"At a time when India is compelled to think seriously about the security challenges posed by China's continuing military modernization -- especially as it affects India's ability to protect its equities along the formidable Himalayan borderlands -- a critical assessment of the IAF's contributions to the Kargil conflict is essential and in fact long overdue," says the foreword to a report brought out by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The US thinktank-sponsored report on the role of the Indian Air Force in the Kargil war by Benjamin Lambeth is titled "Airpower at 18,000': The Indian Air Force in the Kargil War".
The foreword, by Ashley J. Tellis, senior associate, said that in the spring of 1999, "the world slowly became aware of Pakistan's foray into the Kargil-Dras sector" of Jammu and Kashmir, a provocation that would incite the limited war now known as the 'Kargil conflict'.
"This clash represented a watershed in Indo-Pakistani security relations because it demonstrated that even the presence of nuclear weapons might not dampen the competition that has persisted historically between the region's largest states. But the conflict distinguished itself in other ways as well, especially in the scale and type of military operations," it added.
The foreword noted that though "past struggles for advantage along the disputed borders outside of declared wars invariably involved small infantry elements on both sides, the Kargil conflict was unique both in the number of major Indian land formations committed to the struggle and New Delhi's decision to employ airpower".
"The role of airpower, however, was tinged with controversy from the very beginning. Both during and immediately after the conflict, it was not clear whether the Indian Air Force (IAF) leadership of the time advocated the commitment of Indian airpower and under what conditions, how the IAF actually performed at the operational level and with what effects, and whether the employment of airpower was satisfactorily coordinated with the Indian Army at either the strategic or the tactical levels of war," it added.
It said the Kargil conflict demonstrated that airpower was relevant and could be potentially very effective even in the utterly demanding context of mountain warfare at high altitudes.
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