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Reconstructing History

Jasjit Singh

By P.V.S. Jagan Mohan & Samir Chopra
Manohar Publishers, Delhi, 2005, pp. 378, Rs. 895.00


This is one of the rare books on air war in 1965 between Pakistan and India reconstructing history from personal accounts, diaries and interviews. Undoubtedly human memory would be hazy four decades after a war; and this is even more so in the case of air wars where the fog of war is normally much thicker than on land or at sea. Getting clear authentic accounts of air wars, therefore, have been problematic. An excellent attempt by two academics makes this book unique, especially when seen in the context of the pathetic official history written by a huge team under the Indian Ministry of Defence.   To begin with, the book destroys a number of myths, the most significant being the assumed outstanding performance of Pakistan Air Force (which Pakistan itself started to believe and suffered on this account in the war six years later). PAF had tremendous advantages over IAF, especially in high-technology weapons and systems like supersonic interceptor and missile firing Sabre Jets, generously supplied by the United States to fight communism. These weapons systems had been fully absorbed through training. IAF, on the other hand, like the Indian Army, was in the throes of rapid expansion trying to recover from the trauma of the 1962 War, it had started to expand from 25 squadrons making to barely 26 by 1965 by spreading its existing aircraft inventory and pilots with vintage aircraft like Vampires in service. Nearly 40% of the combat forces were locked up in the East and not available for use in the West reducing the quantitative advantage of IAF; and above all the full weight of IAF was not applied on the aggressor. Planning parameters based on government directives required conserving forces for a long-duration war stretching over months. Pakistan was also not only better prepared for the war but also held the initiative since it started the war at a time and place of its choice. In assessing the relative performance of the two air forces, the authors make the mistake that others (including India’s official historians) have made in assessing the losses in number of aircraft destroyed on either side.   But it is possible to experience low number of aircraft lost if they don’t fly and remain protected on the ground! This is why the accepted global norm is to assess the attrition rate, that is, the number of aircraft lost per hundred sorties flown. The attrition rate ...

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