That war, 44 years ago

CNN-IBN has dug up old wounds by claiming that the absence of IAF in the 1962 war against China proved to be the deciding factor for the conflict.

I write this, almost exactly 44 years after the Sino-India war. I feel there is still much to be learnt.

It was 10th of October 1962, when the Chinese attacked India. Of all the weapons used, the one weapon which India had no answer to was surprise. The Indian military was caught off-guard while this could be taken as one of the earliest instances of a string of failures that have followed Indian Intelligence till date.

Air Vice Marshal A K Tewary is quoted at Ibnlive here, that the war could have turned out a ‘debacle’ for China, if the Indian thinktank had allowed the IAF to prove their air-superiority.

This has been a well known, a well advocated theory. Anyone who has followed the chronicles of Indian Military has at one point of time or the other come across the events that unfolded in the 1962 war. Why exactly was the Indian Airforce Fleet not allowed to be the aggressor, when it was common knowledge that the IAF held an edge over the opponent from the east?

There are various reasons. The Indian administration expected the Chinese to retaliate heavily and to the highest possible degree if the IAF bombed the China mainland. The IAF was superior technologically, for it had the best of the British Fighters that included The Hunter while the Chinese held the edge if one considered the number of aircrafts. But the latter claim could be safely assumed to be of less significance as the PLAAF had only six air-strips in Tibet, the place from which the attacks on the Indian soil were carried out. The argument was that The IAF could not afford to loose planes, which it was expecting to, if the Chinese expanded their military action to attack Indian cities as a part of the retaliation.

Some argue that this assumption was flawed because with only six air-strips in Tibet, it was hard for China to even think of penetrating deep into Indian targets. In the days to come, the notion which the Indians held, of the Chinese ‘retaliation’, turned out to be nothing but faulty intelligence.

The other reason for not using The IAF as an offensive force was a fear of Pakistan attacking from the west. This was indeed a real possibility which had to be taken into account.

But overall, it turned out to be a disaster, not using the IAF as an offensive force (I am forced to think that the Indian thinktank, at all levels, fears crossing the International borders, even in the case when attacked upon. If you notice, a very similar situation developed in the Kargil conflict too). It should have been kept in mind that the Chinese onslaught could not have continued for long, as they were having a rough time themselves getting reinforcements for the advance. It was impossible for the Chinese army to continue operations at full-throttle with inadequate airfields along Tibet, which had been the base camp for the operations (and I like to think that this was one of the reasons, that has made the Chinese to build a rail link to Lhasa but that’s another story).

Nehru, the then PM, turned to US for help. The demand was of fighter (and bomber) squadrons, manned by USAF pilots only to patrol Indian mainland cities (not for action outside the borders). The US declined to provide India with combat planes. If the IAF was not using their own pilots for combat, the US was not to fight India’s war, it was argued (and rightly so). What the US agreed was to give 12 USAF transport aircrafts and an aircraft carrier in the bay of Bengal.

Jawaharlal Nehru was not much of a military man and he failed to recognise India’s military needs as early as in 1947, when he was quoted as saying, “We foresee no military threats. You can scrap the army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs.”

There was much learnt after the Sino-Indian war, after which Nehru admitted the mistake and said that we have been living in an unreal world, created of our own.

And, he continued to say, that in today’s world, there is no place for a weak nation.

1. The 1962 India-China War and Kargil 1999: Restrictions on the Use of Air Power
by R. Sukumaran
2. “You can scrap the Army” by Wing Commander (retd) R V Parasnis
3. India is loosing by Dr Michael E Marti
4. The Cuban Missile Crisis

One thought on “That war, 44 years ago

  1. Aditya, a wonderful post. I liked the references you have given at the end. It is so perfect and professional.

    As you say, the 1962 debacle is such a mystery. We were rather immature, I thought. May be because of the violence we had been undergoing, there was some sort of guilt and a compulsion that we love peace. In the bargain we haven’t been realistic when we should have been. The Chinese experience demonstrated it best, in the most tragic way.

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