IAF lacked ODL during Balakot strike, fighter jets went incommunicado
Absence of operational data-link (ODL) was one of the biggest hurdles that the Indian Air Force (IAF) faced during the Pakistan Air Force retaliation on February 27, a day after the IAF carried out Balakot air strike deep inside Pakistan territory on Jaish-e-Mohammed terror training camp.
Pakistan Air Force had better electronic warfare Jammers, said Pravin Sawhney, former Army officer and an independent military analyst. “In so far as Wing Commander Abhinandan is concerned, he was captured by Pakistan primarily because he could not hear the instructions given by the ground controller for him to come back. Why? Because he did not have the software defined radio which obviate the noise clutter,” he added.
Speaking at the Military Literature Festival on Saturday, Sawhney warned, “Electromagnetic spectrum has a very important role to play in war. The threat to India is not Pakistan, threat to India is interoperability.”
Citing one more such example, Sawhney claimed that on February 27, IAF Sukhois took off but they did not know where to go and they actually came back. “As the Pakistan Air Force had better electronic warfare Jammers, they were able to disturb the communication and Sukhoi-30 pilots were absolutely incommunicado,” he added.
The former Army officer was one of the panellists at the session titled, “Understanding The Message of Balakot”.
Former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa (Retd) under whose leadership Balakot air strike was carried out was also one of the panellists in the discussion, besides former vice chief of IAF, Air Marshal K K Nowhar (Retd) and Squadron Leader Sameer Joshi (Retd).
Sawhney said the IAF still does not have the data links which are absolutely critical and he had been hearing IAF talk about network centric operations since 2003. “The Pakistan Air Force had been using the ‘Link 70’ since last 15 years. They had been upgrading since 20/11 (Mumbai attack),” he added.
India is patting its own back for the successful Balakot operations, said Sawhney, adding that he would refrain from taking sides and would be critical about IAF’s operational readiness as far as the network centric warfare is concerned. He emphasised that it was not important that you had 11,000 sorties. “What is important is your Mirage able to communicate in the air with your Sukhoi? Is the Sukhoi able to communicate with your ground,” he added.
The incumbent IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria had himself admitted to a magazine that lack of operational data-link hampered the IAF response on February 27, said Sawhney. He said that his point was “if you do not win the war in the electromagnetic spectrum, you do not win the war at all.” This is why the US military had designated electromagnetic spectrum a war domain itself.
Traditionally, India had been following the electronic warfare which is very complicated, whereas Pakistan has always maintained the balance both at the strategic and operational level, said Sawhney.
‘We Are Not PAF’
Air Marshal K K Nohwar (Retd) said that the IAF has put in place the zest for making the operational database successful and operational. But everything takes time. He said the IAF was not the PAF where all the budgets are directed towards whoever can raise his hand high. “Suffice it to say that if the IAF was found wanting in electronic warfare system, in the response that was given by the IAF to defeat or to frustrate the PAF AMRAAM missiles would not have been possible if the electronic warfare system was not up to date,” he added.
‘Aim Was Not To Kill All’
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa (Retd) said that the operation was not to kill all and destroy all but was aimed at destroying terrorist training camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). “We had crossed the line of control after 47 years…Had they gone for war with us, they would have to literally eat the grass,” he added. The former IAF chief elaborated that pilots were systematically trained to carry out strike meticulously during early hours.