FOR SEVEN years, Indians believed that the 1999 Kargil conflict was won, at least partially because of the excellent teamwork between the army and the air force. But Air Chief Marshal (retired) A.Y. Tipnis, who was the air chief then, has a different story to tell.
Breaking his silence for the first time, in an interview to be published shortly in the magazine FORCE, Tipnis has made some damning comments on the army's handling of the conflict. He has claimed there was utter lack of co-ordination between the army and the air force, and expressed "strong sympathy" for the army, which had not properly assessed the intentions of the enemy.
Tipnis has also said that the army did not tell the Ministry of Defence about the Pakistani intrusions until very late, "possibly because it was embarrassed to have allowed the present situation to develop".
Tipnis said, "I observed the ground situation was grave. The army needed IAF help to evict the intruders. But it was not amenable to the air headquarters' position to seek government approval for use of air power offensively as the army was reluctant to reveal the gravity of the situation to the MoD."
He has also criticised the army for not communicating intelligence to air headquarters. "There had been no call for a joint briefing, leave alone joint planning. The army just made repeated requests for helicopter fire support," said Tipnis, who had been against deploying helicopters, believeing they would be too vulnerable.
He said the then army chief General V.P. Malik "appeared to get agitated on my reluctance to use helicopters". In fact, if Tipnis is to be believed, a livid Malik stormed out of a meeting of the three service chiefs on May 24 saying, "If that is the way you want it, I will go it alone."
Tipnis had explained to Malik that helicopters would not be able to mask their approach while heading for enemy locations on the LoC ridge line and would be picked up by the enemy. Tipnis recalled Malik's response: "Do you think in my 40 years of service, I have learnt nothing about helicopter operations?"
Malik, who is currently in Goa, refused to comment on Tipnis's version of Operation Safed Sagar, the code name for the IAF's role in Operation Vijay.
Tipnis claimed too that in the second week of May 1999 the air force had had repeatedly offered to help the army, "but they said they could handle the situation".
He also mocked the army's decision to use "egg-shell-strong" Cheetah choppers in offensive action against hostile fire, saying it like presenting a chicken for an animal sacrifice ritual.
He said the army was upset that Air Officer Commanding (AOC) J&K had not accepted Northern Command's fire-support demand. The truth was that the AOC did not have the authority to do so and Tipnis was "not successful in persuading the army to accept the essentially of government clearance for air support".
Tipnis is expected to reveal much more in a book he is currently working on, tentatively titled 'Up and Away into the Blue Yonder'.
After getting the go-ahead from the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security), the IAF launched its offensive with MiG-21s and Mi-17s on May 26 -- more than two weeks after IAF vice-chief Air Marshal `Ben' Brar had asked army vice-chief Lieutenant General Chandrashekhar whether all was well. Tipnis claimed that Chandrashekhar indicated that the army could handle the situation. The IAF lost a MiG-21, a MiG-27 and a Mi-17 during Operation Safed Sagar.