'We should have seen these signals and reacted earlier.'
'We miss out on a certain strategic advantage by arriving late on the scene.'
Air Marshal P K Barbora and Air Commodore Nitin Sathe (retd) discuss the IAF's readiness to operate against the PLA.
Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Bhaduria, paid a 'quiet' visit to the all important airfields of Leh and Srinagar on Friday.
The chief of the air staff was brought up to speed on the situation in the region and also briefed on the readiness of the IAF assets recently deployed there in response to the incident in the Galwan valley on the night of June 15/16 at the Line of Actual Control.
I thought I must de-mystify the event and asked Air Marshal Pranab Kumar Barbora, who once headed the Western Air Command and retired as vice chief of the air staff, what he thought of the deployment of fighter aircraft in forward airfields and the indicators thereof from a military perspective.
"This is nothing new that has happened. Such kind of plans were conceptualised and practised right from the time I was the C in C of the Western Air Command," the air marshal points out.
"I had moved the big birds (the Su-30s) to Leh to see if they would have problems in operating there," the air marshal adds. "When I went there, I was so happy to see that the boys were happy with the operating environment and were raring to go."
"My brief to them was simple: Fly around the area by day and night, get used to the mountains around you, but keep within the rules and limitations of operating near the borders," Air Marshal Barbora recalls.
"You see, noise and news travel quickly to the other side in the hills. The idea was to make the other side know that we were operational from the altitude with the new aeroplanes," he remembers.
"It was a tremendous morale booster for our forces."
"Today we have deployed there with the same intent, I suppose. We have been augmented by newer aeroplanes now. The Chinooks will provide for heavy lift capability from inaccessible areas whilst the Apaches would give us more cutting teeth at that altitude and show our offensive intent should the situation demand," the air marshal explains about the new helicopters in the IAF inventory.
"It is not as if we cannot operate from the lower airfields in the south or central sectors. We have tremendous long range capability today due to the availability of air to air refuelling and also the ability to swing forces from one sector to another in short timeframes," Air Marshal Barbora points out.
By moving aircraft to Leh, we are not signalling that we are ready for war, are we?
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of deployment of fighter aircraft to forward airfields, especially in times of heightened tensions like today in my assessment:
"Should we not have employed these machines earlier?" asks Air Marshal Barbora. "I really wonder why the delay. They (the PLA) had a massive exercise going on on the Tibetan plateau. Movement from there to augment their forces in this area would be easy."
"We should have seen these signals and reacted earlier," the air marshal says. "We miss out on a certain strategic advantage by arriving late on the scene."
"You cannot trust the Chinese, just cannot," Air Marshal Barbora emphasises. "They think 50 years ahead because they have the wherewithal. We can't even think 5 years ahead as of now and therefore it stunts our ability to think long term."
Air Commodore Nitin Sathe retired from the Indian Air Force in February 2020 after 35 distinguished years of service in the IAF.
A helicopter pilot, he served as the station commander at the IAF's Jammu station between 2010 and 2012.
Production: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com