The term “fire and forget” denotes a missile which after launching and acquiring a target does not require further guidance, it can destroy the target without the launcher being in the line-of-sight. Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) hit a specified target minimizing “collateral damage”, military for soft targets e.g. civilian casualties. The subject of much controversy within Pakistan, drones launch PGMs against militants successfully but do cause civilian casualties, the differing numbers have evoked even more controversy.
Last Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, a magnificent live fire exercise was staged at the Tameywali Firing Ranges near Bahawalpur (in southern part of central Punjab province). Conducted by the Army’s 2 Corps, Pakistan Army’s “Mailed Fist” (1 Armored Division) carried out the ground maneuver complemented by the massed guns of a supporting Artillery Division and Cobra gunships of an Army Aviation combat group. Once the advancing “enemy” was contained and “fixed” in place by an Armor Squadron, the PAF (Pakistan Air Force) was called into action. In a 12-minute outstanding and display of precision strafing, rocketing and bombing with great accuracy at close quarters, and despite their targets being barely discernible in the smoke, dust and afternoon haze, a range of PAF combat aircraft delivered a lethal combination of munitions, including a PGM launched from an F-16 beyond visual range. Combat pilots flying aircraft at supersonic speeds barely have split seconds to acquire targets and release their munition while simultaneously taking evasive measures against ground fire and anti-aircraft missiles (AAMs).
Having been on the receiving end of intense Indian aerial strafing, rocketing and bombing in Dec 1971 in the Chor desert, the accuracy of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles was really amazing. On Dec 12, 1971 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh – a regiment of Pakistan Army) commanded by Lt Col (later Brig) Mohammad Taj (SJ & Bar – Pakistan’s gallantry awards) led 60 Brigade (33 Div) brought post-haste by road, rail and road to Mirpurkhas from concentration area near Rahimyar Khan to relieve the Indian pressure on 55 Brigade (18 Div) at Chor and Umerkot without air cover. After the crack of dawn, I lost count of the dozens of Indian aircraft hunting in pairs on the road to Umerkot and then onto Chor. Dropping napalm from time to time, they got only a few vehicles from our entire Brigade, in stark contrast to Indian turkey shoot on 18 Div’s tank columns without air cover in the Cholistan desert. The intensity diminished after 2 pm when my unit shot down the second of two Indian aircraft by concentrated machine gun fire. With AAMs nowadays the results would have been much different, on the other hand the lethality of the PGMs at Tameywali gives one more reason to be grateful to God that they were not in use against us in 1971.
Having flown Alouette-3s (besides other rotary and fixed wing aircraft), one knows hovering at “stand-off” position for more than 15 minutes is difficult. Four Cobra gunships engaged their targets with precision and accuracy, speaking volumes for their professionalism and skills. It takes a special breed of men to magnificently brave the elements as our helicopter pilots have done magnificently in Swat and FATA during counter-insurgency operations. Our artillery has always been beyond compare in being precise and committed, the impact of the steady drumbeat of massed artillery fire of an Artillery Division was clearly discernible, accuracy to go with the lethality of the barrage. One would be lucky to survive such concentrated shelling.
The high point was the tank assault by an armored regiment, what a difference gun stabilization and smooth bore barrels make, with striking improvement in the skills to go with it. Even when stationary, the Sherman tanks supporting us in Chor destroyed enemy machine gun (MG) and Recoilless Rifle (RR) bunkers only after several attempts. Firing with lethal accuracy on the move is a huge game-changer, emulating Mongols riding their horses at full gallop targeting their arrows with accuracy. One of our problems has been “fire control”, the unwritten practice being to “fire at will” covering gaps by crossfire, a thoroughly bankrupt practice. The Army now correctly emphasizes “shoot to kill” i.e. fire for effect.
One major surprise was the presence of Brig Thukraal, the Indian Defence Attache (DA), the first time, at least in my memory, of Indian representation at any major (Pakistan) Army event. The confidence in making this strong overture of conciliation to India is praiseworthy, will they reciprocate? Brig Thukraal witnessed at first hand the lethally of our firepower as well as the professionalism and elan to go with it. The over-riding lesson here, a smaller motivated force with such lethal potential can always contain and even destroy much larger forces. A word of praise for our hosts, Lt Gen Abid Saeed, Commander 2 Corps, and his men who coordinated and executed the entire exercise without incident, truly magnificent!
In April 2010, the culmination of PAF’s Exercise HIGHMARK was a live-fire demonstration at PAF’s ThalFiringRange. The devastating fire drill emphasized how lucky one was to survive the Indian aerial strafing, rocketing and bombing in Dec 1971 in the Thar desert. However it was really frustrating that sitting in the row in front of me the three stars likely to be Kayani’s replacement as COAS had chests awash with medals but had never been near combat, seeing even this spectacular demonstration from a safe distance. With (Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Pervez) Kayani soon after getting himself re-appointed as COAS (Chief of the Army Staff) for 3 years (there being no such thing as a 3 years extension), mercifully that became a moot point. In Tameywali the first three COAS contenders were present, thankfully all had combat experience. Kayani has ensured that the army has a richness in the quality of senior officers, professional soldiers of great integrity and character.
Taking over from Gen Musharraf, Kayani was aware that the army’s professionalism had been severely degraded by the military’s involvement in civilian governance. To his credit Kayani went at it systematically, creating task forces, holding discussion and studies, war games, exercises with troops, analysis thereof etc. And all this while the Army has been engaged in extensive counter-insurgency operations. The live-fire culmination of this process of reforming the army (“Azm-e-Nau” Series) is a fitting tribute to Kayani’s retirement i.e. if the government does not persuade him to become Chairman JCSC with the expanded powers of promotions/postings of one stars and above.
Former President (Asif Ali) Zardari never risked visiting an Armed Forces unit as Supreme Commander, let alone one under open skies with live ammunition. The body language of mutual comfort and confidence was on full display when Kayani personally drove Mian Nawaz Sharif to the live-fire exercise podium in an open jeep. Was there anything to indicate the COAS was about to retire barely three weeks later? If indispensable Kayani declines becoming Chairman JCSC, he will likely continue in a civilian capacity as de-facto Defense Minister.
The Tameywali integrated fire drill re-emphasized that the Armed Forces must have coordinated higher defense mechanism, only possible by correcting the anomalies in the chain of uniformed command. Having survived the Musharraf experience, the PM will not have to be “gunshy” about khaki appointments anymore but “appoint and relax”, paraphrasing (with apologies) the “fire and forget” formula of PGM munitions.
The writer is a Pakistan-based defense analyst. This article first appeared in The News International, one of Pakistan’s largest daily.