Clearing the air
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The IAF was capable in 1962, even if not fully exploited
In what appears to be a quasi-official response, the nationalist Chinese daily, Global Times, reacted predictably to recent remarks made by Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne about the employment of air power in the 1962 war. However, certain facts need to be contested as they convey the wrong image of the Indian Air Force (IAF) of those times.
Contrary to what the report says, the IAF in 1962 did not merely consist of "British WWII Spitfire turbo propeller aircraft" and "second-hand" Vampire aircraft. It also had around 300 Mystere, Hunter and Gnat jets that were far superior to the MiGs —15,17 and 19 — that China had. In an excellent article written for Strategic Analysis, entitled "The 1962 India-China War and Kargil 1999: Restrictions on the use of Air Power", R. Sukumaran, a distinguished fighter pilot in the IAF and a researcher with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis at the time, argued that the absence of a broader understanding of air power within the politico-military intelligence establishment in India, and not a capability gap, resulted in the decision not to use air power.
The Global Times incorrectly assumes that the Vampire was the main Indian fighter aircraft of those days and goes on to highlight that Vampire aircraft had been trounced by Chinese volunteers as early as the Korean War. The report ignores the absence of any corresponding People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) capability for close air support missions to support the Chinese advance in both Ladakh and the NEFA sectors.
As for the IAF re-supply drops to forward troops being sub-optimal, it must be understood that just as the use of offensive air power in Kargil at altitudes in excess of 13,000 feet was a historical first for the IAF, re-supply drops at 14,000 feet and above had only been attempted by the IAF since November 1961, in support of the Forward Policy. In fact, Air Marshal C.K.S. Raje (retd) set a world record for the highest landing and take-off at Daulat Beg Oldi Advance Landing Ground on July 23, 1962, in a CH-47 Packet transport aircraft, which was the mainstay of IAF transport operations in the 1962 war. The feat also highlighted the competence and commitment of the IAF to support the Indian army in making up for the lack of a logistics lifeline in Ladakh and the NEFA.
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