Two months after the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted the air strikes against a terror camp in Balakot following the Pulwama terror attack, it has conducted a detailed review and analysis of the operations on February 26. After the unpublicised air operations in Machil sector in J&K in 2002, this is the first time IAF had been used against Pakistan — in fact, in the Pakistani mainland and not Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) for the first time after the 1971 War.
The significance of these operations can be gauged from the high level of global interest and sustained international coverage for weeks following the air strikes, which lent an extra edge to the review which is de riguer for any military operation.
As with any military review, this one has also flagged the successes and failures of the operation, while highlighting the lessons to be learnt by IAF for the future. IAF was able to achieve strategic surprise in the manner it was chosen to be employed after the Pulwama terror attack, the selection of a madrasa at Balakot in a secluded area provided the operational surprise while deception provided by the IAF decoy being deployed towards Bahawalpur allowed the IAF to hit the targets without entering into an aerial combat with Pakistani fighter jets which were more than 150 km away.
The accuracy of Israeli Spice2000 precision-guided munition (PGM) was proven beyond doubt, even when multiple PGMs hit the same target at short intervals. The review also found that pilot proficiency was of the highest level. But it also brought home certain shortcomings in the operations: One of the Spice2000 PGMs did not leave the Mirage aircraft because of the mismatch caused by the drift in inertial guidance mechanism of the vintage jet, and the Crystal Maze AGM 142 munition — which would have provided the video of the hit — could not be fired by the pilots because of cloud cover. In an attempt to find a line of sight to fire Crystal Maze, the pilots in fact crossed the Line of Control which was a violation of a major rule of engagement, laid down by the political leadership for the IAF.
The lack of evidence of hitting the target and causing destruction is one of the biggest lessons learnt from a military operation with huge political import. This could have happened with better weapon-to-target-matching and sending another mechanism to send the proof, which would have quelled all doubts that have been raised since. With this review, the IAF has discovered the lack of its technological asymmetry with Pakistan, which tied its hands after Pakistani jets targeted Indian military installations on February 27.
IAF had first asked for more modern aircraft after the Kargil War, and two decades later, it is still awaiting the first Rafale. This lack of modernisation has happened under both the NDA and UPA governments, and unless that is redressed on priority, any government will find it tough to use the IAF against Pakistan in a similar scenario in the future.