Wednesday, 25 July 2012

KARGIL WAR – AN OVERVIEW by Lt Gen Chandra Shekhar (PVSM AVSM)

The Kargil ingress by Pakistan occurred in the first week of May 1999, shortly after the February 1999 Lahore-Agreement between Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif. This happened at a time when the tensions between the two neighbours were believed to have de-escalated and mutual relations were on the upswing. Imagine the surprise and sense of dismay in India, when the intrusions were detected during the second week of May 1999. The overall political environment, the nuclear capability demonstrated in 1998 and the improved military situation in Jammu & Kashmir did not justify the development. There is no doubt that the nation was taken by total surprise and the Army and civilian intelligence agencies did not anticipate it.

Much has been written on the Kargil War by experts on both sides– its political and strategic objectives, the conduct of military operations, the nuclear angle, the excessive number of casualties, and the diplomatic and media efforts. However the difficulties in handling the conflict, the ground realities and the higher direction of war, have not been sufficiently examined. Without going into the specific ground operations, which have already been covered in a number of books published on the subject, I believe it is necessary to explain the actual situation as it was in the area of Kargil at that time, and the larger context of the regional environment. Having been closely associated in the entire operational planning of the Kargil conflict, as the then Vice-Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) of the Army, I believe it is also useful to share my knowledge and perception of the follow-up measures undertaken during and after the Kargil War, and our response to restore the situation.

Most of the public coverage during that time focused on the government’s alleged complacency, the criticism of the Lahore venture in hindsight, and a limited understanding of the Kargil intrusion purely as a huge intelligence failure. I believe that the widespread acceptance of such a one-sided perception led to not just national embarrassment, but also contributed to the continuance of avoidable conflict and to our ultimate loss of 527 killed and 1363 soldiers wounded in the battle.

The True Scenario
It is correct to an extent, that the Army had in a certain measure failed to read the events correctly. The absence of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) on a foreign visit in the initial period also added to the perception that the Army and Government were taking matters lightly. I can state unequivocally that this was not so. As the VCOAS during this period, I was well aware that it was the overall geo-political environment and lack of intelligence that took everyone by surprise - rather than any lack of effort or planning. We in the Army HQ, once the initial assessment of the situation was made, were totally involved day and night in planning the operations to evict the infiltrators.

The criticism that the Army was slow to react was also unreasonable, and very far from the truth. I have corrected this perception repeatedly in public fora, as in the HT Report attached at the end of this paper. There were even absurd allegations made in some quarters that the Army had kept the Ministry in the dark. The fact that such allegations came forth - despite the regular personal interactions with the MoD at the senior level and despite the Army reporting the situation on a daily basis, as is the practice, and also declaring in-the-situation reports that some of its soldiers were wounded in the patrol clash in the sector - was not just surprising to us but also very disheartening. It must be understood that the Army has to depend on the other Intelligence Agencies for information other than tactical information, and it does not have any resources or authority to deploy the other Intelligence Agencies. In the initial days of the incursions, in the absence of any information from any of the agencies who have the responsibility and the duty to provide such intelligence, the Army itself had no clear picture of the situation. It therefore assessed such information as it did obtain through its own observation, as a case of routine infiltration. It was not, either at that time or later, appreciated by most of our nation that the Armed Forces, particularly the Army was responding as best as they could in a situation that was not a planned military operation but a reactive response to the ingress in the unoccupied gaps of our territory.

As soon as we became aware of the nature of the infiltration, we at Army HQ, along with HQ Northern Command, were simultaneously engaged in doing the best possible to obtain detailed information about the enemy, and in speedily building up additional resources from other sectors. This was notwithstanding the handicaps that the Army faced due to the surprise-factor achieved by the enemy, and the fact that logistics in the mountains are complex and take considerable time and effort. The issues were many, ranging from a total lack of intelligence about the enemy, to the slow progress in launching operations due to poor infrastructure and the difficult terrain, problems in mobilization of forces, and the disinformation due to the Pakistani war propaganda.

The reasons that the Army could not itself detect the specific extent of the infiltration initially, was primarily due to the extremely inhospitable terrain along the LoC (at an average height of 12000 feet) and the extreme weather conditions. The enemy had planned its move well, and made good use of adverse weather conditions and the winter months for the intrusion. The area is large with very wide gaps in the Mashko-Dras and the Batalik–Kargil sectors, many of which have been traditionally un-held. The effective patrolling of such a terrain was, and is, difficult. Patrolling was therefore, selectively carried-out and limited during the sub-zero temperatures in winter. Since the gaps were large, there was inadequate ground observation or contact. The monthly Army Aviation helicopter sorties flew only when the weather was clear and followed predictable routes, operating more as communication flights, and did not locate any unusual activities.

The air-photographs of the ingress could be obtained only by 14 May 1999 through the Aviation Research Centre (ARC) as the IAF aircraft earmarked for such missions had developed some technical problems. The satellite imagery provided did not have the requisite resolution to pick up any details of enemy positions. The Army thus lacked support of technical intelligence, such as satellite-imagery, night–vision devices or even air photographs taken periodically to detect any deployment or additional infrastructure development. Some would question the Army’s wisdom in keeping such large gaps as blind spots without any means for their surveillance and creating any military capability for any intervention or reactive response in this area in all the years since 1948.

I will only say that the Armed Forces of India perform the best that they can with the means that they have at hand; there are certain decisions that the civilian leadership takes on behalf of, and sometimes despite the advice of the Armed Forces. That the Armed Forces continue to discharge their duties within these constraints should be seen as even greater proof of their ability and restraint rather than otherwise. The Kargil conflict, notwithstanding the initial surprise, demonstrated the traditional Indian national resolve to hold onto and fight for what is rightfully ours, whatever the cost. This was also demonstrated in the earlier Indo-Pak wars. It seems to me that as a nation we still do not sufficiently appreciate the conditions under which the Armed Forces operate, or the fact that they are human beings operating for the most part under extremely adverse conditions, or that we should be aiding their efforts through timely and prompt access to such technology as can help them in such adverse conditions.

I have a fairly intimate understanding of the terrain and deployments, and first-hand knowledge of the challenges that deployment in such a terrain entails. I spent a number of years in this sector, at different stages of my long service in the Indian Army. My very first posting after being commissioned as a young officer was with my battalion (2/4 GR) in the Kargil sector, and then as a sub-unit commander in an adjoining sector in Ladakh. From my experience in dealing with the manifold issues in surveying and defending the LoC in J &K as a Brigade Commander in 1984-5, and later as the Chief of Staff of the HQ 15 Corps in 1991-93, I was more than aware of the larger constraints of the defence of this region. I had also been in the area during the actual conflict in May 1999 and discussed the situation on the ground with the concerned formation commanders, Major Generals V. S. Budhwar and Mohinder Puri.

The Impact of Political Decisions 
The Indian political leadership has of course always displayed total confidence in its Armed Forces and institutions. Even when the international opinion was not favourable during the initial stages of the Kargil War, it gave directions to the Armed Forces to evict the intruders without enlarging the conflict elsewhere. This policy of restraint to keep the conflict localized may have been appreciated by international powers, but has been a major disadvantage in the actual conduct of operations. India has adopted a similar policy of restraint even in the earlier wars, and during the recent Mumbai attacks. In fact, the restriction of not crossing the LoC has no military logic, when the adversary has already violated the borders.

What is also little appreciated is that we had no troops to react with in the area of intrusion, or any reserves with the local Brigade, the reason being that all its Units were already deployed on other parts of the LoC. The only troops available in J&K were already committed in the ongoing Counter Insurgency (CI) operations down below in the Valley, across the Zojila pass. The pass is snowbound and closed from October to May for any movement. All the available troops in J&K had to be dis-engaged, moved over a distance of 150 kilometers, and had to undergo a minimum acclimatization period of seven days, before being launched for the operations in the high-altitude sector. The Artillery units had to move from the plains sector along with ammunition. The logistics support needed, had to be built-up.

It must be conceded that the Army also failed to read the few isolated indicators that did come. There were unconfirmed reports from some sources of fresh-road construction across the LoC on the Gultari–Shakma axis, opposite the Kargil Sector. This information was interpreted as routine improvement works. There were reports of induction of long-range artillery guns, apart from the ongoing medium artillery shelling of the Kargil-Dras road. The artillery fire was seen by us as reactive retaliatory fire to our interdiction of the road in the Neelam valley which we had undertaken to disrupt the winter stocking convoys in the POK.

However, these reports came in piecemeal, as isolated events, and at different times. As the VCOAS, I would have been apprised by the DGMI, of any unusual activity and of any important developments or reports, if these had been noticed. Infiltration in J&K has been occurring for a long time. After the initial ingress was detected, the ground commanders read the infiltration as routine, having seen it regularly for the past decade. The Army formations thus, at first considered this too as a case of the periodic infiltration regularly encountered over the past ten years and hence not a matter that could not be handled in the normal course. The IB and the RAW inputs also failed to project the likely Pakistan designs or ingress, notwithstanding some reports of improvement of tracks and defence-works.

One of the other reasons for the lack of an independent analysis in the Army and its dependence on a conditioned response may perhaps have been due to its total focus and long-term engagement on the insurgency in the Kashmir Valley. The Kargil sector on the other hand was considered comparatively a low threat area due to the majority of friendly Shia Muslims, who did not support the separatists. The extremely difficult terrain and friendly population were considered as a sufficient safeguard and the entire focus remained in the Valley and on the Siachin-Glacier. In fact even the reserve formations had been de-inducted earlier on for employment in the Valley. This lack of deployment, the fact that the Indian Army was stretched thin on internal CI responsibilities, and the large gaps traditionally un-held by us, were well exploited by the adversary to infiltrate forces in small groups throughout the winter to achieve total surprise. As a nation, we had also under-estimated Pakistan’s obsession with and its deep resentment against the success of the Indian Armed Forces in previous Wars. General Musharraf publicly accepted in his book In the Line of Fire that the Kargil operations were planned to take revenge for the 1971 War and the 1984 Indian action in the Siachin Glacier.

The Strategy Adopted
After the initial apparently slow response, the nation forcefully went about exposing Pakistan’s complicity in the Kargil ingress, and the involvement of its regular troops in the garb of irregulars. The correctness of the Indian stand was thereafter understood, nearly one month after the ingress. Armed forces were instructed to make all the necessary preparations for various contingencies but were to restrict operations within the Kargil sector. The IAF was directed to mount operations without crossing the Indian airspace. In fact, even the general mobilization for war was not ordered and severe tactical restrictions were placed on the Armed Forces by not crossing the border or developing operations elsewhere due to strategic considerations. The operations were not enlarged to the other sectors and limited to the area of ingress as per the Government’s directions, notwithstanding the severe tactical disadvantages and tremendous costs in men and material. I have outlined these clearly on earlier occasions, both in the print media as well as in discussions and seminars at various levels, as in the article I wrote in 2011 on the need for inter-service understanding and a higher defence management: 

It is with sadness and regret that I recollect the energy and time spent by the political leadership in debates for and against enlarging the conflict, the discussion on defense purchase scandals and scams in the procurement of military equipment, and the questions asked on the Government’s inability to combat insurgency in J&K and on Pakistan’s ability to internationalize the Kashmir issue - all at a time when so many of our soldiers were battling not just the enemy and adverse conditions but also a lack of adequate equipment, stores and battle gear. The emphasis on the part of the media and our political leaders should have been on ensuring that the urgent and desperate needs of our soldiers in conditions of War were met, by speeding up bureaucratic hurdles. Unfortunately this was not the case.

To make up the shortages, procurement of defence equipment was on paper put on fast track, but the fact that defence equipment takes time to procure was not realized by the successive governments. There were large-scale shortages of weapons and equipment with the units, as also in the artillery ammunition, night fighting capabilities and communications systems. Our procurement system failed to make up the shortages despite concluding 129 procurement contracts for stores worth Rupees 2175 crore, on emergent basis. It needs to be understood that defence equipment is not available off the-counter, from a grocery store or a market. It needs time for assembly, testing and training by troops. Defense preparedness has to be done over a period of time as a regular process and has to be given adequate funding. The Indian defence budget at 2.5% is not only low but remains under-utilized due to procedural delays. The Mumbai attacks have again highlighted the institutional and intelligence weaknesses that continue to exist in our system.

Long Term Implications
Such recurrent reluctance in important matters of national security bring into question our political resolve and our lack of decisive capability. The Kargil Committee Report, after the operations were concluded became an issue of ‘mud-slinging’ and politics, rather than correcting the inadequacies in the planning and direction of war. Although a number of recommendations were implemented, a few key important ones, such as the creation of the CDS, integration of the Armed Forces HQ with the MoD and greater delegation of the defence budget to the users have still been held back, more than a decade after Kargil. Even today, the modernization programme continues to suffer due to lack of political resolve and institutional weaknesses. The funds earmarked remain unutilized due to lack of decision making and are surrendered, thus adversely affecting our military capability. We still do not have an institution to render single point advice and military assessment to the Government.

Military strategy cannot be planned in a political vacuum. A clear directive regarding political intentions and objectives must be given by the national leadership. In our system the Service HQs formulate their individual operational plans; these are factored for joint-ness by the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), discussed with the Raksha-Mantri (RM) and thereafter presented to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for approval. We do not have a Chief of Defence Staff [CDS] to render full-time military advice to the National Security Agency or to the CCS. The COSC is an ex-officio Committee, which operates when required in addition to their other primary tasks and cannot devote exclusive attention to the higher defence management, or to coordinate and monitor military operations on a regular basis. The three Service Chiefs meet in the COSC as equal partners and attempt consensus for agreement, which many times may not happen. The chairmanship goes to one of the Chiefs on protocol seniority, without any authority to decide on contentious issues or override dissent.

In the Kargil Conflict, as we know, the initial assessment was not correctly made due to lack of intelligence inputs since we did not – and still do not - have an integrated intelligence agency. We lost valuable time since a reasonable tactical picture emerged only after the Air photographs/ radio intercepts of the sector were made available to the Army. These were obtained by 14 May, whereas the patrol–clashes had occurred on the 5th May. The ingress had reportedly commenced in small groups, as early as January 1999, as revealed from the captured diary of a Pakistani officer after the war. There was no information of the enemy or the ground situation, to any of the intelligence agencies – military or civil. It is to the credit of the field formations, who were inducted hurriedly from all over the country, that once the gravity of the situation was discerned, they threw themselves in preparations to evict the enemy, with great effort and courage against great odds. Had there been timely information through technical sources or an independent intelligence coordination agency with an objective analysis at the highest level by the NSA/ CDS, we would not have had to react with such little preparation time, and we would not have had to lose so many fine Indian soldiers.

At the time of the Kargil War, the COSC did meet, and handled most of the issues with understanding and total cooperation and maturity but it functioned more as a briefing and information sharing meeting. The requests of the Army for employment of attack helicopters for quick retaliation on the enemy infiltrators in the initial detection were not agreed to by the IAF due to differing perceptions on their employment and the threat of shoulder-fired missiles of the intruders. The basic fact that we need quick reaction capability and information advantage over our adversary to respond appropriately was indeed realized - but was not exercised due to considerations of safety of the helicopters. Had we obtained the latest satellite-imagery, deployed unattended electronic sensors and night-vision devices in the area, we would have been forewarned and perhaps avoided the pain of loss of many gallant lives at Kargil.

The eviction of the intruders often entailed mounting frontal attacks through narrow ridges dominated by the enemy. In such a landscape, the neutralization of the enemy defence-works by our artillery achieved limited results due to the nature of the ground in the mountains. The employment of the IAF aircrafts with laser-guided munitions for ground–attacks, and the Bofors medium-caliber artillery contributed significantly in weakening the enemy’s resolve, and assisted the valiant attacks of the ground forces on these formidable heights. Although mountainous terrain does not lend to effective neutralization, nonetheless, as regularly reported in the media, there were a number of gallant attacks by our infantry units led by highly motivated young officers while evicting the enemy from their dominating position. There were many acts of heroism against great odds by the infantry units which are not being described here. The importance of physical fitness and the need for younger profile of the commanding officers in the infantry was felt for combat in battle. As always all the Indian Army units deployed for battle irrespective of their Arm or Service delivered their might fully and displayed acts of highest gallantry while re-taking or supporting the attacks on these formidable heights.

The Larger Picture 
The Kargil war was significant for the impact and influence of international opinion to both sides. Kargil news–stories and war-footage were often telecast live on Indian TV and many web-sites provided in depth analysis of the conflict. It was important to project the correctness of the Indian point of view, due to Pakistani attempts of denying involvement of its forces and linking the ingress to the Kashmiri freedom-fighters and even disputing the very alignment of the LoC. This was successfully done by releasing the original maps, officially delineated at the Shimla-Agreement, the details of the signal-intercepts implicating Pakistani senior commanders, exposing the captured Pakistani soldiers and the weaponry used by the so-called irregulars. This was achieved by the dynamic diplomatic efforts of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and by our efforts to highlight Indian restraint of limiting the conflict to the international community so effectively that even China, the all-weather ally of Pakistan, did not support or intervene in this conflict. Regular briefings of foreign diplomats in India jointly by the spoke-persons of the Army, IAF and MEA as also of the Media, which acted as a force-multiplier, contributed in clearly communicating the Indian stand.

Finally, the Indian position was accepted by major international powers, the G-8 nations, the European Union and the ASEAN, but the success came at a great cost and after initial frustrations of lack of credible evidence, the slow progress of ground operations, substantiated only later by the capture of enemy held heights and the Pakistani soldiers. Two months into the conflict, the Indian troops had slowly retaken most of the ridges, but it was the American pressure on Pakistan which hastened the pull-out from the remaining locations. At the end of the war Pakistan, looked isolated and the Indian stand stood vindicated. The media both the electronic and the print-media played a very positive role to shape the international opinion in our favour.

Since both countries were nuclear armed, many in the international community were concerned that if the conflict intensified, it could lead to a nuclear war. Pakistan reportedly threatened on May 31 that any escalation of conflict could lead to use of all arsenal at her disposal. Pakistan also accused India of using Chemical Warfare against the Kashmiri fighters. The nuclear factor was considered in-depth by the COSC and the CCS. The USA, it is understood, persuaded Pakistan to desist from deploying nuclear weapons and assured them that India had not deployed any nuclear weapons although, both sides, reportedly took some preparatory steps. The American diplomacy played an important role in the nuclear restraint by the two sides. India successfully campaigned against Pakistani nuclear brinkmanship and showcased a cache of gas masks to indicate Pakistan’s preparations of a NBC war. This was a major restraining factor in not enlarging the area of engagement beyond Kargil. Notwithstanding such public posturing, the lack of a nuclear war fighting capability was obvious on both sides. The nuclear doctrine of India itself perhaps needs a relook.

Follow-up Measures
The Kargil War has a number of lessons both for the military and for various civil institutions. In the immediate aftermath of the war, the government took a number of steps to rectify the shortcomings in the defence preparedness, following widespread media reportage about military procurement irregularities and criticism of intelligence agencies like RAW, which failed to predict the intrusions or the identity of the infiltrators. The Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) have now closed the cases of procurement irregularities due to lack of credible evidence, but the nation has lost valuable time and resources to modernize the Armed Forces. On the diplomatic front, it is interesting that relations with the USA, Russia, South Africa, Israel and France, which discreetly aided India with defence procurements, improved.

The recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee Report were on the whole addressed in a professional manner to enhance defence capability. Our political leadership then, did show considerable maturity and wisdom in carrying out institutional reforms. The needs of the Armed Forces were re-examined with particular requirement of improving their pay and allowance, looking after the battle casualties, medical and housing facilities. Some of the steps initiated to enhance defence capability are indicated below:-
(1)    The MoD and the other players involved have commenced work on evolving a nuclear strategy and on integrated command and control structure. The Defence Forces have streamlined their mobilization & deployment plans. Some of the areas/sectors which were thinly held have been reinforced by raising additional forces and formations. The road network and logistics structure in the border region is being enhanced.
(2)   An integrated joint staff under a new HQ has been established for greater joint-ness; however it does not enjoy any independent authority in the absence of CDS. A separate Defence Intelligence Agency for the three services and a joint procurement planning wing has been created under the integrated defence staff (IDS).
(3)   A Defence Acquisition Cell and a separate defence procurement board have been created to streamline defence modernization and fast-track induction of weapon systems. However on the ground there are delays due to indecisions and fixed mind sets.
(4)   Strategic forces command and amphibious forces Headquarters have been created and placed under the HQ IDS. Border surveillance and the communications systems are being upgraded. The counter-terrorism mechanism and the Intelligence Services are being re-vitalized to improve our response to security threats.

However, a few anomalies still continue in the pay and allowance and the pension entitlements of the defence forces. These, needless to say, must be settled speedily. And while, on the one hand, defence procurement procedures have been streamlined and financial powers of services enhanced, the actual defence procurements and modernization programmes have got stuck in corrupt practices and political controversies. Thus, though the Kargil conflict has made the nation aware of many shortcomings and given an impetus to security preparedness, our institutional weaknesses and political indecisions have not allowed the Armed-Forces the desired levels of modernization. The political leaders have not been able to overcome the institutional delays and implement much needed reforms.

This paper is primarily based on my personal recollections of the Kargil War as the VCOAS, and supplemented by information from A Soldier's diary: Kargil, the Inside Story, by Harinder Baweja, 2000,  Books Today; and Kargil War - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, accessed on 6 May 2009


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Command of 50 I Para Brigade

On 15 September 1985, I was visiting 18 Punjab, one of the forward battalions in the 120 Infantry Brigade, on the Line of Control in the Rajouri Sector in J&K. While on this inspection visit, I received my transfer orders to take over as Commander 50 (I) Para Brigade. The transfer orders came as a big surprise to me as I was not a paratrooper. Also, I had already been in command of the Infantry Brigade for about 18 months. In the normal course, I should have gone for some staff job or an instructor’s appointment following the Brigade Command. I therefore, spoke to my GOC, 25 Infantry Division, Major General R. Sharma (‘Kaku’) to get the orders checked for correctness with the Army Head-Quarters (HQ). 
I was informed that the transfer orders were in order and had been issued due to some special circumstances. I had been personally selected by the then COAS, General K.Sundarji. I was instructed by the Corps Commander, Lieutenant General K.K. Hazari, a senior paratrooper himself, to visit his HQ for briefing, as he was aware of the background. He told me in confidence that some of my predecessors in the Para Brigade were allegedly suspected to have been involved in the mismanagement of funds, and there was a need for a new commander who, while having an impeccable personal record, should ideally also not be part of the fraternity to avoid any preconceived biases or prejudices. And so I embarked upon a new experience and yet another challenge, as I received the great honour of leading the only Airborne Brigade of the Indian Army.   

There were some friends who advised me against accepting the appointment as they believed it might be difficult for me to do the Para jumps at my age. I, of course, dismissed such suggestions as un-soldierly and un-officer like. With my fitness levels and my focus, I was quite confident that I would be able to convert to a combat Paratrooper, although technically, at 45 years, I was overage to do my basic Para jumps. Indeed I had always been fascinated by the Paratroopers, and had wanted to train to be one earlier in my service. In 1961, while with my battalion, I had considered opting for a change to the Parachute Regiment. However, my then CO (Lt. Colonel S. S. Malhotra) had advised me against this, as he felt that transferring from such a fine unit of the 4 GR was not the right thing to do; besides the officer state in the Unit at the time did not allow this option. I had deferred to his advice then, keeping the interest of the Battalion at heart. Now that I could fulfil my long-standing wish while taking on the larger task set to me, there was no question in my mind that I could back down from this rare opportunity, however difficult it might seem to be. 
My interest in becoming a paratrooper actually developed due to my close association with some fine officers of the 2 PARA, who were with me at the Snow Warfare School, Gulmarg, now, known as High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS). Amongst these were the two very accomplished mountaineers and my very good friends, Captains B. P. Singh and A. S. Cheema. Interestingly, 2 PARA was one of the battalions with the 50 Para Brigade, along with 3 PARA and 7 PARA, when I assumed the command of the formation in 1985. Having had to move at very short notice from my previous post, I handed over the command of the 120 Infantry Brigade to my Deputy, Col M. S. Malik, and left for Agra after a quick round of farewell trips to 18 PUNJAB, 10 GUARDS, 4 BIHAR and I JAK LI, and the 168 Field Regiment. 
The initial reaction to my arrival at 50 Para Brigade was obviously one of surprise, with a wary coldness, as the Parachute Regiment is an intimate and close-knit formation, and I was an outsider to them. Some of them thought I may not last long in the elite formation and that I might even decline to do the Para jumps. However my predecessor was a very good friend and an excellent Commander, and he tried to dispel any such fears.  I addressed all the officers of the formation and speedily put such apprehensions at rest. I made my personal priorities very clear to everyone. These were twofold. The first was to earn my Para Wings by doing the mandatory five jumps in the earliest possible duration. I was told that the training period laid down for this was three weeks, followed by aptitude tests. I conveyed to all concerned that the luxury of so much time was not available to me. The Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) team from the U.K was scheduled to visit the Brigade on the 1st of October – exactly 10 days after I took over the command on 21st September 1985. Since I did not believe it would be correct to represent the Para Brigade as the Commander without technically qualifying as a paratrooper, the only option available to me according to my own standards, was to finish my mandatory jumps before the visit, and I was determined that I would do so. 
The deviation of rules beyond the authorised age for the new Para-inductees also needed special sanction. This entailed, to begin with, rendering a certificate to the Indian Air Force (IAF), that I was willingly undertaking Para Jumps, at my own risk. I completed my five jumps within a week after I took over the command, and on 27th September qualified as a combat paratrooper. This was very well received in the Para Brigade. They appreciated my commitment and my willingness to assume the responsibilities and duties of a paratrooper as well as my ability to do so. And so I became part of the proud ShatruJeet[1] family, and an equal among the fraternity of the paratroopers. I had an excellent team with Col J. S. Mahalwar as the Deputy, Gundu Rao as the Brigade Major (BM), and Maj Sheo Nan Singh as the Deputy Quarter Master (DQ). Major Jacob as the GSO2 (Air) and Captain De Cruz as GSO3,organised all the air aspects admirably. 
My First Jump 1985

Here, I would like to relate a small incident on the lighter side. As I prepared to leave for my first night-jump, I asked my sahayak, (soldier aide) who was a Gorkha from 3 Para, what it was like to Para jump at night? He told me with a smile and perfect sincerity, “Sir, it is most comfortable. During the day-jumps I have to close my eyes. But at night, I do not - since in any case I cannot see anything!” Though I knew it was not something that I could ever emulate, this brand of practical philosophy managed to amuse and comfort me even in the midst of my preoccupation with the procedure of the night-jump. 
In fact, it is this cheerful ability to overcome ordinary human fears with an extraordinary trust in the orders of his superiors, in higher forces, and in fate that make a Gorkha soldier so special and such a formidable fighting-man. I was suddenly reminded of an apocryphal story about the toughness of a Gorkha Johnnie, by Colonel John Masters of 2/4 G.R. In his book Bugles And the Tiger, he writes of a Gorkha soldier of the 4th Prince of Wales Own Regiment who, while accompanying a mule column, was hit on his head when the mule got restive and kicked out. The result of this contact was that the mule fractured his leg. As for the Gorkha soldier, apparently all that he suffered was a spasm of momentary annoyance at the mule’s indiscretion. Rebuking the mule for his impatience, he merely adjusted the helmet on his head - and carried on! 
The second important priority for me as the new Commander was to restore the image of the Para Brigade, which had taken a bit of a beating due to the financial mismanagement by some of my predecessors, for which a court of enquiry had already been completed. I addressed all the officers and asked them to remain vigilant. I also decided to start on a clean slate; and that I would sort out the irregularities without any blame games in a systematic manner and with no finger-pointing. I directed them to get on with all the planned events and the training schedule in earnestness. I asked my staff - Colonel Mahalwar (Deputy Commander), Major ‘Gundu’ Rao (BM), Major Sheonan Singh (DQ) and Major Jacob (GSO 2 Air) – to monitor the training schedule, and highlighted my priorities while implementing the training instruction of the Command HQ. This was commenced with full enthusiasm by all the units of the formation. To my great satisfaction, the units responded exceedingly well and the Brigade undertook exercises at brigade and battalion level with full complement including heavy drops of loads, at Gwalior, Ex TRI- SHAKTI at Goa and the Brigade Demonstration drop at the Tilpat ranges. 
Preparing to Jump from an AN 32

The formation also undertook trials of new equipment and other Para specific stores as ordered by the Army HQ. During the early part of my tenure, the new parachute (D5) and the new transport fleet of IL 76 (GAJRAJ) including heavy platform drops had been inducted, which entailed converting the entire Brigade from AN 32 Aircrafts and PTR (M) Parachutes to the newer fleet. This would obviously take time and we decided to train one sub-unit per major unit and platoon strength per minor unit of the Brigade. To begin with, I had to undertake the jumps along with my Unit Commanders, which is done as a customary demonstration jump. However, there were two fatalities in quick succession when a sub unit of 3 PARA was converting to the new parachutes. Initially, we could not understand the reason for this. On detailed examination, we discovered that this was because the D-5 parachute is a two-stage chute, where the smaller chute after the jump initiates the deployment of the main chute. Since the barrel of the 7.62 mm Rifle we were using was longer than the AK-47 (which the Russians use) the chord of the smaller chute of the D5 parachute at times would get entangled with the barrel of  the rifles, so that the main chute would fail to open. This led to the ‘Roman Candle Jump’, as the paratrooper failed to react and deploy the reserve parachute. We only realised this after the second such accident occurred, and after repeated checks of all the equipment, consultations with Russian experts, and simulations of the action of the jump on ground. This led to our decision to thereafter jump only with 9 mm carbines till the Brigade was equipped with the AK series rifles ex import. 
Here, I must mention a very fine tradition that the Para Brigade follows. Whenever there is a fatal accident while jumping, in order to restore the confidence and morale of the Brigade, there is a Command Jump led by the Commander and the Commanding Officers - just as the Indian Air Force does in the case of an aircraft crash. The value of retaining such traditions that the Armed Forces still follow, cannot be emphasised enough. It is the spirit that powers these traditions, and the complete camaraderie that is inculcated and honed through them, which make the Indian Armed Forces one of the finest in the world even today.

[1] The symbol and mascot of the formation is the Shatrujeet

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Command Experience

The Indian Army gives due importance to Officers’ ‘Command performance’ – and rightly so - as in the final analysis, it is the ability to lead men in battle that is the decisive factor in winning, along with the commander’s professional competence and character values. Minimum periods of command tenures are laid down for various ranks. However, these days, the tenures in higher ranks for general officers from two-star ranks are getting reduced due to late promotions. This limits the exposure of officers in senior command, and also does not allow adequate time to train and interact with the lower formations. The Indian Army promotes officers to the rank of Brigadiers and Generals much later than most other armies.

To reduce stagnation and speed up promotion, cadre-reviews have been carried out through upgradation of appointments and creation of additional ranks. Though this has given definite growth opportunities but at the same time diluted the value of ranks. Our attempts to retain parity with civilian ranks has had mixed results, as unlike in the civilian setup, ranks in the defence forces are related to command authority and staff functions, and cannot be upgraded in the same assignment.
There are some in the defence forces who feel that instead of upgradation of ranks the forces should have been given pay promotions to maintain pay parity, but the MoD has declined to accept these proposals. The pay commissions do not have a representative from the defence forces to put across our point of view. Even today one rank-one pension concept applied elsewhere has not been fully applied to the defence forces. This puts the Armed Forces, particularly the Junior Ranks at a disadvantage as the soldiers retire at a much younger age than the civil officials who go up to the age of 60 years irrespective of the rank and thus earn full pension of the rank.

The real command in the Army begins with the Command of a unit, i.e. a battalion or a regiment which comes by selection. I have been fortunate in my command experience as in my time units were commanded by Lieutenant Colonels at the fairly young service of 15 years, and an average age of 35 years. I was able to command 2/4 GR, the unit I was commissioned into, by opting to wait for my turn to do so, even though this meant that I would get promoted one year later than my batch-mates. I was also offered command in the Rajput Regiment and the 3 GR, but I preferred to wait for my own unit.  My immediate predecessor, in the battalion was Lt Col (later Brig) R.P.S. Negi, who was my senior by one year and commanded the unit with distinction. 

COs 4 GR (Biennial Conference)
From left: Nripad Gurung, Self, Hem Tewari, Ranjeet Rishi, Raja Ram
I was in command of the battalion for a full term of three years, unlike present day command tenures of just two years, that too, at an average age of 39 years. Such a short tenure, I feel, is inadequate to fully understand and train your command for battle. The command of a unit is something one especially aspires to as it provides the opportunity and the freedom to implement your ideas to shape and administer the unit. This is the first assignment by selection, and in the Infantry, and in most of the Arms, nearly 50% of the batch-mates get left out, on comparative merit and lack of vacancies. This non–selection naturally causes considerable pain to those who do not make it.

During the period of my command, the battalion performed well in all the professional events and sports, basically because of our strong traditions, good junior leadership, and effective team-work. We were part of 51 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier (later Major General) O.S. Bhandari and thereafter by Brigadier (later Lt General) K.S. Brar, VrC. An event still remembered in the battalion is our winning the hockey match against 5 Raj Rif, despite the fact that they had an Olympic player as the Commanding Officer! I was leading the battalion hockey team with six officers playing the match. Major Ram Naidu (later Major General) was the second-in-command and Captain Arvind Sharma was the Adjutant of the battalion (also my MA), who later attained the rank of an Army Commander, were part of the playing eleven, besides Captains F. J. Bahadur, V. P. Singh, P. S. Nijjer and Satish Upreti.

With the Commander 51 Infantry Brigade, Brigadier (later Lt. General) K.S. Brar

The battalion was stationed at Mirthal, a semi-peace station, earlier used as a camping ground by the army units while in transit. We managed to make ourselves reasonably comfortable. The total assets at the location were the nine disused cook-houses, some barracks, and 91 acres of camping ground land with lots of elephant grass on it. We accommodated the battalion by obtaining the entire depot stocks of tents on loan and constructing self-help thatch-huts. In six months time the families joined us in our improvised ‘town-ship’ to live happily. We had abundant land to create play grounds and the training facilities, which are essentially the main requisites for a Gorkha soldier to be completely happy.

Aruna (standing centre) with the Ladies of the Battalion
Mrs. Sarpodar and Mrs. Nijjar on the left, and Mrs.F.J. Bahadur and Mrs Pant on the right

During my command I was able to implement some of my ideas on improving the basic infantry training skills, leadership traits and team-building. I encouraged competitiveness in sports, and was strict on discipline and observance of regimental traditions. I felt that delegation and trusting your team always gets the best dividends, provided you set an example. Major Ram Naidu, my deputy and the young officers in the battalion were highly dedicated professionals, who always delivered the goals they were entrusted with. I have always felt that a Gorkha is an excellent soldier. He is both devoted and talented, but wants to be treated with dignity. The families of the soldiers play an important role in the unit’s performance and are willing to put up with difficulties as long as they are assured of fair play and justice. They need to be treated as a part of the extended regimental family in the various activities and given due consideration when in difficulty.

At Mirthal with the Subedar Major of the Battalion, Rankeshwara Gurung

After my command of the battalion, from December 1975 to November 1978, I was selected to head the Indian Military Training Team at Nigeria and moved to Delhi for completion of the necessary formalities, which were completed in two weeks time. However, there was a change of the government in Nigeria, in the meanwhile and the new Nigerian government for political reasons decided to terminate the mission.  The disappointment to the team members was obvious as most us of had already sold off our few and therefore doubly precious house-hold collections! We were diverted to different assignments; I landed at the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington, as an instructor.

The tenure at the Staff College was a very satisfying professional education as well as an enriching Inter-Service experience. Although my wife and young children were eagerly looking forward to the experience abroad, the move to DSSC Wellington was some compensation. It was also an excellent opportunity for good schooling, and social interaction, not only with a vast cross section of families from the Indian Armed Forces but also with those of the foreign defence forces. General S. F. Rodrigues, then Major General, was the Chief Instructor (CI) Army at the DSSC. While at the DSSC, within four months of my arrival, I was nominated to go on an assignment to Iraq, but I declined, having just experienced the Nigerian episode. However after some time, I was selected to undergo a training course with the US Marine Forces in their Amphibious Warfare School at the Naval base at San Diego, where we were able to interact with officers from many foreign countries, mostly US allies. I was also able to visit a few places of interest. I saw the famous Grand Canyon and the pleasure town of Las Vegas. On my return to India, I re-joined the DSSC to get back to teaching.

In 1981, I along with a few others from the DSSC got selected for the Higher Command Course at the Army War College MHOW. The course is considered professionally important and since it was of twelve months duration, involved moving on permanent transfer. The constant moves in the Army are both a challenge as well an opportunity, for Army families to see new places, and adapt to new schools and environment. General K Sundarji was the Commandant at the college at Mhow and he made the Higher Command Course extremely interesting and instructive. As part of the course we got opportunities of carrying out battle studies and field tours of the Western as well as the Eastern front, as also to interact with the Air Force and the Navy. The course prepares selected officers of all arms and services after the successful unit command, for higher command and future senior leadership.

On a field trip to the East while on Higher Command Course

On completion of the Higher Command Course, I was posted as the General Staff Officer (GSO) I/Col. General Staff[1] of an Infantry Division at Meerut, which had its operational tasks on the western borders. The GOC of the Division initially was Major General I. J. Khanna, who was succeeded by Major General P.S. Vadhera (known as ‘Stiffy’), a very hard trainer. Having served earlier in J&K, Sikkim and Nagaland, this was my first professional experience in the plains and riverine sectors. In less than two years as the Col GS, I received my orders to take over command of 120 Infantry Brigade on the Line of Control (LOC) in the ‘Rajouri –Poonch’ sector under the 25 Infantry Division, then commanded by Major General V. Badhwar. Col V Raja Ram of the Regiment was the Col GS of the Division. Two years of active command in the field resulted in shifting my children to the separated officers’ family accommodation in New Delhi and a change of schools for the 11th and 9th time respectively for my son and daughter.

As GSO I with the GOC Major General I.J.Khanna

As the Commander 120 Infantry Brigade (standing second from left) with the GOC Major General Badhwar (standing third from left) and COs of the battalions of the Brigade 

The command of 120 Infantry Brigade was active and challenging, as there was constant firing across the LOC, and one had to exercise considerable ingenuity to maintain moral ascendancy. However, there were always the perpetual shortages of the Medium Machine Guns, night vision devices and the bunker bursting rifles, which could partially be overcome by creating alternative positions and timely re-location. In the brigade sector, there were a few villages on the border who had relatives residing across the LoC, and these constituted problems of surveillance and security.
With the Brigade Officers in the winter snow 

The Brigade had four battalions and an extensive sector with a total of 93 posts to defend. The gaps were inevitable and could only be plugged with intensive patrolling, and, occasionally enabled infiltration, in bad weather. In fact, it took me a little over six months to visit all the posts as most of these involved walking, despite the fact that I was physically tough and was on familiar environment the LoC earlier. I would be honest to admit that command of the brigade on the LoC does give some advantage to those who have served in the infantry as the problems encountered can be similar and therefore, better visualized. The stream of visiting VIPs included the then RM (Shri Venkatraman), the COAS, General A S. Vaidya, and the Army Commander, Lt. General M.L. Chhibber, besides delegates from training institutes.

As the Commander120 Infantry Brigade (standing fifth from left) briefing the COAS General A.S.Vaidya (standing with back to the camera) 
 The command of the 120 Infantry Brigade was interesting from the point view of training as well. The Army Commander had scheduled the battle-study tours and my brigade was asked to conduct the battle of the OP hill of 1965, which had been fought in my brigade sector. The war veterans, both serving and retired were invited to personally narrate the events to the audience on the actual ground of the battle as they perceived it. The spectators were made to walk the area of operations and analyse the operation so as to learn relevant lessons. The audience was representative of the entire command and was very appreciative of the effort, particularly the narration by the actual participants. In the meanwhile, there was a change in the command and we got a new GOC, in Major General R. Sharma of 8 CAV. He was the deputy at the HQ, already placed to take over the command on promotion. This is a good practice, as it allows the new incumbent to understand the issues well and should be followed. I was also due for change and was hoping to move on some comfortable staff assignment. However, this was not to be! While I was visiting 15 Punjab, on the LoC, my staff informed me of my transfer orders as Commander 50 (I) Para Brigade, which was rather strange and I asked the GOC to have it checked with the Army HQ. The GOC was also equally surprised, as I was not a Paratrooper, but he said there was no error in the orders. So, I proceeded to take over command of the 50 (I) Para Brigade, in a hitherto unprecedented situation in the Indian Army. 

[1] The General Staff Officer I post which was a post for the rank of Lt Colonel, was upgraded to the rank of Colonel, and termed Colonel General Staff, during my term at the Division.