India used US U-2 spy planes to map the extent of Chinese incursion in the 1962 war, starting a short-lived cooperation wound down after Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s death.
The U-2s flew several sorties over the India-China border, taking off from a base in Thailand, before switching to an unused World War II airfield in Charbatia, south of Kolkata.
The cooperation started on Nehru’s request for military aid after the Chinese invasion of India in October 1962, according to a declassified CIA document released on Thursday.
“In the negotiations that followed (Indian request), it became apparent that Indian claims concerning the extent of the Chinese incursions could not be reliably evaluated,” said the document.
Indian and US intelligence cooperation was not out of the ordinary then. Nehru was informed of the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959 and arrival at Indian border by the CIA. US intentions, this instance, went beyond providing India information on Chinese invasion. It wanted to set up a base in India for U-2 flights over the Soviet Union and China.
It succeeded: Charbatia was the pay-back base.
U-2s then were single-engine high-altitude recconaissance airplanes run by the CIA.
The flights started in 1957 and remained largely a secret until the shooting down of a U-2 over the Soviet Union and the capture of its pilot Francis Gary Powers in 1960.
Back in 1962, US ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith sold the U-2 plan to the Indian government saying they will be necessary to provide a more accurate picture of the Chinese incursion.
Prime Minister Nehru gave his consent on November 11, and allowed the reconnaissance planes — U-2s — to refuel in Indian airspace, said the declassified CIA document.
The flights were to take off from a base in Thailand, and because they did not have overflight permission from Burma (now Myanmar), they had to come in from the Bay of Bengal.
The first flight took place on December 5, but the aircraft was able to take photographs of only 40% of the target area because of bad winter weather conditions. The second flight, on December 11, had better luck. Four more flights would be conducted in January. Nehru was briefed about the findings of these flights in January and March.