The Kargil Review Committee Report
A Mindset Frozen in 1962 Era
Air Marshal B. D. Jayal (Retd.)
PVSM, AVSM, VM & Bar
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
THE KARGIL REVIEW COMMITTEE
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
‘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
Without such an inquisition the KRC could hardly be expected to recommend
precise and effective preventive measures. Hence its wide and generic
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!
DISCUSSIONS ON FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
26. Ibid, pp 265.