The Indian Air Force's best kept secret is out: Its stellar role in the Kargil victory 13 years ago had as much to do with its pilots and planes as that great Indian trick, jugaad.
Pilots flew real-time missions with hand-held GPS sets to home in on high-altitude targets, usually tiny contingents of Pakistanis occupying Indian positions. And its aces used hand-held video cameras to record bombing runs for post-op analysis back at the base.
The IAF's "innovative use of airpower (was) one of the excellent features of the Kargil operations", says a new study of the war by Benjamin Lambeth, an airpower historian, released on Thursday.
"A senior officer told me there was a word for these innovations - jugaad," said Lambeth.
The challenge for the IAF in Kargil was unprecedented. No air force had ever been tasked to bomb targets at elevations of 14,000 to 18,000 ft, against a backdrop that made spotting impossible. To top it, there were instructions to not cross the LoC.
A serving IAF pilot, who did not want to be identified, said, "We did use hand-held commercial GPS units, except they were not really hand-held…They were fixed in front, in a bracket."
So, what other jugaad did the IAF do?
Shooting up an avalanche, says Lambeth.
Pilots knew if you couldn't bomb dispersed enemy soldiers, you could hit them with something they least expected: shooting on a mountain side triggered an avalanche. Snow came tumbling down, in a rushing sweep.
There is more. Kargil was just the start. Or was it?