Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
Summer of 1999
On the 14th anniversary of the Kargil conflict, a view from the 5th floor of IAF HQs
AVM Manmohan Bahadur [Retd]By AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd)
The fifth floor of the headquarters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is the power centre of the air force. On a hot summer morning in 1999, I, a wing commander then was busy, with my nose dug deep in some file when the buzzer sounded twice in quick succession. That was unusual. As a staff officer to the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), and whose job was to manage his secretariat, two quick buzzes meant the boss was in a hurry. I yanked the phone from its cradle and said, “Sir?” Air Chief Marshal Anil Yashwant Tipnis said, “Get JD (H) and you too come along with him.” On the intercom I asked Group Captain Anthony, the joint director of the helicopter fleet, to come quickly to the Chief’s office; he queried, “What’s up?” as the Chief normally doesn’t call a joint director for consultation. I said that I didn’t know but the Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) had asked for an urgent meeting and was inside the office with him. It was around 10 in the morning on Friday, 14 May 1999. While the IAF knew that something was not right up North, it was about to learn that things were really amiss in the desolate heights over Kargil.

The Kargil MemorialAs I waited for Groupie Anthony to arrive, the Chief buzzed again and wanted to know how many troops could be slithered or dropped in the hills. Before he could be asked further details like altitude of the helipad, its size, fuel on board etc., he cut the line. ‘Tan,’ as Groupie Anthony was known as, walked in and in the same incredulous voice that I had heard on the intercom, asked, “What’s happened?” After quickly discussing the Chief’s query, we decided to ask for further details without which an answer could not be given.

We walked into the Chief’s office. He and the VCOAS were seated on the sofa with an army map lying on the table in front — the fancy one that the army makes with red, yellow and blue squares, rectangles, triangles et al. The same questions were shot at us to which we responded that the carrying capacity would depend on a host of factors like the time of the day (as it would affect temperature), height of the helipad, distance to the nearest refueling point (as that would determine the fuel on board) and size of the landing or drop-off area. We were told it would be around 15 thousand odd feet. Location? Somewhere in the Northern sector. Nearest refueling point? To which the Chief looked at the VCOAS who asked, why we wanted to know that. On being told that if the helicopter carried extra fuel it would mean greater weight and that would determine the number of soldiers that it could carry, the Chief interjected to say that it would be around 20 minutes flying away. There was another question that was equally important — would the area be clear for the helicopters to hover close to the ground so that the troops could jump off or would they have to hover high due to trees and vegetation and the troops would slither down on ropes? It was getting a bit too technical so the Chief decided to let us in on the actual problem; there are some intruders, he said, who had occupied a few peaks near Kargil and army troops were to be dropped to evict them. Now things were clearer, for Kargil and another place Dras (to be equally famous very soon) had refueling facilities and were not far from the scene of action. We said we would take a little time and come back with the details along with a map marked out with all the information.
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