ‘grand plan’ is yet to be enunciated. Budgetary allocations are made in purely bureaucratic manner based on ‘precedent’, and not necessarily in consonance with national security imperatives. Weapon acquisition is individual service based and inter-operability considerations are not accorded priority. One of the most important lessons of Kargil was the critical need for integration of higher military management and mission-based capability creation. That has not yet happened.

Communications is yet another area of concern. I still remember the difficulty we had in communicating with our army counterparts in Corps HQ, though both were based in Srinagar. Today, the army and the air force are creating their own operational communication networks with interfaces to plug into each other’s network. Whether these will work in a Net-centric warfare environment remains unknown. A Defence Communication Network had been planned, but remains incomplete. Intelligence sharing also has to be an ongoing affair, and joint planning for exercises and operations must become the norm.