“We need to back-up our ability to do battle damage assessment” – a critical statement from Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria on the first anniversary of the Indian Air Force’s attack on the Balakot terror camp in Pakistan where the government has not been in a position to release images or video of the impact of the hit.
While the Air Force did strike the buildings it targeted using a penetrator version of the Israeli Spice 2000 satellite-guided bomb, the release of images or video “becomes even more important because of the information war that starts after that.” According to Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria, “that is one takeaway from this (the Balakot mission) for sure.”
It’s not that the Indian Air Force went into the mission on February 26, 2019 without planning to release imagery of the attack. That part of the plan went awry primarily because the Air Force’s Mirage 2000 fighters were unable to launch six Crystal Maze missiles which were meant to provide a video feed of the attack as they homed in on their targets. None of the Crystal Maze missiles could get a target lock, possibly because of the presence of a low cloud base that day. As a result, the only weapons which were fired were the Spice 2000s which do not provide a return video-feed and are designed to penetrate structures such as buildings to take out ‘soft targets’ such as terrorists inside without necessarily bringing down the structure itself.
“It is good to have some capability that we can get images that can be released and that can control the narrative, explain the narrative even further when there are dissenting voices,” the Air Chief said. Within days of the Balakot attack, international observers released commercially available satellite imagery of the site of the Air Force attack and claimed that these images did not back up the claims made by the IAF.
The Air Force has, for long, argued that the impact of the attack on the Balakot terror camp can only be seen in ultra-high resolution satellite imagery that it acquired from a friendly partner nation. This correspondent has been shown one of the images of the attack which shows three bomb entry points in the northern most structure targeted in the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp. This image has not been released because of the terms of the agreement the government has with the source of these images.
Neither could an Indian satellite, positioned over Balakot provide the Air Force with the images that it needed for quick public release. “If the satellite picture would have come the next day, we would have been in a better place but the weather wasn’t clear even that day. But, we have taken actions and we have the capability.”
But for the Indian Air Force, the release of video or images has always been secondary to what it believes the attack on Balakot achieved.
“We know what we’ve done. The Pakistan Air Force knows what we’ve struck. Their establishment needs to know, which they do know. So, there is no doubt,” the Air Chief said.
“You can forget about what they’re saying in media of the information war,” said the Air Chief. “What we did is known to us and to them, very clearly.” The primary message of the government was to send out a clear message: “You cannot use your territory to orchestrate attacks against us and that stands.”
Asked if the possibility of the use of air power between two nuclear armed neighbours might be repeated, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria was clear. “We were well-suited then and we are better suited now because (after) having undertaken that kind of mission we have taken steps in terms of inducting capabilities, weapons, in terms of communication, sensors that would be useful.”