The Kargil War took place between May 3 and July 26, 1999, in the Kargil district of Kashmir and elsewhere along the Line of Control (LOC)

by Idrees Lone

We remember the 1999 Kargil war as a skirmish that began with tales of perfidy and back-stabbing from the enemies as they kidnapped, tortured and killed Lieutenant Saurabh Kaila, Sepoys Arjunram Baswana, Mula Ram Bidiasar, Naresh Singh Sinsinwar, Bhanwar Lal Bagaria and Bhika Ram Mudh of 4 Jat Regiment of Indian Army at Bajrang Post in Kaksar Langpa Area of Kargil Region in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir.

During the subsequent three months of Kargil war, Soldiers from the Indian Army fought tooth and nail to evacuate the enemies entrenched on the treacherous heights all along the Kargil Range to our side; their gallant action is known as 'Operation Vijay.' The Indian Air Force dominated the fourth dimension of time through 'Operation Safed Sagar as they mounted attacks on the Pakistani infiltrators from Air.

As the ships from Indian Navy’s Western and Eastern Fleet were deployed at sea, we would hear the news about the Kargil Conflict on All India Radio bulletins which were played live exclusively for the ship’s company on the Ship’s EMR, twice a day: in the morning and the Evening.

As soldiers, irrespective of service or rank, you wish to fight a war. You want to show the enemy its true place. We believed, operation Talwar was the moment for all of us at the IN.

Role of The Indian Navy In The Kargil War

It has been 22 years since the Kargil War but memories of those days are still fresh in my mind. Even today as I write this, I can feel the sense of positivity and excitement also the sensation of the sea breeze off the coast of Saurashtra.

As the clouds of war thickened over the treacherous heights around Kargil in the month of May, the Indian Navy took pre-emptive steps and shifted the location of its yearly war exercise – Summer-ex from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. Every year during the months of May, June and July Navy's Eastern Fleet and Western Fleet warships conduct Summer-ex in the Bay of Bengal.

All along the Coast of Saurashtra and in the vast Arabian Sea that covers the western sea borders of the country, the Indian Navy had positioned its underwater, oceanic, air and land assets to counter the enemy. Ships and submarines were loaded with real wartime ammunition that included missiles, torpedoes, rockets, shells etc.

I was posted onboard a Leander Class Frigate called INS Udaygiri which specialized in Anti Submarine Warfare. The IN inventory had five Leander class frigates at that time. One of them was immediately dispatched for barrier patrol on May 20, 1999. Two missile boats were deployed at Okha port. Out of them, one patrolled the sea while the other one was placed as duty ready ship as was equipped to be cast-off at an hour's notice.

The Navy’s Electronic Warfare aircraft operated extensively along the Line of Control in support of land operations. Navy’s Survey Sailors were deployed with the army’s artillery batteries to act as Arty-OP to mark enemy’s gun locations.

The Pakistani generals had started resorting to threats of nuclear retaliation; the famous nuclear bogey had begun to play out. By the end of June 1999, it seemed imminent that full-scale hostilities would break out between two warring neighbours.

Navy Was Fully Armed And Ready For The Battle

At that time, India's naval strength was seven times greater than that of Pakistan's. It was unlikely that Pakistan would be able to withstand the strikes from Western Fleet alone while the Indian Navy was openly positioning the battleships from both its fleets nearer to Karachi. Indian Naval assets were laying a siege around Karachi, Pakistan’s largest port at that time. This forward deployment was having the desired effect on the enemy.

Pushed to a corner with almost negligible resources, Pakistan Navy went into defensive approach. They moved their oil tankers and major warships from the port of Karachi to Makaran to protect them from any sudden attack by the Indian Navy. The remaining Pakistani warships in Karachi were also ordered not to leave the port to avoid direct confrontation with Indian ships.

Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif had later on said on record that as the Indian Navy blockaded Karachi, Pakistan was left with fuel supplies that could just last six days of war.

Did The Enemy Know of Our Weakness?

At the peak of Indian Navy’s blockade operations, Pakistan’s Navy Chief had said: “it is not within our reach to withstand the immense strength of the Indian Navy.”

The Indian Air Force and the Indian Army were ordered not to cross the LOC while the Navy has always conducted its operations in international waters.

Warships from Navy's Eastern and Western Fleet were ready for battle. In mid-June 1999, operational orders for Battle (ORBAT) were issued by the Government of India. The ORBAT had clearly mentioned Rules of Engagement for the Naval Commanders and the Operation was code named Operation Talwar.

As the Braves of Indian Army were fighting against all odds versus the infiltrators lodged on the heights around peaks of Kargil; braving the treacherous terrain and the inclement weather; in the Arabian sea near Saurashtra, just 12 nautical miles from the port of Karachi; thirty ships of the Indian Navy were conducting intensive war exercise that had sent chills down the spine of the enemy.

As I mentioned earlier, two Veer class Corvettes (Missile Boats) of the Killer Squadron – Nipat and Prahar were patrolling along the coast of Saurashtra with Port Okha as its headquarters. The small size of the gas turbine-powered missile boats along with enormous lethality and strike capability made them invincible in naval warfare. Both missile boats could operate at a maximum speed of 42 nautical miles per hour at sea. They were equipped with four P-21 missiles each.

INS Udayagiri, Our ship was part of Indian Navy’s Suicide Squad so the ship’s company remained at action stations for almost twenty hours a day. The enemy was most afraid of India’s Russian make Kilo (Sindhu) Class submarines. Adversaries had nicknamed them as "Black holes."

With a maximum speed of 18 knots, the Kilo - submarines have the capacity to stay up to 300 meters below sea level. A kilo submarine with 53 member crew can stay at sea without any help for a maximum of 45 days. A special oxygen regeneration system gives them uninterrupted underwater endurance for two consecutive weeks without external oxygen intake. They can operate even in shallow waters.

Known as the Silent Killer for their camouflage or stealth capability, some of these diesel-electric submarines armed with deadly torpedoes and missiles; remained hidden under the enemy's nose for several days.

All the machineries were shut down for several days to keep the vessel from getting pinged by enemy Sonar. Even the mess gossips between the onboard crew were limited to whispers because even a slight noise would reveal their presence to the enemy sonar and could probably result in torpedo strike from the enemy. The submarines had left Mumbai harbour with fresh rations for just ten days and their covet under-water operation lasted for forty seven days.

Both Pakistan and its old and trusted friend the US are aware of the aggressive nature of the Indian Navy. Although there has been no official confirmation of the incident, America's love for Pakistan is an open secret.

A surrounded Pakistan looked toward China begging for help. Chinese premier gave audience to PM Nawaz Sharif in the last week of June 1999 but refused to help him directly. In the meantime, the Indian Navy intercepted a North Korean cargo ship carrying missile spare parts for Pakistan. There were speculations that China was delivering those weapons through North Korean route instead of directly helping Pakistan to evade international sanctions.

Operation Talwar

No official declaration of Kargil war was made by the Government of India. However, warships from India's eastern and western fleets were manoeuvring aggressively in the Arabian Sea. The deployment of the Indian fleets near horizon was discouraging for the enemies. The Indian Navy, which had laid a solid seize around the Pakis, was also vigilant for the security of Indian soil.

A joint maritime patrol of the Navy, police and customs called ‘Operation Swan’ was immediately launched for maritime security and to prevent covert attacks or terrorist incidents across Gujarat and Maharashtra.

We had a keen eye on every move of the Pakistan Navy north of the Arabian Sea. Efforts were also made to double the speed of Refit of the Navy's warships, so that most warships would be ready to fight in the event of an all out war.

During Operation Talwar, the Navy did not receive orders to attack till the end, and finally on July 14th, 1999 the then Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee, declared the Operation Talwar a success, bringing an end to one of Indian Navy’s silent and understated but significant campaigns.

Jai Hind.