The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Air strikes to plug LoC holes

New Delhi, Oct. 1: Light attack craft of the Indian Air Force will be used with greater frequency along the Line of Control with the country’s military machine effecting a low-profile change in its strategy for counter-infiltration warfare.

Helicopter gunships and, possibly, even aircraft such as the Mirage 2000 can be used in the new strategy to plug infiltration routes along the LoC and to counter intrusions.

Full squadrons of fighters and bombers may not be used for such operations that are more likely to require a sortie or two by a single aircraft.

The change in strategy was brought about with an operation in July this year when IAF craft were used to clear the Loonda post in the Macchil sector in north Kashmir. The defence ministry had denied reports of the operation then but US intelligence had picked up the information and leaked it in Washington.

However, it was not clear from the end-July use of air power if it was a one-off operation or the beginning of an un-announced and un-advertised change in military tactics.

Today, ahead of the Indian Air Force’s 70th anniversary celebrations, Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy said there was a case for greater use of air power near the LoC.

“Air power must be used like the army uses artillery (on the LoC) but without the dramatics,” the IAF chief said.

“However, this is not a standard that will apply all along the LoC and for all operations. Risks will have to be evaluated and decisions taken. Conceptually, yes, it (use of air power on the LoC) does not tantamount to an escalation.”

So far, in the conventional wisdom of military observers on both sides of the border, use of air power on the borders has been interpreted as an escalation in conflict. For instance, the Kargil conflict of 1999 “erupted” into a war with the launch of the IAF’s Operation Safed Sagar, when fighters and bombers strafed positions held by the intruders.

The IAF chief’s observation that “air power needs to be used like the artillery by the army” also indicates that militarisation of the border does not stop at mobilisation and eyeball-to-eyeball deployment.

Artillery is used along the LoC by both the Indian and Pakistani armies so often that it has ceased to cause alarm except among western observers. An escalation in an artillery duel is measured on both sides by the frequency of use of heavy-calibre shells.

With a likely increase in the use of air power, the management of conflict will lie in the ability to keep conventional battles along the LoC at low-intensity levels.

In a sense, this is pushing the limits of brinkmanship to see if the “window” for limited conventional war — the favoured doctrine of the security establishment vis-a-vis Pakistan — can be expanded.

The air chief said that through the deployment since December last year under Operation Parakram, the air force had “achieved synergies” with the army right down to the battalion-level. In the structure of the Indian Army, battalions are the front paw of the army’s field units tasked with actual operations.

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