OUR INDIA-OUR PRIDE EVENTS
Kargil Vijay Diwas
Defence Operation in Kargil War
Indian Army Operations
The Indian Army detected the intrusions between May 3-12. From May 15 – 25, 1999, military operations were planned, troops moved to their attack locations, artillery and other equipment were moved in and the necessary equipment was purchased. Indian Army’s offensive named Operation Vijay was launched on May 26, 1999. Indian troops moved towards Pakistani occupied positions with air cover provided by aircraft and helicopters.
Operation Vijay in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir during the summer months of 1999 Was a joint Infantry-Artillery endeavor to evict regular Pakistani soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) who had intruded across the Line of Control (LoC) into Indian Territory and had occupied un-held high-altitude mountain peaks and ridgelines. It soon became clear that only massive and ustained firepower could destroy the intruders’ sangars and systematically break their will to fight through a process of attrition and, in the process, enable the gallant infantrymen to close in with and evict the intruders. Thus began a unique saga in the history of the employment of Artillery firepower in battle.
The Indian Artillery fired over 250,000 shells, bombs, and rockets during the Kargil conflict. Approximately, 5,000 Artillery shells, mortar bombs, and rockets were fired daily from 300 guns, mortars, and MBRLs. Such high rates of fire over long periods had not been witnessed anywhere in the world since the Second World War.
While the Army and the Air Force readied themselves for the battle on the heights of Kargil, Indian Navy began to draw out its plans. Unlike the earlier wars with Pakistan, this time the bringing in of the Navy at the early stages of the conflict served to hasten the end of the conflict in India’s favor. In drawing up its strategy, the Navy was clear that a reply to the Pakistani misadventure had to be two-pronged. While ensuring safety and security of Indian maritime assets from a possible surprise attack by Pakistan, the Indian imperative was that all efforts must be made to deter Pakistan from escalating the conflict into a full scale war. Thus, the Indian Navy was put on a full alert from May 20 onwards, a few days prior to the launch of the Indian retaliatory offensive. Naval and Coast Guard aircraft were put on a continuous surveillance and the units readied up for meeting any challenge at sea.
Time had now come to put pressure on Pakistan, to ensure that the right message went down to the masterminds in that country. Strike elements from the Eastern Fleet were sailed from Visakhapatnam on the East Coast to take part in a major naval exercise called ‘SUMMEREX’ in the North Arabian Sea. This was envisaged as the largest ever amassing of naval ships in the region. The message had been driven home. Pakistan Navy, in a defensive mood, directed all its units to keep clear of Indian naval ships. As the exercise shifted closer to the Makaran Coast, Pakistan moved all its major combatants out of Karachi. It also shifted its focus to escorting its oil trade from the Gulf in anticipation of attacks by Indian ships.
As the retaliation from the Indian Army and the Air Force gathered momentum and a defeat to Pakistan seemed a close possibility, an outbreak of hostilities became imminent. Thus the naval focus now shifted to the Gulf of Oman. Rapid reaction missile carrying units and ships from the fleet was deployed in the North Arabian Sea for carrying out missile firing, anti-submarine and electronic warfare exercises. In the absence of the only aircraft carrier, Sea Harrier operations from merchant ships were proven. The Navy also readied itself for implementing a blockade of the Pakistani ports, should the need arise. In addition, Naval amphibious forces from the Andaman group of islands were moved to the western sea-board.
In a skillful use of naval power in the form of ‘Operation Talwar’, the ‘Eastern Fleet’ joined the ‘Western Naval Fleet’ and blocked the Arabian sea routes of Pakistan. Apart from a deterrent, the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief later disclosed that Pakistan was left with just six days of fuel (POL) to sustain itself if a full-fledged war broke out.
From May 11 to May 25, ground troops supported by the Air Force tried to contain the threat, assessed the enemy dispositions and carried out various preparatory actions. Entry of the Air Force into combat action on May 26 represented a paradigm shift in the nature and prognosis of the conflict. In operation Safed Sagar, the Air Force carried out nearly 5,000 sorties of all types over 50-odd days of operations.
The Western Air Command conducted the three-week-long exercise Trishul three weeks before Kargil. During Trishul, the IAF flew 5,000 sorties with 300 aircraft using 35,000 personnel and engaged targets at high elevation in the Himalayas. The IAF claimed to have flown 550 sorties in Kargil, though just about 80 were on or close to the target. Soon after Kargil, both the commander-in-chief and senior air staff officer of the Western Air Command were mysteriously transferred to the Central and Eastern commands.
Operations in this terrain required special training and tactics. It was soon realised that greater skills and training were needed to attack the very small/miniature targets extant, often not visible to the naked eye.
The shoulder-fired missile threat was omnipresent and there were no doubts about this. An IAF Canberra recce aircraft was damaged by a Pakistani Stinger fired possibly from across the LoC. On the second and third day of the operations, still in the learning curve, the IAF lost one MiG- 21 fighter and one Mi-17 helicopter to shoulder-fired missiles by the enemy. In addition, one MiG-27 was lost on the second day due to engine failure just after the pilot had carried out successful attacks on one of the enemy’s main supply dumps. These events only went to reinforce the tactics of the IAF in carrying out attacks from outside the Stinger SAM envelope and avoiding the use of helicopters for attack purposes. Attack helicopters have a certain utility in operations under relatively benign conditions but are extremely vulnerable in an intense battlefield. The fact that the enemy fired more than 100 shoulder-fired SAMs against IAF aircraft indicates not only the great intensity of the enemy air defences in the area but also the success of IAF tactics, especially after the first three days of the war during which not a single aircraft received even a scratch. To obviate the threat from SAMs, bombing was done accurately from 30,000 feet above sea level or about 10,000 feet above the terrain. In these high level attacks, the infantryman does not see his own fighters and, therefore, feels that air support is not there. It is estimated that in operation Vijay, about 700 intruders were killed by air action alone. The IAF has intercepted a number of enemy wireless transmissions indicating the effectiveness of IAF attacks.
Pakistan Air Force fighters were picked up on the airborne radar of our fighters but the PAF planes did not cross to the Indian side of the LoC. Nevertheless, as a precaution, IAF, strike aircraft were accompanied by fighter escorts. After all, in the recent past, no war has been won without control of the airspace in which operations are conducted.