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'Going to war would be meaningless and extremely costly in human and economic terms'

The Air Marshal Kapil Kak Chat

Air Marshal Kapil Kak (retired) now works at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:10 IST)
Hello everyone. I am here to answer your questions.

Prakash (Thu May 27 1999 8:10 IST)
Mr Kak, Why can we not use our Remote Sensing Satellites (with whatever resolution camera we have) to spot the merceneries?

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:14 IST)
Prakash: The detection of the large number of mercenaries at five different snow-bound cites in the Kargil sector was made during the period May 6 to 12. Thereafter, precise positions are known and thus the question of utilisation of remote sensing satellites does not really arise. I may mention that India would very soon have one to two metre resolution capability. Prakash, you will be delighted to know that in the 6.5 metre category India has the most cost beneficial package which is globally in great demand. In fact, we are selling ready-made packages to the US which does not have such a high over-all capability in this range of resolution.

sc (Thu May 27 1999 8:10 IST)
Mr Kak, why did our military strategists fail in not anticipating attacks on our planes and losing two pilots?

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:21 IST)
sc: It would not be fair to say that the two pilots being shot down was not anticipated considering that shoulder-fired Stinger missiles were expected to be in abundance in this area. Perhaps, some counter measures may also have been adopted.

In this case one pilot (MiG-27) is reported to have had an engine failure soon after attack. In the pullout he was seeking a clear area to eject in when he may have gone across the LoC. It does not seem that Pakistan can take credit for shooting down this aircraft as he has ejected from this aircraft due to a technical problem.

As for the second aircraft in the process of looking for his colleague who had ejected earlier he too seems to have strayed onto the LoC or maybe perhaps a wee bit across it when he was downed by a Pakistani surface to air missile.

manas (Thu May 27 1999 8:19 IST)
Sir, isn't shooting down our MiG and capturing our pilot a clear signal of war by Pakistan??

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:24 IST)
Manas: I do not think that it is a signal for war but it certainly is an action that is very escalatory. This is more so as only the other day the Pakistani leadership had made a statement that they will retaliate only if attacks are made in their territory. In this case, both pilots appeared to have strayed into Pakistani air space inadvertently.

samir (Thu May 27 1999 8:15 IST)
Sir, why are junk aircraft like the MiG 21, which is flying beyond its expected lifespan being used in such crucial operation

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:28 IST)
Samir: The type of targets, the nature of topography and terrain and the fact that Mig 21 continues to be the mainstay of the IAF perhaps favoured employment of this platform. I may mention that if media reports are authentic, the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world, the American Stealth (F119) was shot down apparently by a MiG 21 in Yugoslavia.

While the machine is no doubt old, India is upgrading nearly 125 of these machines to get more economic life out of them at low investments. The aircraft are going to be used for many, many years. I would therefore hesitate to call this aircraft junk.

Prakash (Thu May 27 1999 8:28 IST)
Mr Kak, in 1971, the Pakis were 40 miles into the Rajasthan border. In 1999 they are 40 miles into the Kashmir border. Why are our borders not effectively guarded?

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:31 IST)
Prakash: I am sorry this will be the last question of yours because there are many in the queue. The intrusion, Prakash, is not 40 miles as you have said, but four to six kilometres. This is not to dilute the gravity but only to emphasise that it is not in the interest of both India and Pakistan to have a full-fledged conventional war. The Kargil imbroglio should be localised and the crisis defused after India has evacuated/eliminated the mercenaries/intruders aided and supported by Pakistan regulars.

V (Thu May 27 1999 8:29 IST)
What about the right to hot pursuit? These infiltrators will be back again and again. Why don't you all invade abd wipe them way into POK???

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:33 IST)
V: Dear V: I admire your macho spirit. But at the dawn of the 21th century the concept of pride, security and peoples' well-being has an entirely different connotation. The Indian armed forces will have to ensure that their objectives in Kargil are met through an effective, sustained joint air action. Going to war would be meaningless and extremely costly in human and economic terms.

AjayDate (Thu May 27 1999 8:33 IST)
What lessons would you say we have learnt from this 'action' ?

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:37 IST)
Ajay: The foremost lesson we have learned in the past three weeks since the intruders were detected is that the collection, collation and dissemination of civil and military intelligence must be augmented and refined. The army and the air force must jointly evolve a common plan and then work deliberately and determinedly towards meeting the common tasks.

Zoony (Thu May 27 1999 8:35 IST)
What are the implications of Pakistan downing two of our aircraft going to have on the elections... If full scale hostilities do break out who will be in charge of operations ??

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:45 IST)
Zoony: I do not see the downing of the two aircraft having a major impact on the elections. Much will depend on how the crisis is resolved and when. No doubt political parties will try and extract as much mileage out of these operations as they can. But it seems to me that the air strikes and the initiatives to evacuate the intruders have a general consensus that cuts across party lines.

I do not see the possibility of full-fledged war because the days of fractionation, subjugation and cutting across a country and dividing into bits are indeed over. War, if any, will be short, high intensity with large levels of attrition.

The objective would be to catch a vital territory of the adversary as soon as possible to enhance one's bargaining position at the negotiating table. I do not think there is any problem of who will be in charge of operations. The three chiefs (Army, Navy and Air Force) would plan and conduct war under the directions of the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, who is the chief having the longest innings in that office.

Political directions would be provided by the Cabinet Committee on Security presided over by the prime minister. Thus a caretaker ministry has as much credibility as a normal elected government.

james (Thu May 27 1999 8:43 IST)
Will this be repeated every year when Indian troops withdraw from the mountains in winter?

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:53 IST)
Dear James, I do not think intrusions of this scale and magnitude are a common feature in the Indo-Pak Line of Control scenario. This has been a deliberate, audacious and determined move of the Pakistan army to capture territory, gain a position of advantage on the Line of Control and threaten India's vital communications jugular running from Srinagar to Leh.

The lesson that has been learned hopefully is that the Line of Control will have to be monitored far more effectively and intrusions contained well before they reach crisis proportions.

As for your second question, this is a low intensity conflict scenario and to my mind it should stay below the threshold of conventional war. The nuclear conflagration that you talk about is very far from the horizon because there exists very clear fire breaks between low-intensity conflicts, conventional and the nuclear regimes. You need to have no worries or fears of India and Pakistan being any less responsible than the United States and the former Soviet Union in the Cold War context.

AjayDate (Thu May 27 1999 8:45 IST)
Why can't we do what NATO is doing in Kosovo mountains. Fly planes higher and bombard the locations ?

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 8:58 IST)
AjayDate: The topography, terrain and the operating scenario in the sector in question is a pilot's nightmare. Compared to this the Kosovo mountains are hillocks. I am saying this, because there is a range of mountains averaging about 17 to 19 thousand feet. The intruders have also taken up positions on some of these hilltops on criss-crossing mountains.

The bombardment that you are talking about is not feasible. Fighter ground attack aircraft have to primarily use rockets and guns and, in very rare cases, bombs delivered in shallow or medium dive attacks.

VVV (Thu May 27 1999 8:56 IST)
If infiltrators/invaders crossing LOC does not constitute WAR ITSELF but "a limited action"/ "sign of war" etc, then get used to getting invaded time and again spending billions for 50 more years

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 9:3 IST)
VVV: I deeply appreciate your concern and earnest desire to seek revenge. But for India, a mature, restrained and respected player in the international system, the crisis has to be handled with tact and dexterity. The objective, we should be clear, is to evacuate, eliminate the intruders and restore the sanctity of the Line of Control. Once this is done, the composite dialogue with Pakistan must continue as before and tensions got diffused so that the two countries can get on with the business of their vital, common compulsions; that of socio-economic growth of their people. This indeed would be true security of both the nations.

Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak (Thu May 27 1999 9:4 IST)
Thank you very much for asking such brilliant questions. I hope to interact with you all later. Good Bye.

Questions Air Marshal Kak did not answer