Around 3 pm on May 8, 1999, I was on my way from HQ AOC J&K at Air Force Station Udhampur to HQ Northern Command at the request of the Chief of Staff (CoS).
Sitting beside me was the Commanding Officer of a Mi-17 Sqn based at Udhampur. He had flown fighters earlier but had converted to helicopters on medical advice. He was coming along as the CoS had 'something' to discuss on deployment of helicopters.
Unlike other Army Command HQs where the IAF has established 'Advance HQ' of the concerned Air Command, HQ AOC J&K was different. Apart from being the representative of the AOC-in-C Western Air Command at HQ Northern Command, AOC J&K also had operational control over the air bases and other IAF units north of Pathankot. The IAF's air logistics network covering the Indian Army and PMFs deployed in the J&K Valley and Kargil/Siachen sectors was also controlled and coordinated by HQ AOC J&K in liaison with HQ WAC.
In the CoS's presence, we were briefed about 'a few intruders' who had come across the Line of Control (LoC) and occupied some points vacated by our Army during the winter. These intruders were interfering with the vital Srinagar-Leh road and interdicting the supply lines. There was a need to airlift troops, ammunition and other essential supplies to augment the forces at Kargil.
It was also briefed that the army had lost two long range patrols (see Murder before Kargil) in the previous few days. There was urgency to build up force levels and evict the intruders. A request was also made for Mi-25/35 gunships to attack the points occupied by the intruders. This request was made with increased urgency again on May 10. It was then explained that these gunships had not, till then, crossed the Zojila Pass due to their weight/altitude restrictions (Well after the Kargil Ops, the IAF successfully flew a stripped down Mi-35 across the Zojila Pass during winter when temperature and air density conditions are favourable, and carried out firing practice).
The additional Mi-17s required were immediately ordered to Thoise. On May 11 the Army asked for armed Mi-17 helicopters to attack the occupied points. The extent of intrusions or the numbers involved from across the LoC continued to be a mystery. Employment of armed aircraft/helicopters within 10 km on either side of the IB/LoC is prohibited as per an air agreement signed between India and Pakistan in 1991. I transmitted Army's request upwards as it was outside my jurisdiction to say 'Yes' or 'No'.
Image: Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, (extreme left) and the author (third from left) survey the terrain from a forward area in Kargil. Photograph courtesy Indian Defence Review. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.