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From operation Brasstacks to Gaganshakti, a test of Indian military’s mettle

It was in Operation Brasstacks in 1987, when the army moved tens of thousands of troops to the western border, along with armoured columns, artillery and rocket systems, in an overwhelming show of military.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2018 07:36 IST
Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Gaganshakti-2018,Operation Brasstacks,1987 Operation Brasstacks
Then defence minister VP Singh greeting the three service chiefs during Operation Brasstacks in 1987. (HT Photo)

The Indian Air Force (IAF) concluded the biggest exercise in its history — Gaganshakti-2018 — last week, involving more than 1,100 aircraft testing its readiness to fight a two-front war. HT looks back at Operation Brasstacks which took place in 1987.

Context

It was in Operation Brasstacks in 1987, when the army moved tens of thousands of troops to the western border, along with armoured columns, artillery and rocket systems, in an overwhelming show of military.

Operation Brasstacks, the brainchild of then army chief, the flamboyant General Krishnaswami Sundarji, was intimidating and spectacular in equal measure.

It also asserted India’s superiority over Pakistan in conventional warfare.

“Sundarji believed in mechanisation on a massive scale with multiple core offensives supported by armour, artillery and airpower,” said military affairs expert Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (retd).

“This was part of a strategy to capture large swathes of territory as a means of deterrence, punishment and holding a strong negotiating position post conflict.”

Significance

In some quarters, Operation Brasstacks was seen as a full dress rehearsal for a war with Pakistan. “Our mechanised forces had come of age and we wanted to see how they would behave in a real war. It was about mobilising forces with speed and precision in a no-holds-barred exercise,” said Oberoi, who was then a brigadier looking after combat training at army headquarters.

The big takeaway from Operation Brasstacks was the capability of Indian forces to launch a swift offensive campaign. The exercise took place during a “particularly sensitive period” when tensions between India and Pakistan were high, and tested Indian’s readiness to meet any eventuality on the western front.Pakistan found itself on edge. It is no secret that Islamabad feared an Indian invasion.

Soldiers board a C-130J aircraft. (Picture courtesy: Indian Air Forc)

The exercise made the Pakistan army’s hackles rise, said Kak. “They saw it as a means to virtually break up Pakistan. The exercise had a shock effect,” he added. Like Brasstacks, Gaganshakti-2018 too was closely tracked by Pakistan. In a recent interview to HT, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa suggested that the western neighbour was rattled by the sheer scale and complexity of Gaganshakti-2018.

What Happened

The mock war was conducted in four phases. It all began with a secret tabletop exercise or a war-gaming scenario in Delhi Cantonment in 1986, followed by drills for large-scale mobilisation and deployment of forces at the Command level and, finally culminated in a full-scale combat exercise covering a wide range of military operations in Rajasthan.

“India had seen nothing like that in peace-time. Though it was purely a training exercise, United States and Pakistan viewed it as aggressive military posturing by the Indian military,” said former army vice chief, Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi (retd). He wrote and planned the first phase of the operation. Oberoi said then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was among the top leaders who were briefed on the first phase of the exercise.

The high-tempo military exercise simulated a full-fledged war between ‘Blueland’ and ‘Redland’, two opposing corps-level forces consisting of more than 75,000 soldiers each.

Backed by formidable air support and destructive firepower, the army carried out rapid armoured assaults and deep strikes into ‘Redland’ to destroy its war-fighting capabilities and capture territory.

First Published: Apr 29, 2018 07:35 IST