Sky is the Limit - Signals in Operation Pawan

One of the least known and most fascinating aspects of the IPKF operations was the conduct of electronic intelligence. Tantalising bits came out during the Jain Commission report on the assasination of ex Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi. Deposing before the commission was Chief Signals Officer, Southern Command, Major General Yashwant Deva and brief details emerged of the IPKFs ability in signal warfare. Lt Gen Depinder Singh in his book "The IPKF in Sri Lanka" says the following - “The major lesson from the Sri Lanka operation was in the field of Signal Intelligence. This is a field where the potential is enormous I hope my account will spur some expert, may be Yashwant Deva, to cover it in greater and more technical detail.”

For a couple of years there had been tantalising hints of the arrival of this book, most notably through the chapter "The Raid" at Finally I was able to obtain a copy of the book from Maj Gen Deva himself as he has self published this book.

The book costs Rs 990 (within India) and can be purchased from the publisher, Operation Pawan Veterans, 1115 Sector A, Pocket A Vasant Kunj, New Delhi 110070 (Tele Nos *91-11-26890279, 26890759, 98109766170)

It is a hard cover book with all art paper of A4 size and is a hefty read.

The first thing that stands out is the level of detail it delves into whether it is the areas of operations, the operational readiness. the LTTE network etc. The book is extremely well referenced with the author having interviewed a large number of officers, men in addition to references from journals and books. All this shows and the book is a fascinating read. The book gives an expansive look at the IPKF operations albeit largely from a Signals perspective. The book consists of 30 chapters !! Here are a few of them to give a perspective of how broadly Deva has covered the operations

Chapter 2: Theatre of Operations
Chapter 5: The LTTE Wireless network
Chapter 10: Taking Tropo to Battle
Chapter 11: Signals in Battle of Jaffna
Chapter 17: War of Frequencies
Chapter 18: The Raid (available online )
Chapter 19: Battle Winner: Tactical Signal Intelligence
Chapter 20: Hunting with Akbar
Chapter 21: Radio controlled IEDs
Chapter 23: Memetic Warfare
Chapter 25: Infantry battalion communications: The Achilles heel
Chapter 27: Martyrs and Wounded
Chapter 28: Brave and Battle Honoured
Chapter 29: Commentry and Appraisal
Chapter 30: The Future

Covering the gamut of operations at both tactical and strategic levels Deva gives insight into both and is one of those rare books which will keep all types of readers riveted. For those who have followed the IPKF saga (IPKF Section) this book helps provide further details of the battles. The LTTE was extremely tuned to communications. It was no coincidence that communication units with the leading elements of 91,18 , 72 Infantry Brigades were hit with IEDs but continued to keep going earning 2 Sena medals and 1 Mentioned in Dispatches. The Rovers of 41 and 72 Infantry brigades as well as the radio operator with Sikh LI on the Jaffna Univ raid was likewise the first to be targetted.

Like the rest of the IPKF the signals too suffered from the ad hoc piece meal buildup. Equipment needed to be chased down. In July 87 when Deva was crying for high and medium power HF sets, radio relay, radio broadcast sets, generators and battery chargers - 1 SWITEL and 40 Tele Field Auto were released. In late August, 1 Siemens 400 W radio set, 15 HB radio sets and 20 HC radio sets were released. it took September for the generators and battery chargers to come (50 in all). By the time the rest of the things came - the Battle of Jaffna was pretty much over. The biggest culprits were the Ordnance Depots - One request took 2 men dispatched to collect it close to 45 days!!!!. In stark contrast the PSUs like Bharat Electronics and Indian Telegraph Industries were able to deliver equipment and modifications within a couple of days. If all the equipment had been in place early, and if the Signals were brought in the planning early on, they could have provided an electronic map of the battlefield and substantially reduced casualties during the initial days.

Deva also points out the contrast between the communication savvy of the LTTE and IPKF battalion commanders. IPKF commanders were unprepared for the what was unleashed on them. It took them some time to understand that their communication nets were being intercepted and jammed by the LTTE. Battalion commanders laid cables in hostile territory allowing the LTTE to tap into them. Added to that was the Indian tendency to be extremely verbose in radio communications. The LTTE by contrast was extremely adept using short terse sentences, switching frequencies manually and using the local dialect to keep the IPKF signals unit on their toes. Eventually the Signals set up a complex and robust communication infrastructure in SL and back to India and also interfacing with the Air and Naval components. A large number of charts, diagrams, pictures and tables are also used to illustrate the topics.

Maj Gen Deva also takes pain to explain the one area where the LTTE could claimed sustained success against the IPKF - its total pursuit of information and psychological warfare. While the IPKF was hamstrung by dharmic constraints and lack of political unity back home, the LTTE single mindedly pursued every means using children, women, human rights, peace groups and church officials to further tie down the capacity of the IPKF. One surely hopes that the present military, political and intelligence leaders pay attention to this detail as we still seem to not have grip on this. Deva also argues for Signals as an integral combat arm rather than be treated as a support arm, especially the way modern warfare is heading.

The only minor improvement to the book would have been to have a chapter (diagram/chart ) with an explanation of what sort of equipment came into play for communications at various levels ie. platoon, company , battalion , brigade etc. This perhaps was due to security reasons. However, it is a little difficult to picture where relays, routers, BEST, tropos come into play. This could probably be added in a second edition when the equipment is obsolete and contraints of enemy interception and counter measures are no more pertinent.

Overall this is a great book and an absolute must have for the both the amateur reader as well as the professionals. In fact I would say if there is just one book you must have on the IPKF operations than it should be this book . We should be thankful to Maj Gen Deva for providing such a vivid account of an operation on which very little has been written up to now.