Tuesday’s strike is the kind of deep offensive strike which the Air Force practises every day. What happened in the wee hours of Tuesday is not a big thing—we practise this during times of peace.
The aerobatic displays that we see the Air Force perform during events such as Gagan Shakti and Vayu Shakti are the off- beat events.
Deep penetration strikes are in fact the bread and butter of the Air Force. Anybody who wants to gain an understanding of this can do so by taking a look at the log book of pilots. This was a clean operation as the pilots smoothly performed the task that was assigned to them. The way the operation was conducted shows the sophisticated functioning and nuanced skills of the pilots of the Air Force. The only difference this time was that this was a real action and every pilot waits for such an opportunity.
On a live mission, the one thing we have to be always ready for is to execute it successfully and ensure it does not fail. Every personnel internalises this rule. In fact, we can escalate the number of aircraft depending on the target. Our skilled pilots are trained to handle formations as big as that of even 40 aircraft, depending on the mission assigned to them.
The planning starts accordingly when one enters the enemy territory. The Enemy Order of Battle is taken into consideration; electronic intelligence, enemy radars and enemy combat air patrol aircraft are taken into account during any such operation. Next, the planning to hit the target is set, including the way in and the way out after hitting the target. There always remains a high possibility of enemy retaliation and we don’t plan missions without factoring in retaliation. These boys train day in, day out, day and night. They are known for their flexibility, surprise, speed and accuracy. This is what the world saw in today’s operation— the ingrained quality of the characteristics of air power.
However, the biggest concern is one needs to have accurate intelligence. One cannot be bombing where there is nobody. Thus the nature of Air Force operations is risky. This very reason has made people hesitant of using air power in the last several years.
An analysis of operations that took place in recent history will show how important air power is. In the past 20 years, none of the operations have started without air strikes.
You do not force your troop to man-to-man contact. Whether non-state or otherwise, air power certainly brings to the table a wide consideration. I am glad the government used it. People may say it can be escalatory but the nation needs to be prepared. The application of air power sets the intent of the government.
The government’s decision to strike the terror camps shows its resolve to root out terrorism from its soil. This pre-emptive strike is also a show of strength and decisiveness on the part of the government. The success of the strike is a reflection of the government’s broader intent to address the issue of terrorism. It was nice to see every political leader praising this action of our Air Force.
In a non-military confrontation, we have exercised the choice of pre-emptive strike. The message is that India would not tolerate violence beyond a point and opening the envelope of strikes goes two ways. These matters are handled in militaristic and diplomatic terms. This is what happened on the ground on Tuesday—the execution of a non-military strike which was required to be accomplished. We have attacked the terrorists’ command headquarters, including their terror camps. India has made the choice of defending itself and has been considerate not to damage any innocent life.
This strike is also a classic example of how smoothly the intelligence agencies functioned—hats off to the agencies which toiled to provide real-time actionable intelligence and inputs for this exercise. This incident is also exemplary of how strong teamwork can change the ballgame—where inputs from all have been incorporated to carry out a clean operation. However, only time will tell what has been the effect of the operation on Pakistan and its intentions to curb terrorism on its soil. As time passes, we will know if Pakistan cooperates to put an end to its terror camps.
India in the past has repeatedly talked to Pakistan and tried to open a dialogue on terrorism. It has told Pakistan time and again to act on the terrorist outfits urgently and to dismantle the terror camps. In fact, our government has been giving dossiers to Pakistan containing precise information about the location of the terror training camps operating from their territory. But the latter has paid no heed and things always came back to square one. But now the time is up. If we find terror camps which Pakistan refuses to acknowledge and act on, we will take action and not allow chaos to reign in India.
Certainly, it is the government which will take the final call on when it is required to take action and decide the future course. After all, what is the country’s service meant for? It is for defending the nation.
Air Marshal R K Sharma (retd)
Former Vice Chief of the Air Staff