Balakot @ 5: Listen To The Chief Who Ordered It

On the fifth anniversary today of India’s air strikes on Pakistan’s Balakot, Livefist reproduces for the first time here a speech delivered by Indian Air Force chief at the time, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa. The speech was made at the Chandigarh Military Literature Fest in December 2019 three months after his retirement.

By Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa (Retd.)
Chief of the Air Staff, Indian Air Force Dec 2016-Sept 2019

1.      From the Mumbai Bomb blasts on 12 March 1993 in which 257 people were killed and 713 injured, to the Mumbai attack on 26 November 2008 in which 175 people died and 291 injured, there was no Military Response from the Indian state.

2.      First response come after a terrorist attack at Uri Military Camp on 18 September 2016 in which 23 people got killed and 08 got injured. This was retaliated to by the Indian Army with an attack on terrorist launch pads inside PoK.

3.      There was a paradigm shift in the way the Indian Government would respond to the terrorist attacks involving mass casualties.

4.      Pakistan got the message that the new government would respond militarily to a major terrorist strike on its soil.

5.      So, when the terrorist attack took place at Pulwama on 14 February 2019 in which 43 people died, Pakistani Establishment was clear that there would be a retaliation!

6.      There were only two questions.

          (a)     When would the retaliation take place.

          (b)     And where would the retaliation take place.

7.      I just want to clarify at this stage, as per my understanding Pakistani Air Force (PAF) is not in the inner circle of the Pakistani establishment, there were not aware from where the ISI was running its terror organisations, which I will explain later.

8.      The forward launch Pads were vacated should there be a repeat of 2016.

9.      While the Jesh-e-Mohammed (JeM) Headquarters at Bahawalpur which was known to everyone was adequately protected, JeM Training Camp at Balakot was devoid of Terminal Defences. Hence, I believe PAF was not in the loop, otherwise they would have beefed up the terminal defences!

10.    Then the big question is why the Air Option was agreed to this time even though the IAF has always told the National leadership both after the Parliament attack in December 2001 and the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, that it was ready with a Day/Night precision strike response.

11.    This happened because of a decisive National Leadership in place backed by the fact that all three Services gave an assurance that should it escalate, we are ready for it.

12.    A very wise political decision was taken to respond against a non-military target, that too the JeM itself! Which perpetrated the Pulwama attack!

13.    So, the Government’s political objectives were very clear to tell JeM and the Pakistani establishment that such attacks would come a cost and no matter where you are be it in PoK or Pakistan proper “We will get you” – That is essentially the Message of Balakot.

14.    Before going into further details let me clarify that Balakot operations and the Air Defence response on the 27th February are still classified. Hence, I am not going to go into technical details of what and how it was done.

15.    While details of Kargil conflict have been shared extensively during the 20th Anniversary Functions, as we do not do attacks in that primitive manner (GPS aided Bombing) anymore!

16.    Operational capability involved in our execution of the Balakot attacks and our intelligence capability cannot be compromised just to win a perception battle in the media.

17.    But both the Pakistani establishment and JeM got the message! As there were no major terrorist attack from February 26th till the conclusion of the Indian General Election in June 2019. Because the Indian Army, Navy and the Indian Air Force were forward deployed to give a punitive response at a very short notice. Since PAF had targeted our Military Installations on 27th February, Pak Army had become a legitimate target had their strikes been successful, we would have wiped out their forward brigades as we possessed the requisite weight of attack! PAF is happy with a limited period and limited area engagement as it can’t match our conventional response.

18.    Lastly the fact remains in February 2019, the were reeling under a severe economic crisis, their Forex reserves were 15 Billion, compared to 400 Billion in our case. Their external debt was 105 Billion $. So, had they gone to a war with us, or even if our Navy had enforced a Maritime Exclusion Zone around Karachi and Port Quasim Harbours, they would have to literally eat grass! Exactly what their late Prime Minister ZA Bhutto had foretold that he would do to get a nuclear weapon!

19.    But the Pakistani Military Establishment has to project itself as a saviour to its own people to enjoy the Perks, Privileges and a lion’s share of budget in an impoverished economy. Please see the article on Praetorian Penury in the Economist dated 19 January 2019. I quote “Of the four wars between the two countries, all of which Pakistan lost, India launched only one, in 1971—to put an end to the genocide Pakistan was unleashing in what became Bangladesh. Even if politicking before a coming general election obscures it, development interests India more than picking fights. The paranoid doctrine helps the armed forces (Pakistan) commandeer resources. More money goes to them than on development.”  Hence, they had a compulsion to spin a yarn around what happened on 26th and 27th of February this year.

20.    The Indian Government’s message of Balakot was to the Pakistani Military establishment, ISI and JeM, not to the Pakistani public or an effort to win a propaganda battle with Pakistan in the international media. Like it says we were not interested in picking a fight!

21.    Had it been so, we would have used different weapons and different modes of attack for some of which presently PAF has no counter.

22.    With the induction of the Rafale and the S-400, the Technological Asymmetry would be once again be restored in our favour. Pakistan would go broke as with 15 Billion Dollars of FOREX reserves it can’t’ afford to match us as it would cost them more than half their National FOREX reserves!

23.    Pakistani narrative is mainly based on two postulations: –

(a)     First that Indian Air Force Strike did no damage; strike was declared a success for the consumption of the domestic audience.

(b)     Pakistan’s Swift Retort sent a message and India could do nothing about it in the bargain IAF lost 2 aircraft (with no Pak losses).

24.    Coming to the first point: –

(a)     The damage caused can be seen even in coarse commercial imagery, you can see a clean roof – then a roof with holes – then the roof is repaired.

(b)     Why would IAF aircraft hastily drop their Fire and Forget weapons and run away when at that time there no interceptor within 150 Kms of the strike package!

(d)     There were no terminal weapons on target whatsoever.

(e)     Why should the Pakistani Military cordon off a non-military installation if it has not been hit (Photo of US, UK and Israel Flags on the Ground).

(f)      No ground visit was permitted for nearly 43 days.

(g)     Then a guided tour was taken to the Mosque in the complex that nobody hit!

(h)     PAF bit the bait on Bahawalpur as their Army did not tell the PAF there was a JeM Terror training camp running in Balakot, they did not deploy any additional sensors or terminal weapons. (This is nothing new in 1971, in the Longewala Battle the Pakistani 18 Division thrust took place without asking the PAF to activate Jacobabad, hence, no air cover was available and IAF Hunters had a field day in decimating Pakistani Armour! Not having learnt any lessons again in the Kargil Conflict, though the Pakistani regulars had infiltrated much earlier, the PAF was informed only on 12 May 1999. Hence, they were in no position to activate Skardu in strength). So much for jointmanship and fighting a coordinated battle at the operational level from the Pakistanis in spite of having a Theatre Commander who also happened to be de-facto ruling the Country, with not only all wings of the military and the entire Government machinery working for him.

(j)      Su-30/ BhraMos combination and surface to surface BharMos – was operational, Pakistani Air Defence would have been ineffective against it, sans its terminal weapons with no exposure to own forces. But the warhead size is large it’s primarily meant to sink ships. It was not a military target with a Kill All, Destroy All mission!

(k)     Some weapons were not successfully released, but that is what Over the Target Requirement (OTR) is all about, everything doesn’t happen as per plan. Hence, redundancies are built in. 

(l)      Debrief was hindered by clouding on 26/27. However, SAR pictures were available in the classified domain. To see an 80 Cms hole in a building you need to put at least 2 pixels on the hole (approximately 40 Cms resolution), initial assessment by international agencies relying on open source imagery were way off the mark! As they didn’t know our aim points and the weapons that we had used.  Some agencies put out that there was an elevation error, thinking that we have used only open source SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) data, which for Jaba Top is incidentally inaccurate! Nothing could be more naïve to think that we are in possession of weapons that are capable of being programmed with Level 2 Digital Terran Elevation Data (DTED) and we don’t have our own Digital Elevation Model (DEM)!

25.    Coming to the Second Point, did Swift Retort send a message?

(a)     PAF missed its targets, the weapons dropped at a distance up to 1.5 km from important Military Installations. Well within the danger zone of these bombs

(b)     If signalling was all that was intended then smaller calibre weapons or greater miss distances could have been used.

(c)     Stand-off weapons – First generation – IN/ GPS guided, H-4 with TV data link and most importantly with large wings, having a large Radar Cross Section were tracked by our Radars.

(d)     We lost a MiG-21, who crossed over in his exuberances to get a kill. Pakistanis lost an F-16 too in the process.

(i)      Our troops have seen two aircraft going down

(ii)      Parachutes were seen at two separate places

(iii)     Open source videos confirm two objects at two different places fell from the sky!

(iv)    In addition, the Radar track vanished as it was shown to the Press!

(v)     Our threat library programmed into our sensors shows that this track was that of an F-16. The MiG-21 Bison which is in the process of being phased out, doesn’t have a Non-Cooperative Target Recognition (NCTR) facility that other platforms like Su 30 etc have! 

(vi)    Lastly, why did the Pakistanis launch a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) in the area? To pick up a PoW? or to pick up their own aircrew downed in the area? PoWs are captured by ground troops, CSAR rescues own pilots who are at a known location!

(vii)    Notwithstanding the over exuberance of the DG ISPR who kept changing his stance on how many pilots were downed and who reached the Military Hospital, it is very clear that once the full picture emerged, they wanted to cover it up.  What was the need for him to lie and say the F-16s were not used, something that the Pakistani side has not yet answered till date!

(e)     Compared to all this Pakistanis have nothing to show for their Su-30 claim.

(f)      This is nothing new Pakistanis have done it in the past. On 07th of September 1965, the first Mystere attack on Sagodha took place in which one Mystere was lost but it managed to shoot down a F 104 Star Fighter, which acknowledged by Pakistani historians much later.

(g)     We will have to wait for some time for the truth to come out from the Pakistani side.

(h)     The fact that Pakistani soldiers were present in Kargil and not Kashmiri Militants was acknowledged by Pakistan only in 2006 when General Pervez Musharraf’s Book “In the line of Fire” came out. They didn’t even claim the dead bodies after the cease fire was announced. As a State they are known to be misrepresenting facts! Unfortunately, many in our country still buy their argument hook, line and sinker!

26.    The bottom-line is should we give away our technical abilities to win the perception battle?

(a)     Our continuous radar pick-up of the area and gaps if any due to mountain shadows

(b)     Our ability to de-crypt the data link or encrypted communication system of PAF

(c)     Our capability in Image Intelligence in both Optical and the Radar Spectrum to see the precise damage.  

(d)     Accuracy of our Digital Elevation Models (DEMs)

(e)     Just for reference the Top Gun Movie, released in 1986 most air action covered mainly showed close combat sequences, whereas – the western air forces had moved on to Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat.

(f)      Five years later during Gulf War I most kills were BVR.

(g)     No country advertises its current capability just to sore a Brownie Point.

(h)     It can be reasonably summed up that the Pakistani narrative is for its domestic consumption!

27.  The Message of Balakot therefore was to tell the Pakistani Establishment and Terrorist organisations that there would be a cost to pay for their terror attacks in India, which was effectively conveyed.

28.    On our side apart from some mistakes for which remedial measures have been taken and people responsible will be punished, we could not impose costs on the PAF on 27th of February. The biggest lesson that comes out is that in a limited area, limited period engagement technology matters, this would be addressed to some extent with the induction of the S 400 and the Rafale aircraft.

29.    What about the responsibility of the people who were to get this technology and kept negotiating for nearly 10 years to get the MMRCA? What would have happened in the same engagement had Wing Commander Abhinandan been flying the Rafale aircraft instead of the MiG 21 Bison? We had a technological asymmetry in our favour during Op Prakram, after the Parliament Attack in 2001 which some Pakistani writers mention as the BVR Gap. We allowed it to slip. These people are equally responsible to the Nation not only the Indian Air Force for not imposing costs on the PAF post Balakot!

Thank You and Jai Hind

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