Pragmatic | From an IAF veteran of the 1962 war

Indian Air Force was ill-prepared for a war with China

Air Commodore (retired) S. Murugan, who commanded the only modern radar with the IAF in 1962, sent me this email. It was in response to the blogpost on Air Headquarters’ views on Offensive Air Support during the 1962 war.

I feel that your “facts” are incomplete. It is the kind of view from the experience of days of Second World war that had caught us unprepared during those troubled days.

Can you fight an Air War without any powerful Ground interception Radar and other supporting modern communication links? ( Today’s Fighter Pilots will laugh at such suggestions.)

We did not have any GCI radar with MTI capability that could detect targets under heavy clutter (mountainous terrain) either in the Western Sector or the Eastern sector. We had poor communication facilities.

The only Radar at that time available in Air Force that had a moving Target Indication under heavy clutter was an Early Warning one of American origin but produced in Italy. Obviously, this being an early warning one without height information could not be used for interception.

However, within the available resources, Air Force took up all measures to defend its potential targets. I was commanding a Radar Unit with this latest MTI capable Early Warning Radar in the Western Sector. When Tawang fell to Chinese, Air HQ immediately instructed me to move this portable Radar to a location in East for Air Defence early warning tasks on highest priority. Within 24 Hours, I , not only moved this portable Radar using AN 12  Aircraft provided for the purpose but also became operational within 24 hours. My task was mainly to provide early warning information to our Fighters. Since this was the only modern radar at that time with MTI capability, we could perform the assigned tasks.

When the American Team arrived in India after the cessation of hostilities on request of the Govt at that time, their first advice was to establish a Radar Chain along the northern Border to assist our Air Defence Fighters. Accordingly we procured the American Ground interception Radar (Starsfire) from USA and established a Chain that proved highly useful during the subsequent wars with Pakistan.

The plain fact was that Govt of India was totally unprepared for a war with China. Army suffered because they did even have a modern rifle and winter clothing to fight a war, Air Force did not have any modern Radar and communication facilities.

There is no point in blaming Air Force or Army on some of the operational decisions taken at that time. It is pure speculation how Air Force would have performed over a mountainous terrain with out proper ground radar if a decision had been taken to use the Air Force.

This fits in well with what Srinath Raghavan has written about the civil-military relations during and after the 1962 war. It should also put to rest a lot of myths which continue to be circulated 50 years after the war.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.