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Air Marshal Nambiar, Kargil hero famous for jugaad in combat should have been IAF chief

Raghunath Nambiar’s unconventional combat experience that helped India during Kargil War should have tipped the balance in his favour for IAF chief post.

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When the Narendra Modi government announced Rakesh Bhadauria as the new chief of the Indian Air Force Thursday, it overlooked someone known for his heroics in the Kargil War: Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar.

Currently the Air Officer Commanding-In-Chief of the Western Air Command, Raghunath Nambiar is widely credited with the first air strike using a laser guided bomb on Tiger Hill during the Kargil War. The repeatedly watched footage of Pakistani soldiers running before the missile strikes is also from Nambiar’s aircraft. All this is public knowledge, and doesn’t require repeating. What is less known is the jugaad that went into that strike, and the subsequent ones, during the impacting air campaign, Operation Safed Sagar, in Kargil.

India has a penchant for jugaad, seen as a national ability to overcome odds through native ingenuity, which cuts across regional, linguistic and technical boundaries. The early period of the Indian rocket programme too included some form of jugaad, those that are now the stuff of scientific legends. This proclivity kindles an across-the-board admiration, and stretches into combat as well – where Raghunath Nambiar’s critical role, that too in the heights of Kargil, can never be overstated.

Also read: RKS Bhadauria to take over as next Indian Air Force chief

Nambiar’s ingenuity

Within the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Marshal Nambiar and another colleague of his are widely credited for coming up with a way that allowed French made Mirage 2000H to fire Israeli made laser guided bombs. It was, after all, a technology that France had denied India, and weeks into the air campaign in Kargil, this is what the IAF was sorely missing in its arsenal.

Various MiG-27 sorties, in their ground-attack role, had produced limited results. With targets dispersed at high altitudes, some ingenuity from the Indian side had become necessary. It was then that the Indian jugaad fooled the high-technology French circuitry into accepting Israeli Litening Pods as if they had always been germane to a Mirage 2000H aircraft. That cross technology marriage was the result of Indian brains coming up with ingenuity under extreme combat circumstances. In the Kargil War, Operation Safed Sagar proved to be the ultimate game-changer, backed by the heavy use of Mirage aircraft.

But Nambiar’s crucial role wasn’t limited to mixing technology and making Mirage more useful. His role in a previous operation had a far more critical impact for the soldiers on the ground, and could really be regarded as the turning point of India’s campaign to wrest the peaks back from Pakistani forces.

That operation is the outcome of some more jugaad, without which the enemy spots that needed to be targeted would not have been identified in the first place. This truly ended all hopes Pakistan had of holding on to the Kargil peaks.

Pakistan’s entire Kargil operation was dependent on an administrative and logistic camp set up at Muntho Dhalo, in the Batalik sector. Just as Tiger Hill was important for Pakistan, from which it directed devastating artillery fire, Muntho Dhalo was critical to maintaining the entire military campaign – from providing food, ammunition, and medical supplies to transiting soldiers. The location of the base had been speculated upon but never exactly identified. That is, until a Mirage 2000H duo, on an air defence sortie, picked up some footage through technological means that can also quite easily be classified as out-of-the-box thinking.

Going through the footage over and over again, the IAF figured out a camp of substantial size, but it was still difficult to identify it clearly as the snow cover helped conceal white tentage. Another sortie the following day gave a clearer picture of the scale and importance of Muntho Dhalo. On 17 June, multiple 1,000 lbs bombs fell on Muntho Dhalo, obliterating it completely, and with that Pakistan’s lifeline to the peaks.

Also read: Kargil hero R Nambiar takes over as chief of Western Air Command along Pakistan border

Overlooking something crucial

It is hardly surprising that Air Marshal Nambiar was awarded a Vayu Sena Medal for gallantry.

But years later, when the time came to suitably reward him and put his ability to greater use, the Indian government overlooked him for the top job of IAF chief. The commander-in-chief was in the running for the post, along with three others, and his (un)conventional combat experience that helped India overwhelmingly during the Kargil War, should have tipped the balance in his favour.

Of course, it is the government’s prerogative to pick whomsoever it wants to, but combat experience, and not seniority, has been used to elevate someone to the top job on earlier occasions (for instance, in the case of Army Chief General Bipin Rawat). That the government doesn’t value jugaad in combat is more saddening, but obviously the 21st century is very different from the 20th century.

The Air Force announced the Pakistani casualty figures for Muntho Dhalo six months after the ceasefire in 1999, after it had verified the numbers. In 2019, hours after the Balakot air strike on 26 February, media reports based on ‘official sources’ claimed hundreds killed, including a brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar. The government had later said there were no Pakistani soliders or civilians killed in the air strike.

The author is a Congress leader and Editor-in-Chief of Defence & Security Alert. Views are personal.

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  1. i think it was more to do with Mr. Nambiar acting smart just before IAF chief selection process and less to do with capabilities of both air warriors. He went on advertizing spree(giving interviews to different media) just before the process and Modi govt likes secrecy. You guys should remember they didn’t disclose full list of ministers before their oath-taking ceremony.

  2. An outstanding salesman does not necessarily make a an excellent general manager. There must be systems, so let us trust those instead of poking fingers with insufficient knowledge.

  3. What happened ..who is chief???? It doesn’t affect defence and air Force…it is progressing it’s own… it’s called tenure management… board , selection, award and recognition.. will always have ❤️ burn at some one and some will be happy… it’s part of Indian defence… Some decisions or selections are wrong & some are very good…but still we are moving forward…so discussion is irrelevant…spl now when nothing can be done….

  4. This article is full of bias and pro Congressi thoughts so how much money have paid .
    Appointment of Chiefs of three services is solely decision of government .

  5. That’s very right….. because in India caste plays an important role…… Rajnath (def.min.) and Bhadoria are of same caste and same state…… This is a hard fact …. believe it or not, it’s your choice

  6. Before elaborating the author should know the background of it. Can the author tell how many accidents took place under the leadership of Mr. Nambiar as the EAC chief. And more importantly what happened to those pilots involved. It is a very well thought decision as Mr Nambiar is known to leave his wingmen aside as he did for various pilots who were involved in accidents. This was his fate because of his own actions. Well deserved.

  7. It’s sad after the new chief is announced there is still talk if the choice was correct or not. We have a new IAF chief and we should respect that fact, period. How does polarizing help?

  8. How much has the author been paid for writing this article. Surely he is a Lutyens congressie who just believes in jugaad and not merit. The same future awaits all congressis.

  9. What a sham…..this article is a very poor attempt at Jugaad. It was great that appointment to such important positions was not based on ignorant opinions and manipulation.

  10. A bad attempt at stocking controversy. We need to understand mil ops apiori. This article is demeaning and shows lack of respect for senior mil leadership especially RKS Bhadauria and Nambiar

  11. There is no place for personality centric glorification in mil ops. Its a team. Team works, team plans, team delivers. The article is an amateurish opinion of Govt and IAF functioning. The uniforms have no credence or patience for these bytes.

  12. Kargil air ops saw heroics by legacy fighters who could not carry PGMs. Mirage 2000 had one. Doesnt make it a panacea. IAF shud have all PGMs integrated on its mainstay flankers today.

  13. Jugaad is in Indian DNA. We make the most of all we have. As for tech compatibility, Israelis and IAF Engg staff deserve due credit.
    Try asking the Air Marshal himself, who will agree that he was not whole sole executioner. Such is the magnanimity of IAF leadership.

  14. Does this arm chair spokesperson know anything about how air ops are planned?
    It isnt a one man show Mr Manvendra. Its a team work. When the team works, the appropriate rewards flow.

  15. Military operations are a product of multiple brains trying to fructify the larger designs of a Commander.
    To apportion disproportionate credit is not in good spirit but also reeks of poor knowledge.

  16. Senior military officers dont claim credit of collective achievements. Thats just how they lead. To try and embarrass him is only soiling his legacy.

    Imagery Int is a specialized function requiring tedious data sifting and back breaking sifting of every sq inch of images.

    Discoveries arent accidental. They require planning and lots of analysis.

  17. Each General equivalent officer is of extremely high caliber. It’s just plain chance and prevailing wisdom that only one can become the Chief. To mean others are less or have lost out is plain insinuation.

  18. In a Democracy, it is the Government which decides the appointment’s and the present Government is mature enough to do it’s Job. We don’t need an author to advise the Government.

  19. The author details say Congress leader. Had you put your skills in winning the elections, you could have the opportunity to select. Now that you didn’t make the grades, better think on how to turn the politics around rather than put amateurish writings for public consumption & create chaos.

    • That’s very right….. because in India caste plays an important role…… Rajnath (def.min.) and Bhadoria are of same caste and same state…… This is a hard fact …. believe it or not, it’s your choice

      • completely agree with you..infact, rawat was made army chief as uttarakhand elections were due and due to influence of doval (both are garwali)

  20. I read RKS Bhadauria has lead the development and testing of Tejas. That could be the reason he is preferred over others. With government inducting Tejas into IAF.

  21. The GoI has made the announcement. So….Manvendra Singh, jugaad or otherwise, should realise and know that it’s his opinion only. After all everyone is entitled to one!

  22. About the final two lines of this article:
    When government said “no death of civilians/soldiers” it meant that only terrorists were targeted, without collateral damage.
    Either the author fails to comprehend simple English, or has a serious agenda wherein it is ok for him to discredit India/ IAF to malign the ruling party.
    It is fortunate that the author has not yet considered himself, for chief of defense staff and written an article on it. The sort of crap which print is publishing of late, even that is possible.

  23. The article is in bad taste. Manwendra though has been reporting on defence matters but would certainly lack the true knowledge on individuals. RB is too a hard core professional but has avoided publicity. B Suresh was another contender and a true combat pilot and a gentleman & hardcore professional.

  24. Well now people in digital media whom we dont even know about, would tell the government about their next air chief, might be possible in Congress raj but now its called MODI RAJ and you are certainly not welcome 🤭…
    Well wanna ask you that do you get paid if people post comment on your story? If it is so I urge people to ignore such ” Padhe Likhe Gawar”

  25. The Mod Babus have a system where if the defence minister is a keralite then a keralite will be promoted .Now a UP defence minister is there they have promoted a UP Marshal.At CIN C stage any one can be promoted to the chiefs post as difference is practically nil.All of them start fromNDA and any one who survives 37 years has all the exp capability knowledge to be the chief.

    • That’s very right….. because in India caste plays an important role…… Rajnath (def.min.) and Bhadoria are of same caste and same state…… This is a hard fact …. believe it or not, it’s your choice

  26. So now The Print will decide who the next Air Force chief should be ?!! Come on, grow up. The chief is not selected on the basis of jugaad, but on many, many serious considerations. The govt is fully competent to evaluate the candidate on merit, and take an informed decision. So, please, media stay away from all this sensationalism. It harms the services, and in turn the nation.

  27. Your qualifications and capabilities to opine counts. If you are not found worthy to be consulted by selection committee , such articles are not considered to be with good intentions.

  28. Seriously….jugaad? You would have said the opposite if he would have been selected….then you would have a problem with jugaad mentality….. grow up print!

  29. Unless one has confidential Dossiers of all candidates,it is not appropriate mention some one is fit for the Post. The Author does not have access to all dossiers. He narrate his story based on the details publicly available.

  30. Notwithstanding the professional capabilities of the two air warriors, is it necessary for Print to create divisions in the Air Force hierarchy by coming out with such a superflous article ?

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