In an effort to make the history of 1965 India-Pakistan war appear in line with the wishes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his RSS cronies, India officialdom has embarked upon a foolhardy spree to make believe that India was victorious during 1965 war. Times of India has reported that Modi government’s plan to celebrate the 1965 war as “a great victory” has raised quite a few eyebrows because even Indian defence ministry’s official war history had long ago described its end as a stalemate: “Taking an overall view of the air war, it appears clear neither side won any decisive victory. Both mauled each other, but could not kill. Both operated without a clear-cut plan and failed to concentrate their resources on close air support, or counter air attacks to achieve a decisive victory.” In military jargon, the term “stalemate” is synonymous to defeat when used to portray own performance.
In a related tri-services seminar on September 1, 2015, Indian Vice President Mr. Hamid Ansari launched an Indian Air Force (IAF) commissioned book, “The Duels of the Himalayan Eagle: The First Indo-Pak Air War”, by a former IAF Air Marshal Bharat Kumar, book is an effort to hang a new narrative in vacuum by refuting all accounts by neutral analysts that portray PAF as a clear winner. Indian Army, too, is coming out with its “new” account of the 1965 war.
Nevertheless, the IAF book is constrained to acknowledge that IAF “suffered disproportionately higher losses” than the PAF. The IAF was numerically superior, with 28 combat squadrons (460 combat air craft) to PAF’s 11(186 aircraft)”. Indian Air Marshal admits that IAF was caught off-guard by the PAF offensive (read pre-emption) and had lost its 35 aircraft on the ground during pre-emptive strikes, on Pathankot on September 6 and then on Kalaikunda, on the following day. As per his count, IAF lost 59 aircraft, while the PAF lost 43.
To justify these losses, he goes on to argue that IAF grappled with first-generation subsonic fighters like Vampire and Dassault Toofani as well as second-generation transonic ones like Mystere, Hawker Hunter, Gnats and Canberra bombers; and just a handful of third-generation supersonic MiG-21s. And that the PAF was equipped with F-86 Sabre jets, F-104 Star-fighters and B-57 bombers, along with much-better weapons and radars. Another offered lame excuse is that 13 out of IAF’s 28 squadrons had been deployed in the eastern and central sectors to tackle the Chinese threat. He portrays that the effective ratio of combat squadrons between IAF and PAF was 12:10.
Air Marshal Bharat again brushes with falsehood: “Whereas Pakistan was fighting on one front, India had to be ready on more than one and therefore had to divide and conserve her resources accordingly”. He continues with fanciful arguments: “There is no doubt that Indian losses in aircraft were higher and Pakistan has tried to use just this figure alone to proclaim its victory…Nothing could be farther from the truth…In the final analysis, despite initial reverses, India was able to successfully thwart Pakistan’s grand design.”
For a change, book takes a candid look at the abysmal lack of coordination between IAF and the Army, with the author admitting that “mistakes were made”. “Absence of joint IAF-Army planning and tardy intelligence as well as poor communication links and radar coverage, scarce resources and the wide theatre of operations, all led to the disjointed conduct of operations by India.”
Like her war with China on the NEFA and Ladakh borders, India’s Rann of Kutch adventure against Pakistan also turned out to be a fiasco. However, reaction in both cases was different; while India had lost the will to fight another encounter with China, Pakistan had to be avenged, mainly for face-saving amongst Indian public. Soon after the Kutch debacle, Indian ‘Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri announced his intention to “choose a front of our liking”. Obviously, this was to be the Kashmir front where ceasefire line violations had been stepped up. The UN Military Observers Group reported 2,006 violations during the first seven months of 1965 as against 700 in 1964 and 20 in 1963. From April 1965, when the Rann of Kutch encounter had started, the violations took a sudden jump – from 80 in March to 290 in April. In May, they rose to 380, in June to 400, and in July they swelled to 756. A too familiar scenario even after 50 years!
Exercise Desert Hawk during the Rann of Kutch operations had brought the PAF almost on war footing, and when the Indian Army clashed with the Pakistan Army in the Chhamb sector, the PAF was ready to meet the challenge. Due to this inter-services synergy, Pakistan Army quickly swept across the plains of Chhamab Jurian sector inside the Indian-held Kashmir.
The PAF gained ascendancy in the September war after the first four crucial days; by this time, the IAF had, lost heavily in aircraft and pilots, and the PAF had achieved the miraculous air supremacy all over Pakistan. The IAF planes came in waves, with a numerical edge of 5:1; but went back in singletons and twos, spraying the wreckage of remaining on vast swaths of (West) Pakistan.
PAF took full cognizance of the IAFs much larger air fleet and prepared its aerial strategy to offset this handicap. IAF fell into the trap by fighting the crucial air superiority battle over Sargodha. The PAF made full use of the medium level capabilities of the highly maneuverable F-86 Sabre. Supported by a few high performance F-104 (only one squadron), the PAF turned the tables. Harassing and running tactics by the IAF were an invitation to disaster; for which it had to pay heavily. The PAF aircraft, orbiting and waiting for them, would pounce and get them after a chase either inside Pakistan or a little across the border. Heavy losses suffered by the IAF, in its attacks against PAF Base Sargodha, convinced the IAF that it could not match the PAF. Though Indians have made much of the PAF possessing air-to-air missiles (GAR8), only a few aircraft were installed with these sidewinders; most of the PAF kills were recorded from the aircraft guns.
PAF fully capitalized on air superiority and went on all-out offensive; striking almost all IAF bases by day and night. Close support to the army was provided on different fronts. Air superiority over the land battle zone enabled the Pak Army to move and fight unhindered by the IAF. PAF also had sufficient effort to spare for attacking the Indian army at will, thus restricting its combat capability.
PAF, proved to be a responsive instrument, which adopted requisite aggressive posture that crippled the IAF on the ground. Decision to go ahead with the initial strikes against the main IAF air bases, even when the number of available aircraft was considerably below the required figure, indicates a typical aggressive mindset. Erstwhile Control & Reporting (C&R) Branch of the PAF (later renamed as Air Defence Branch) played a significant role in achieving the vital objective of air superiority. The synergic effect created by induction of scant inventory of radars in to aerial combat had largely offset PAF’s numerical disadvantage. The climax of air defence operations was conduct of intercepts, in non-radar lit up zones, by utilizing inputs from Mobile Observer units.
Pakistan Air Force came out almost unscathed from the seventeen-day war. When war ended, the PAF had the enemy on the run; it could have totally annihilated the IAF if the war had continued. Those who tend to distort the history are often poised to face it again in its real replication.
[The Nation, September 7, 2015]
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.