Thursday, February 04, 2016

Pathankot - Of Warnings, Portents and Evils Imminent.

The Pakistanis were never happy with the Gurdaspur award. They *never* reconciled to that loss. To this day they view Pathankot AFS as a major sore on the face of Gurdaspur. That is why Pathankot AFS is the silent sentinel that stands between Pakistan and everything that is worth having in that region.

That is why historically - attacks on Pathankot AFS have symbolized Pakistani desperation and always heralded the onset of a wider shooting war.

So why are India-Pakistan so close to war? - perhaps another historical example can help you understand.

On Jan 1981 Ronald Reagan was sworn into office after a massive electoral victory. At several points during his campaign Reagan and the Republican party had used anti-Soviet rhetoric to convey their desire to be seen as credible and tough on security issues. This was the famed "cowboy" image that they deliberately sought to cultivate for electoral purposes.

During the first few years of his presidency, the "cowboy" shot from the hip, furiously fanning his gun when possible. The result was an uncomfortable mixing of rhetoric and national security policy - driven in part by Ronald Reagan's statements and by overzealous reaganites keen on displaying their hawkishness.

The (perhaps?) unanticipated result of this ramp up of rhetoric by the Reagan mob in DC was a secret meeting in Moscow where Brezhnev and Andropov told the members of the Soviet national  security apparat that Reagan wanted to nuke the USSR into dust. This thinking eventually shaped the formulation of Operation RYaN. Plan RYaN was a set of mitigation options to be activated as a way to stall or prevent a US nuclear strike on Russia. You see, because of all the bullshit that the Reagan crowd spat out of its mouth... the USSR national security system had become convinced that a US nuclear strike was imminent.

The exact details of Plan RYaN are somewhat hazy but it most likely involved a set of targeted operations by the S-Directorate to undermine the US nuclear C3I. It also involved cranking up the sensitivity level on Soviet early warning systems to the maximum possible.

When you ask scientists and technologists to the boundaries of electronic instrumentation - they push the known limits on signal to noise and you get a lot of false positives. Based on these false positives if now you ask your illegal agents told to "go for broke" against nuclear hard targets, and you have the perfect mixture needed to start World War III.

We now know that this madness that began in 1981 - gradually spiraled into the near miss event of 1983. This is the famed Stanislav Petrov story - we all know it. He spotted the error in the Oko EW system and prevented it from being escalated to the Soviet leadership. By blocking the spread of bad information, he was able to save the world.  Fortunately it takes an hour or so for a nuclear missile to travel between the US and USSR, Col. Petrov had time to make the checks necessary to clearly identify an error in the EW system and reject the bad data.

India and Pakistan are unfortunate in this regard  - average missile time-of-flight is about 7-10 minutes. If a mistake is made by an electronic instrument or a human-in-the-loop, there will be no time to correct it.