- IAF was ready to target major Pak military formations:BS Dhanoa
- He said only specific elements of Jaish infrastructure were targeted
- 40 soldiers were killed in suicide attack in Pulwama on February 14
In his first remarks since he retired earlier this year, former Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa has said that India was on the verge of escalating the conflict along the Line of Control (LoC) had the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) struck targets on Indian territory a day after the IAF strike on Balakot on February 26 this year.
''Since the PAF had targeted military installations on the 27th of February (a day after India struck the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp near Balakot), the Pakistan Army had now become a legitimate target and had their strikes been successful, we would have put a considerable weight of attack on their forward brigades,'' he said.
In other words, the Indian Air Force (IAF) was ready to escalate the conflict between India and Pakistan by targeting major Pakistani military formations, not just posts along the LoC, a scenario which could have resulted in open war between the two nuclear armed neighbours.
As it turned out, the Pakistani Air Force did not hit a single military target in the Rajouri-Poonch sector that it targeted despite launching precision guided bombs from their upgraded Mirage fighter aircraft. The Pakistan government has always claimed that the retaliatory attacks on February 27 were meant to demonstrate intent and capability, not an attempt to escalate tensions between India and Pakistan.
Neither was India ready to ''pick a fight'' with Pakistan when the Indian Air Force launched its February 26 attack on the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in retaliation for the Pulwama terror attack on February 14, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldiers were killed in a suicide bomb attack.
Speaking in public for the first time on the military options the Indian Air Force had available, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa (retired) said the Air Force targeted only specific elements of the Jaish terror infrastructure. Had that not been the case, the Air Force had the option of using the far more potent BrahMos supersonic strike missile.
''The Sukhoi 30-BrahMos combination and surface to surface BrahMos were operational. But the warhead size is large. It was not a military target. It was not a kill all, destroy all mission,'' said the former Air Force chief.
Speaking about the planning of the armed forces after the Pulwama terror attack, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa, who retired on September 30 this year said, ''All three services gave an assurance that should it escalate, we are ready for it.''
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa (retired) was speaking at the military literature festival in Chandigarh.
Balakot was specifically targeted since the Indian Air Force believed the Pakistani Air Force was ''not in the loop'' about the terror training activities at the facility.
Had the PAF been informed, they would ''have definitely beefed up their terminal defences''. In other words, they would have deployed surface to air missile units to intercept any incoming Indian fighter jets.
Responding to reports that the Indian Air Force had missed it target when it launched Spice 2000 satellite guided bombs against the Jaish facility, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa (Retired) claimed ''operational capability involved in our execution of the Balakot attacks and our intelligence capability cannot be compromised just to win a perception battle in the media.''
International military observers, relying on satellite images available in public, have stated that there was no evidence of the Indian Air Force hitting its targets. The Indian Air Force for its part, has argued that the satellite imagery that these experts were relying on did not provide the resolution to detect the impact of the bunker-buster variant of the Spice 2000 bombs it had used, weapons that penetrate a certain depth before exploding, in the process killing human targets inside a building while not necessarily bringing down the entire structure.
''Initial assessment of international agencies relying on open source imagery were way off the mark,'' said the former Chief. ''They didn't know our aim points and secondly, they didn't know the weapon that we have used,'' he added.
The former Indian Air Force Chief has also admitted that the Indian Air Force committed ''stupid mistakes'' when the Pakistani Air Force launched its retaliatory strikes against India a day after the Balakot strike.
''We could not impose significant costs on the PAF on the 27th of February,'' he said.
In the context of air battles in the subcontinent, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa (retired) said ''technology matters''.
An Indian Air Force MiG-21 'Bison' commanded by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was shot down by an F-16 belonging to the Pakistani Air Force in the air battle along the LoC on February 27 after which Abhinandan Varthaman was taken into custody by Pakistani forces.
Though the Wing Commander was able to shoot down a Pakistani F-16 moments before being downed himself, the Indian Air Force believes it was at an operational disadvantage vis-a-vis the Pakistani Air Force, which fired US-made AMRAAM missiles which outranged anything in service with the Indian Air Force's interceptors on that day.