Operation Brasstacks2, Indian Airforce
Lt Gen(Retd) P.N. Hoon on Brasstacks

In the aftermath of Kargil in 1999 and the release of his book "Unmasking Secrets of Turbulence", Lt Gen(Retd) Prem Nath Hoon, PVSM, AVSM, SM gave a candid interview with Archana Masih of Rediff On The Net(Rediff Interviews-August 4, 1999). In it, he talked about many subjects including "Exercise Brasstacks". Below are some excerpts of the interview.

You even maintain that General Sundarji and Arun Singh did not inform Rajiv Gandhi about Operation Brasstacks? What would they have gained by that?

Brasstacks was the mobilisation of the entire army of India. It was done with the background that every five years we should do this. So that commanders had time to lick their command into shape. Now, when such a large exercise is conceived, I pointed out at that time to Sundarji that the movement of our forces is going to attract the attention of Pakistan.

Militancy was at its height in the Punjab. According to this plan -- three-fourths of the army was going to be in the desert and I had told them that in view of the militancy in Punjab we may get into a situation where it could be war. And with a war-like situation, they (Pakistan) may react. Which they did. He said you don't worry about that and ask for whatever troops you want, so troops were moved from everywhere. Ammunition was moved. Pakistan also moved. I told him I hope the government has been informed about this, because such a large movement of troops had to be told.

Brasstacks was in 4 parts. Brasstack 1 was an exercise on the map, held in Delhi which Rajiv attended. Brasstack 2 was supposed to be for the military commanders in Chandigarh. This was on a sand model. Brasstack 3 was reduction of all three into writing. And Brasstack 4 was actually with troops in the desert, which would have got a reaction. It appears that Sundarji and Arun Singh did not inform the PM.

I went for the Army Day Parade to Delhi on January 15. I was there for the reception in Sundarji's house in the evening where the President, PM were there -- Rajiv had the habit of walking up and asking me: 'How is the western front?' I thought that was a very sharp question, especially when we were moving into a war situation. I said everything was going according to plan and all our troops are moving into their battle location. He asked me: 'What do you mean by battle location?' He was holding a samosa in his hand and said, 'How can we go to war?' I knew something had gone wrong.

I quickly took my aircraft and went back to the desert where my corps commanders were ready. Rajiv called the defence secretary and I understand he was very upset. Then I started getting calls from the DGMO General Ravi Mahajan that the chief wants you back.

When I went back Sundarji told me that he wanted me to change the configuration. The configuration of the exercise was east to west. He said to change it quickly from south to north. I said I could do it in 10, 12 days, and the forces were pulled back to Bikaner. Then all the MPs were brought to the desert. All military attaches were brought. But I think it was a war, and the PM was not informed.

It is understood that you and General Sundarji had your differences. What was the reason for these differences?

Sundarji had a different military strategic mind. His greatest weakness was he wanted a forward policy. Whether against Pakistan, China or the North-East. He wanted everything in the shop window. My policy was to hold thinly in the front and keep the forces back. Over the years we had got into that posture. When Sundarji took over he wanted everything in the shop window, with the result we were baring our rear. There were not enough forces to react to a particular situation.

In Siachen he did the same thing. Even in Nathula, I had differences with the then chief. I drew a line with my boot on the snow and told him that if he wanted me to defend that line, I couldn't. I needed some offensive defence. That even if I hold it thinly, even if it is violated anywhere, I'll restore it.

I had professional differences with Sundarji. Even the way he reacted to Bofors was very immature. He was a very ambitious man. He was media savvy. I think there's nothing wrong in being ambitious but a little bit of loyalty to your institution is also very necessary. I am sad he is no more today. I wish my book had come out when he was alive so that he could have given his reaction.

The complete Rediff Interview with Lt Gen Hoon