Air Headquarters’ views on Offensive Air Support during the 1962 war
From an IDSA paper, The 1962 India-China War and Kargil 1999: Restrictions on the Use of Air Power by R Sukumaran:
The official history states that no notings or documents are available to explain the decision to forego the use of offensive air support. However, Air Marshal HC Dewan (retd), then Director of Operations at Air headquarters, is quoted as saying that he had advised the CAS against the use of offensive air support.
In his view, the rugged and heavily forested terrain in NEFA precluded the use of Close Air Support against dispersed infantry. Since armour was not likely to be used, there were no worthwhile targets for air attack.
With our troops heavily dependent on air supply, it would be best not to provoke the Chinese. As the larger Air Force, they could withstand losses that the IAF could not. IAF resources were also to be kept in the West to deal with a possible Pakistani threat.
Lastly, he felt that India was likely to forfeit international sympathy, if it chose to ‘escalate’ the conflict. There is no mention of bombing targets in Tibet. It seems that only Close Air Support in NEFA was under consideration. It was apparently felt that even within our borders, the use of offensive air power would be ‘escalatory’.
Decision not to use Offensive Air Power
The IB assessment of overwhelming Chinese superiority and likely Chinese retaliation appears to have tilted the balance against the use of offensive air power. The decision to limit the role of the Air Force to transport and supply seems to have been taken between September 18 and September 20, 1962. One year later, in a conversation with Marshal Arjan Singh, then Deputy Air Chief, Palit says that the Marshal admitted this grave misjudgement.
History, as the Dutch historian Pieter Geyl said, “is an argument without end”. Military history is no different. The arguments about the 1962 conflict too shall continue without end. But let us at least stick to the facts, such as those given above.