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The Kargil Review Committee Report
A Mindset Frozen in 1962 Era

Air Marshal B. D. Jayal (Retd.)


Early May 1999 will go down in the annals of Indian military history next only to the debacle of 1962 at the hands of the Chinese Army. It was then that two shepherds brought news to the Indian Army of Pakistani intrusions into the Indian side of the LOC in Jammu and Kashmir. The armed forces were caught off guard as also the entire security establishment, judging by the three-week response time before the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) formally met, authorised the use of air power and the Indian armed forces generally adopted a posture of deterrence. By then many officers and men had already perished.

The similarities between 1962 and 1999 are significant in two major areas. First, the lack of appreciation of the value of air power as a national security asset, and second, weaknesses in the security leadership chain. The exaggerated fear of retaliation by the Chinese on cities and other infrastructure prevented the Indian security establishment from committing the IAF to battle in 1962. In 1999, lack of use of the IAF for monitoring the LOC and the three-week procrastination in its commitment, reflect that not much has changed. On the subject of leadership, whatever gloss the Kargil Review Committee may put on it, then as now, professionally the Indian security leadership was caught on the wrong foot.


The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) was appointed by the Government to review events leading up to the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil District of Ladakh in J&K and to recommend such measures as are considered necessary to safeguard national security against such armed intrusions.1 This raised expectations that the KRC would finally unravel fundamental weaknesses that are known to plague the Indian security establishment across the board and recommend meaningful measures.

‘From Surprise To Reckoning’, the KRC Report as presented to Parliament makes absorbing reading notwithstanding the absence of Annexures, Appendices and deletions made by the government in the interest of national security. While the KRC has with literary finesse presented a complex subject in a form that should appeal to a wider audience, to the students of national security it leaves crucial questions either untouched or unanswered.

This article proposes to reflect mainly on the aspects earlier mentioned and present a viewpoint. While these views may suffer from limitations of non availability of classified information that stands deleted from the published report, they never-the-less assume that a report tabled in the Parliament will contain all essential ingredients!


The KRC did not consider it appropriate to attempt to fix responsibility on particular individuals, as that would have made it necessary to adopt inquisitional procedures.2 According to the Committee, this approach enabled it to enlist the willing co-operation of all concerned. The flip side is that the KRC was denied the opportunity to get to the root cause of specific failures of individuals, institutions and systems, causes that have far deeper ramifications to overall national security management.

Without such an inquisition the KRC could hardly be expected to recommend precise and effective preventive measures. Hence its wide and generic recommendations.

With respect to its terms of reference, the KRC notes, ‘as regards the other term of reference relating to safeguarding national security against future armed intrusions, the Committee decided to confine its scope to possible threats to the country’s land borders given the fact that it was set up in the context of the Kargil intrusions’.3 It is not clear whether this is in justification of keeping the Indian Air Force out of its review. Considering the scant attention given to air power, this assumption appears to carry weight.

The KRC also did not consider it appropriate to go into the details of the actual conduct of operations as it was considered outside its mandate. It ‘limited itself to the period ending with the authorisation of air power and the Indian Armed Forces generally adopting a posture of deterrence vis-à-vis Pakistan on 26 May 99’.4 While this is fair, one would expect the Chiefs of Staff Committee to have conducted its own classified in-house review of the operations, lessons learnt and individual/institutional failures. Judging by the lack of inter-service integration that appears to exist, this expectation, however, may be optimistic.

The nation must now accept that no one will be held accountable for the lives of four hundred and seventy four officers and men. Only chronic optimists will believe that somehow this time the Indian security system will respond and rectify the multi faceted weaknesses that plague national security management, weaknesses that are well known and well documented.

The Henderson Brookes Report on the 1962 debacle, the IPKF experience which cost nearly twelve hundred lives and the Committee on Defence Expenditure report were all available, before one more was added to the list. For good measure this also adorns bookshops!



The KRC records that intrusions in the Kargil sector were first noticed on 3 May 99 by shepherds.5 The first briefing was given to Defence and External Affairs Ministers on 17 May and to the CCS on 18 May. Another briefing to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister was on 24 May and the CCS met formally only on 25 May 99.6 Air Power was authorised on 26 May 99 by when the Indian armed forces had adopted a deterrence posture vis-à-vis Pakistan. This monumental response time on the part of a security system that aspires to wield a credible nuclear deterrent deserved to have been critically and minutely analysed, day by day if not hour by hour. The reader is left guessing.

The KRC findings bring out many grave deficiencies in India’s security management system and conclude that the political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo.7 It is difficult to determine what specific inputs have compelled the Committee to arrive at these far reaching conclusions, true as they are historically known to be. Without the back up of specific instances, there is danger that these far reaching observations will be labeled as alarmist or exaggerated, because it is the same ‘vested interests’ that will sit in judgement on the KRC Report.

Role of the IAF

Under its findings, the KRC states, ‘the Air Chief further maintained that if air power was to be used, the country should be prepared for a Pakistani response. Therefore, the relevant Air Commands and units were activated. The CCS finally authorised the use of air power on 25 May’.8 IAF commenced operations only on 27 May9.

In the chapter ‘Kargil Intrusion Reconstructed’, the KRC notes ‘that the role of the IAF in support of the Army in Kargil was a significant development with far reaching consequences for the Pakistani intruders...’10 This comment relates only to when the IAF was finally committed to action after considerable delay.

Beyond these two brief references, the IAF barely features in the 266-page report. The report mentions presentations by the CAS, AOC-in-C WAC, DCAS and AOC, J&K, Udhampur. There is also record of Annexure 5.9 (deleted for security reasons) giving Chronology of Actions by IAF in Operation Safed Sagar, upto 26 May 99. However, no details are provided about these inputs. There is no discussion on the IAF’s interaction with the KRC, of its missions and roles during peacetime management of the LOC or indeed what transpired between the Army and Air Force Commanders responsible for this sector during the crucial period between 3 May and 25 May. This raises a host of uncomfortable questions, some of which have a direct bearing on the KRC’s other findings and conclusions, not to mention national security as a whole.

Integrated Land/Air Operations

The IAF and Army (as indeed the IAF and Navy) have a clearly defined organisation for the conduct of integrated operations. In this case Western Air Command has two Advanced HQs under Air Vice Marshals co-located at Northern Army Command and Western Army Command HQ, respectively. These in turn have under them Tactical Air Centres co- located with the respective Corps HQ. Forward Air Controllers (IAF pilots) are designated at tactical levels to co-ordinate air activity with the ground forces when such missions are undertaken. The IAF recognises the importance of air power for the conduct of integrated operations on land and at sea and the need for timely and responsive command and control. Hence the existence of these IAF units as also joint manuals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) approved by both Army and Air Commanders.

The KRC lists presentations by the AOC-in-C WAC and AOC J&K. Yet the report fails to enlighten the reader on their content or the IAF’s involvement. One is left wondering whether the AOC J&K was even brought into the picture by Northern Command as events from 3 May unfolded, and if indeed he was, whether Western Air Command shared the urgency of Northern Command. If as the events unfolded, Northern Command had requisitioned helicopter gunships on 8 May and put the J&K theatre on alert on 12 May, one would have expected Western Air Command to have reacted in harmony and the IAF itself upgrading to an appropriate state of air defence alert. There are no answers in the report.

An Annexure (deleted on security grounds) lists the actions by the IAF upto 26 May. However, the reader is left guessing as to what these actions were. It is not clear from the report as to when the IAF was finally put on alert. In fact a national daily had reported in its front page that there were serious differences between the Army and the IAF during the crucial days following the discovery of the intrusions.11 One can conjecture that these were finally resolved only during the CCS meeting on 25 May when clearance for the use of the IAF was finally communicated.

The KRC has obviously chosen to avoid these crucial but sensitive issues not because of lack of awareness, but through design. Whatever be the compulsions, these omissions are unfortunate, as are their obvious negative ramifications on the lessons that should have emerged.

This brings into serious question the very basis of integrated air-land operations in the Indian security context and the need to follow a Joint Chief concept responsible for planning and conduct of operations. Significantly, while the KRC recommendations under the heading ‘National Security Management and Apex Decision Making’12 talk about the need to reorganise the entire gamut of national security management and apex decision making and the interface between the MOD and Armed Forces HQ, they make no mention of a Joint Chief concept for integrated operational planning and execution. Possibly, another deliberate though unfortunate omission.

In an age where air power is driving strategic and tactical options and without which no worthwhile security calculus can even be contemplated, ignoring the role of the Air Force in managing a hostile LOC in peacetime, and relegating it to the side lines while reviewing the post-Kargil lessons, merely indicates a national security mindset that remains frozen in the 1962 era! A mindset that still defers the use of air power to a later stage conferring on it the label of a quantum escalation of conflict.

In an era of sub-continental nuclear deterrence, the very survival of India will depend on how quickly and effectively such a mindset is reversed. By side stepping the role, missions and contributions that the IAF could have made in preventing Kargil and would make in preventing future Kargils (or indeed Hiroshimas), the KRC has diluted the impact of its review on the future of national security.


Failure of the Intelligence system has been well documented as also lack of inter–agency co-ordination and co-ordination between the Army and the agencies. The report also concludes that the Indian intelligence structure is flawed.13

While these are valid observations and indeed have been known all along, the KRC has totally ignored the role of tactical reconnaissance (Tac R). In fact ‘the Committee feels that these intrusions could have been detected earlier if India had half-metre resolution satellite imagery capability, appropriate UAVs and better HUMINT’.14 Lack of recognition of the IAF’s Tactical Reccee role and its current capabilities make this conclusion of the KRC look hollow.

The LOC as also the northern and northeastern borders are live. This not only implies that the responsibility even in peacetime is that of the armed forces and not the BSF, but that occasional intrusions, firing and skirmishes will occur. Tactical and armed reconnaissance of the tactical area, which clearly includes the LOC, is the designated role of the IAF and it is the responsibility of the Army to involve the IAF in effective monitoring of such borders. The IAF ought to be capable of achieving results while still observing peacetime norms imposed on combat aircraft operations near the borders. This, IAF’s role, finds no mention in the KRC deliberations.

On the contrary an impression is created that aerial reconnaissance was the task of Winter Air Surveillance Operations (WASO) by Army helicopters. The report quotes factors like helicopter vibrations, concealment on hearing helicopter noise and others to conclude that these ‘made WASO patrols of negligible value as is also evident from the records of previous years’.15 The report also says that ‘helicopters employed for air surveillance patrolling do not have sophisticated monitoring and sensing devices’16 and confirms that ‘overall, WASO patrols in the last two years have not thrown up any clues worth following up’.17

Helicopter flights of border areas by the Army commanders are for airborne patrols or terrain familiarisation. They are not Tac R missions and the Army neither has this task designated to it nor has the resources to conduct such missions. Tac R is a specialised role. It needs sophisticated optical and thermal sensors that are suitably mounted and gyro stabilised to cater to vibrations and attitude changes. The lenses are heated to prevent clouding and navigational and attitude data is transposed on the pictures from on-board inertial systems of the aircraft to enable correlating sensor and location information. These special reconnaissance pods are carried on fighter aircraft for both surprise and safety from ground fire and have both vertical and oblique capability. In addition, the data obtained needs specialised processing facilities and analysis by specialist Photo Interpreters (PIs) who are highly qualified for the task. The IAF routinely exercises itself to ensure that the turn around time from a ‘field request’ to ‘delivery of information’ is the bare minimum. That the IAF is fully equipped for this role and has the requisite aircraft, equipment and PIs to perform this role is borne out by the CAS’s interview to a national daily, wherein he stated ‘the need was for locating the intruders and their supply lines, which we did once the task was given. After going into action on 27 May, we built a phenomenal data bank of the terrain over the next two weeks.’18

The obvious question is why the Army did not task the IAF for routine peacetime monitoring of the LOC? The truth may be somewhat bitter. For too long the Army has been involved in expanding its helicopter arm at the cost of IAF role. From a pure Air Observation Post (AOP) role, it has armed its helicopters with light guns and now appears to be claiming the Tac R role. Desire for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is an extension of this. It is not about pooling all defence resources for optimum security returns, but pure and simple inter-service turf war that is at the root of the problem.

One wishes that the KRC had looked at the fundamental roles and missions of the two services and then determined how and why the system fails and what systemic weaknesses contribute to such a fragmented approach. Why the Army fails to task the IAF for routine Tac R missions to supplement their patrolling is a mystery that only the army commanders can unravel. Till then their officers and men will continue to pay a heavy price.

To believe, as obviously the Army does, that suddenly by procuring satellite imagery and UAVs, all will be rosy is living in a paradise of one’s own making! The reasons that make the KRC endorse this view are even harder to fathom. The opportunity to get to the root of this entire issue of inter-service turf wars, where individual services by attempting to encroach into the domain of another actually harm national security, has been lost.

Was Kargil Avoidable?

The KRC notes that ‘a Kargil type situation could perhaps have been avoided had the Indian Army followed a policy of Siachenisation to plug unheld gaps along the 168 km stretch from Kaobal Gali to Chorbat La. Such a dispersal of forces to hold uninhabited territory of no strategic value would have dissipated considerable military strength and effort and would not at all have been cost effective.’19

One is left to draw the conclusion that the alternative to Siachenisation was perhaps the inevitability of Kargil. This writer differs with this viewpoint as this conclusion flows out of a lack of comprehension of the roles and missions of the armed forces in peace, war and indeed the no peace - no war situation that exists along the LOC in J&K.

From the previous discussions it is evident that the Army, which must retain the lead role in managing the LOC did not involve the IAF intimately in this task. The Army mindset is evident from the fact that the 121 Brigade Commander had in August 1998 projected a requirement of satellite imagery and UAVs to the COAS during his visit.20 While these were not even in the inventory or within reach of the Army, the IAF next door was sitting idle with Tac R equipment optimised for such missions, imported at great cost and which could have been made available in a few hours! What is more, none of the commanders above the Brigade level brought this elementary fact to the Brigade Commander’s notice!

The obvious conclusion is that Kargil was avoidable without the so called Siachenisation, but became a victim of inter-service turf wars and the fragmented higher defence organisation prevailing in India contrary to experience in the rest of the democratic world. Blaming it on lack of any specific resources with the armed forces of India is not wholly justified.

In fact it is this writer’s belief that in addition to the many likely factors that have been documented by the KRC prompting this Pakistani misadventure, an important one is the belief by the Pakistan Armed Forces that the IAF was just not involved in the operational aspects of maintaining the sanctity of the LOC. That’s how they successfully beat the Army WASOs. They perhaps gambled that even when ground operations finally began, the IAF would remain aloof. This was their Waterloo. The KRC report does hint at this thought process when it says ‘Though Pakistan was aware of deployment of the IAF on 25 May 1999, before the air strikes began ...(deleted for security reasons)... yet it appears to have decided to persist with its intrusion operations’.21 Perhaps by then the Pakistanis had become victims of their own over confidence.

Security Leadership

That the KRC chose not to follow the path of fixing responsibility on individuals has been reflected earlier. However taking a soft approach towards lack of military professionalism and ignoring institutional lapses at the higher levels of security management sends out a wrong signal to all those concerned with national security not the least those potential leaders who wait in the wings to lead our men and women in uniform. Some examples will reinforce the point being made.

In its Prologue the KRC says ‘This was an incomparably harsher environment, enveloped in cloud, at elevations where men, arms and equipment, supplies, logistics, trajectories, ballistics, manoeuvres, flight paths, combat flight plans, surveillance and, indeed the very survival, hinged on acclimatisation of one kind or another in that rarefied, deoxygenated atmosphere. It demanded improvisation and sheer will power.’22

Poetic and true, but not a substitute for military professionalism. The armed forces are required to train in peace such that they do not bleed in war. Neither the battleground, nor the air environment and certainly not the enemy, were surprises. Improvisation and will power is what peacetime training and dynamic operational leadership is all about. Not crying foul when shepherds come calling!

The KRC quoting former senior servicemen and various factors concludes that ‘these factors, together with the nature of the terrain and weather conditions in the area generated an understandable Indian military mindset about the nature and extent of the Pakistani threat in this area.’23 The fact that the Pakistani Army intruded against the so-called ‘understandable’ mindset of its foes only goes to show their tactical shrewdness. Studying their adversary’s weaknesses and exploiting them with surprise. This is what tactical leadership and war fighting is all about. Not about static mindsets inherited over decades even as technology, threat and the motivations of the adversary are rapidly changing.

The IAF, despite having conducted a major exercise in this sector only a month before the crisis, lost two fighters and one helicopter before even finding its feet. This was not a professional beginning. There was also considerable media speculation about the IAF’s delayed induction. In fairness to the IAF and indeed to the Indian public, this controversy needed to be laid to rest. The KRC is silent or perhaps its comments stand deleted on Government Security considerations. Either way this does not enhance confidence of a nation whose first line of defence in a nuclear environment is its Air Force.

The above examples have been cited to highlight that at the tactical military level Kargil seems to have displayed the Indian military to be a sluggish, slumbering giant - not an energetic, tactically innovative and dynamic one that is for ever ready to outwit the adversary. While this could partly be due to the prolonged use of the Army in Internal Security duties, no such alleviating factors defend the IAF. Also too many unpleasant episodes in the recent past have brought to the fore that all is not well with promotions and appointments in the forces. Added to this, inter service rivalries seem to be dissipating scarce energy.

At higher levels, the archaic higher security organisation followed by India in defiance of all security logic must carry a large share of blame. Not least the well-known politicisation, bureaucratisation, and seniority syndrome of key appointments at the expense of sheer merit – a subject that continues to draw public attention. Through decades successive administrations have played their negative part in bringing national security to this state.

Had the KRC chosen to probe these weaknesses, however unpleasant they may be, they would have been led through numerous alleys that indicate all that is wrong with the way the Indian armed forces are being managed right upto the very highest echelons. These were major areas to be critically probed to get at the causes that have resulted in such disastrous effects. Only then the KRC’s conclusions of the ‘grave deficiencies in India’s security management system,’24 would have carried weight.


Two similarities were mentioned at the beginning between 1962 and 1999. There is yet another fateful similarity. The Henderson Brookes Report has never been made public - so weaknesses never surfaced and accountability glossed over. The KRC Report, by virtue of aiming for co-operation and transparency, has chosen to avoid an inquisitional approach. This robs it of any depth in identifying weaknesses. Accountability has again become a casualty.

The question that confronts the student of Indian national security today is stark. How much longer can India afford to carry on its national security business ‘as usual’, finally depending on the guts and valour of its officers and men to retrieve national honour at the cost of their lives? In this writer’s view, with the nuclear shadow now hanging over the sub-continent, the answer is ‘not a day longer’!

The KRC in its recommendations reflects that ‘the political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo.’25 Ironically the KRC has passed the unpleasant buck of unraveling the why, how and who of India’s structural security weaknesses and their remedies back to the same ‘vested interests’ that it criticises. One year on, Kargil has come a full circle.

In the Epilogue while paying tribute to the four hundred and seventy four who sacrificed their lives, the KRC trusts that ‘the best tribute to their supreme dedication and example will be to ensure that "Kargils" of any description are never repeated.’26. Trust in the Indian security context has historically been a one way street - only on the military man’s part. The KRC had the opportunity to change this. It chose not to take up the challenge.


1. From Surprise to Reckoning: The Kargil Review Committee Report, Sage Publications, pp 25.

2. Ibid, pp 27.

3. Ibid, pp 26.

4. Ibid, pp 26.

5. Ibid, pp 98.

6. Ibid, pp 249-250.

7. Ibid, pp 252.

8. Ibid, pp 232.

9. CAS Interview, The Times of India, 16 Jul 99.

10. From Surprise to Reckoning: The Kargil Review Committee Report, pp 105.

11. The Pioneer, 12 Sept 99, Wilson John.

12. From Surprise to Reckoning: The Kargil Review Committee Report, Sage Publications, pp 258.

13. From Surprise to Reckoning: The Kargil Review Committee Report, Sage Publications, pp 237.

14. Ibid, pp 159.

15. Ibid, pp 228.

16. Ibid, pp 247.

17. Ibid, pp 88.

18. The Times Of India, 16 Jul 99, CAS Interview.

19. From Surprise to Reckoning: The Kargil Review Committee Report, Sage Publications, pp 250.

20. Ibid, pp 154-156.

21. Ibid, pp 105.

22. Ibid, pp 19.

23. Ibid, pp 223.

24. Ibid, pp 252.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid, pp 265.





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