Secrecy: The Top Most Concern in War Planning

Operation Balakot Part 3

(Secrecy – the top most concern in war Planning)

The Element of surprise is one of the cardinal principles of war. Surprise is achieved by maintaining complete secrecy before an operation.

In olden times people used to say, “walls have ears”. Nowadays, with tremendous advancement of technology, “The wind and Sky, too, have ears”.

The side which fails to keep its secret, however powerful, is doomed to lose in war. It is not only the spoken words; the opponents closely monitor actions of one another around the clock to understand the respective opponent’s intentions.

Siachen

Let me give a live example. Most of us have heard of Siachen. It is a glacier with all major passes going through it. This barren, bleak, snow-covered glacier is vital for both Pakistan and India for strategic purposes.

Since 1977 Pakistan had an eye on Siachen to physically occupy it. But they adopted a discreet method. They started sending foreign Mountaineering Expeditions in that area, some Army elements used to accompany them to survey the area. India was completely unaware of their evil design.

In 1977 an American Map accidentally fell in the hands of Colonel Narender’ Bull’ Malik. In that map, the Siachen area was shown under the occupation of Pakistan. This alerted the Army Headquarters.

Arrangements were made to send Col Malik on a secret mission to survey that area. Col Malik hand-picked a team of officers and men for the expedition. He kept the aim of the mission secret. But he did mention to his team members that they would cross the line of control (LOC). 

Soon enough, Mrs Malik overheard ladies discussing the expedition and exclaiming how risky it would be. The secret was out in the open.

In any case, Col Malik and his team went to Siachen and found evidence left by some Pakistani soldiers who must have climbed to Siachen along with Japanese mountaineers. 

When Col Mailk reported his findings, Army Headquarters planned to occupy Siachen. The operation was code-named, Operation “Meghdoot”.

Eight months in a year, Siachen remains covered under snow with an average temperature varying between -30 to -50 degrees Celsius.

Indian Army did not have suitable snow clothing to work in that temperature. Meanwhile, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) submitted an intelligence report stating that the Pakistani Army was urgently buying Snow Clothing in huge quantities from the Scandinavian countries.

Indian Army Headquarters understood that the Pakistani Army was planning to come and occupy the Siachen glacier sooner than later. Indian Army decided to capture that area before the Pakistani Army could.

The race against time began. Getting snow clothing proved difficult for India since the market was already emptied out by the Pakistani Army. Yet the Indian Army kept trying hard to procure them.

Knowing that people from East or West Punjab would never want to move out of home without celebrating this important festival, the operation date was fixed on 13 April 1984, the Vaishakhi day.

The winter clothing arrived on 12 April 1984 evening. Immediately, a team comprising 30 high-altitude fighters proceeded by helicopter early next morning under the leadership of the then Captain Sanjay Kulkarni.

To maintain secrecy, Captain Kulkarni was strictly ordered to maintain complete radio silence. During the operation, one soldier succumbed to high altitude illness. 

Radio silence was broken just for a few seconds to ask the base to make arrangements to take back the body. But that was enough. In the next one hour, the Pakistani Army Helicopter was circling overhead the Indian team’s location.

The secrecy was compromised. However, with tremendous grit and courage, the Indian Army occupied all the crucial points of Siachen. When the Pakistani Army tried to climb up the glacier, they were repulsed.

Here we see that the Indian Army failed to keep their intention secret by allowing the team members to know the destination by Col’ Bull’ Malik and Capt Sanjay Kulkarni by ordering to break radio silence despite clear instructions.

The Pakistani Army, on the other hand, did not try to camouflage their buying spree of snow clothing. This divulged their intention to the Indian Army.

These real-life examples would drive home the importance of keeping the plan of action totally secret from the opponent party if one wants to succeed in a war. 

In operation Balakot, no efforts were spared to keep the planning totally secret. It was ensured that the Chief of Air Staff, AOC-in-C WAC, and only two more senior officers knew the plan’s full details. 

But practically, it was almost impossible to maintain the secrecy and prepare for the mission simultaneously; because many people had to be involved in the preparation.

A flurry of activities before the operation would definitely alert the opponent in no time. Considering all aspects, Mirage 2000 Multirole Fighter Jets were chosen to spearhead the mission.

However, Mirage 2000 base was at Air Force Station Gwalior, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Central Air Command.

The IAF needed 12 fully serviceable and armed Mirage 2000 fighter jets. It was required to ensure these were available without raising an eyebrow. 

An ingenious plan was devised. The Directorate of Air Staff Inspection (DASI) is an official inspecting body of the IAF.

Inspectors posted with DASI assess the tactical and operational levels of Aircraft used in the IAF to ascertain if they can meet war-time requirements. They also inspect and rate the performance of the IAF pilots and squadrons.

The Chief of Air Staff, within his prerogative, ordered an instant surprise check of the Mirage 2000 squadron at Gwalior. He also instructed the Directorate that some best pilots were needed to be tested on simulators only.

The subject of their test would be ‘night flying skill in mountainous terrain’. This way, nothing would look like abnormal activity. Even the Air Officer Commanding of the Air Force Station Gwalior got the impression that the whole exercise of DASI Inspection was nothing unusual.

As soon as DASI inspection ended, Air Marshal Hari Kumar air-dashed to Gwalior in the garb of attending a farewell party. His mission was to brief the pilots adjudged the best of all by DASI.

Later, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa threw a farewell party for the retiring AOC-in-C on 25 February 2015, just to maintain the façade of total normalcy.

The party had ended around 10.30 pm. At 01.15a.m on 26 February 2019, Mirage 2000 fighter planes took off one by one from the runway of Air Force Station.

After three and half hours later, at 3.45 am, they were pounding Balakot Camp with smart bombs at 0345 a.m. 

                                                                                                              ….to be continued 

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