An-32 drop on the glacier
‘Full Spectrum: India’s Wars 1972-2020’ explores the trials and tribulations; and successes and failures of India’s armed forces in the post 1971 period through the lens of its soldiers, sailors and airmen. This also carriers certain vignettes prior to 1971 that were missed out in ‘India’s Wars: A Military History 1947-1971. Whether it is the story of the pioneers in counterinsurgency operations from the Indian Army and Indian Air Force as the battled the Naga insurgents from the late 1950s onwards, or untold tales of courage from the dizzying heights of the Saltoro Range that overlooks the Siachen Glacier, ‘Full Spectrum’ unrolls at a feverish pace with stories narrated for the first time about the exploits of the paratroopers and Special Forces as they grappled with terrorists inside the Golden Temple; with the deadly Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, or with fanatic jihadis from Let and JeM in Jammu and Kashmir.
Brigadier Nanavatty with his troops at Bilafond La
Even more, did you know that the LTTE cadres were only scared of the Mi-24 attack helicopters of the Indian Air Force which they called ‘Mutalai’ which means alligator in Tamil; or did you know that after the Kargil conflict in 2002, Mirage-2000s from the Battleaxe squadron dropped a combination of laser and conventional bombs on hill positions inside Indian territory after a few heights were surreptitiously occupied by Pakistani troops during Operation Parakram?
What is even more remarkable in this book is the stamina of narration. The story telling goes on and on over more than 400 pages without a pause and the landscape is sweeping. There are stories from UN Peacekeeping operations that stretch from Korea to the Congo; about the band of indomitable doctors and men of the 60th Para Field Ambulance who operated alongside American, Canadian and British troops in the slushy, snowy and cold battlefields of the Korean Peninsula during the 1950s. There are anecdotes of IAF Canberra pilots flying dangerous missions against the Katanga rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Do you want to put yourself in the cockpit of an An-32 as it flies an air maintenance and dropping mission over the Siachen Glacier? You have to go no further than the chapter on Siachen Glacier. Or, do you want to read about a commanding officer of Special Forces battalion who still wakes up at night wondering what he could have done to reduce the number of casualties that his battalion suffered during its stint in the Kashmir Valley.
‘Full Spectrum’ is not only about stories of courage and valour. It is also a serious examination of senior military leadership and how they orchestrated battles and campaign under trying circumstances. Arjun Subramaniam, does not eulogise or indiscriminately criticise in his book because he understands what it means to have served in the Indian military and given that background, he has been as objective and fair as possible.
If there are three standout sections in this large book, they are the chapters on the Siachen conflict, the chapter that deals with the Sumdorong Chu crisis of 1986-87 and the chapter on Hybrid War in J&K. These chapters have outstanding narratives of raw combat experiences and operational deployments rarely described in easy readable prose before . This and for that reason among many others, this book is a must read for anyone associated or interested in modern India’s military history.
In the final analysis, the book reads easily even for a non-military reader and the growing numbers of literate youth who have a passion for military histories and strategy . It is important because such an endeavour is scarce in Indian historiography landscape and thus offers a fascinating exposure to strategy, operations, tactics and the human element of war and conflict . This is a must read for anyone who wants to research, study or even join India’s armed forces.
All images belong to ‘Full Spectrum: India’s Wars, 1972-2020’, Arjun Subramaniam, Harper Collins
Col DPK Pillay (Retd) is a decorated war veteran with MP- IDSA . He was commissioned in 4 GUARDS and earned his Shaurya Chakra and is honoured more for his act of self-sacrifice in saving the lives of two young children while he himself was nearly fatally wounded.