SP Guide Publications puts forth a well compiled articulation of issues, pursuits and accomplishments of the Indian Army, over the years

— General Manoj Pande, Indian Army Chief

I am confident that SP Guide Publications would continue to inform, inspire and influence.

— Admiral R. Hari Kumar, Indian Navy Chief

My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.

— Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Indian Air Force Chief

Book Review - An Icon Unveiled

Issue: 05-2009By Air Marshal (Retd) V.K. Bhatia

The Icon—An Authorised Biography of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, DFC; by Air Commodore Jasjit Singh AVSM, VrC, VM (Retd); published by KW Publishers Pvt Ltd in association with Centre for Air Power Studies (New Delhi); price: Rs 880/$25

A village boy’s fascination for flying transported him not only to the pinnacle of his profession as an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot, but also bequeathed him the title of a living legend. The Icon, however, captures not just the journey of a man who has, literally, been the icon of the air force, but also the history of a family called the IAF. Brilliantly written by Air Commodore (Retd) Jasjit Singh in his now trademark fluent style, The Icon is an authorised biography of Arjan Singh who joined the IAF as a teenager, at the time of World War II, and rose to be the sole Marshal of the Indian Air Force—the highest military rank attainable which prior to him only two Indian Army Chiefs, K.M. Cariappa and Sam Manekshaw, had achieved.

The Icon also helps put the records straight in matters pertaining to the 1962 and 1965 wars India fought with China and Pakistan, respectively. Arjan Singh participated in all the wars fought by the Royal Indian Air Force (later IAF), from Waziristan in NWFP, all through to the 1965 Indo-Pak War, which he led from the top as Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). Showcasing his exceptional professional, leadership and humane qualities, one of the numerous instances documented in the book reads: A classic example was of retrieving Ghulam Ali—the tail gunner of his disabled aircraft which he had crash-landed on a river bed in NWFP after being hit by the tribal’s bullets—and who, in a state of post crash disorientation was running in the opposite direction towards the hostile tribals. Even though injured himself, the athletic young flier was quickly able to catch up with Ali and bring him back to the safety of own troops.

A fearless pilot and bold commander, Arjan Singh’s exploits as the Commanding Officer of No. 1 Squadron in the defence of Imphal in 1944 against the Japanese were bestowed unprecedented recognition by Lord Mountbatton, Supreme Commander South East Asia and later the Viceroy, who personally pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on the young commander’s chest on the tarmac of Imphal airfield when it was still under siege. Post Independence, Arjan Singh’s career witnessed a meteoric rise, culminating in his appointment as the CAS just a few months before the 1965 war with Pakistan.

Later, Pakistan claimed it had won the air war, a view the official Indian history partly endorses. The book, however, categorically debunks this well-entrenched myth with hard facts and figures to show that the IAF outperformed the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in all vital parameters of warfare. The sore point was lack of joint planning, including lack of timely sharing of information which may have also resulted in inadequate awareness/sub-optimal preparedness in some of the field areas. If the IAF had not incurred more than half of its total losses in aircraft on the ground (35 out of the total of 59), attributable partly to lack of early warning but mostly due to inadequate dispersal and deception, besides carelessness and complacency at some of the air bases, the story would have been vastly different. Air Commodore (Retd) Singh is emphatic is his assertion that after the initial reversals due to aircraft losses on the ground, the Indians turned the tide of the air war with the PAF losing aircraft at nearly three times the rate of the IAF during the later stages of the war.

Honoured with the Padma Vibhushan, Arjan Singh also became the first Indian to be promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal. After retirement from the IAF when he was barely 50 years old, he continued to be called upon to render his services to the nation, both in the diplomatic and political arena. On January 26, 2002, he was conferred the ultimate distinction—Marshal of the Indian Air Force.