AVM Subia – Gritty and Determined. By Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

About AVM CD Subia visiting Utarlai prior to the balloon going up, his right or duty to do this has already been clarified by Jagan since the AVM was then SASO WAC. The WAC had its jurisdiction over the entire Western border and hinterland, right down at least to Goa. Apparently, further south was not deemed to be at any risk of attack.

My personal view is that WAC had begun to realise the nearly unmanageable extent of its responsibilities. Apart from preparations for the war, AVM Subia was almost certainly on a sort of reconnaissance to see how to parcel out the responsibilities into manageable areas to other commands etc. That was perhaps why No. 1 Ops Group came up soon enough after the War, with him as its first AOC-in-C. Now we have WAC, SWAC and SAC to protect our western frontiers.

His citation for the PVSM awarded immediately after the 1971 War reads: –

Air Vice Marshal Subia took over his appointment [SASO, WAC HQ] only a few months prior to the outbreak of hostilities. He made a thorough study of the requirements of air operations in the Western Sector, paying full attention to the minutest detail of each aspect of air operations. He personally studied and analysed all operational procedure and ensured that there was no ambiguity in these instructions and that they were fully understood by all concerned. He worked for long hours to ensure that Squadrons/ Units were deployed as planned with maximum economy of effort and minimum inconvenience to the personnel involved. He planned the moves in such a manner that at all stages the Squadrons retained their full operational capability to counter-act any pre-emptive strike by the enemy. He displayed remarkable organising ability in establishing within a very short period, a chain of observation posts around our forward airfields for reporting low flying aircraft. Throughout the period of hostilities, he carefully coordinated all aspects of operations, especially the strike missions at night. These operations involved strike forces from another Command. It was primarily due to his careful planning and foresight that all missions were successfully completed without any mishaps.

Here I would like to share a little tale about AVM Subia’s penchant for fighting to win. He was very dramatic in his address to personnel and was well known as a real Kodva fighter, in the true tradition of Coorg. In every speech he always mentioned that it was best to fight an enemy when his hands were tied behind his back. I doubt if he ever found one like that. Since that was very unlikely, comprehensive preparation for it was essential. If you think about it, that is exactly what Sam Manekshaw did. He got the PM to wait till the hands of Pakistan were tied, with no possibility of intervening in East Pakistan, or expect any help from China.

I took over command of Jodhpur in January 1973, a little more than one year after the War. But we were to be on our toes, in accordance with his approach to counter even unexpected action by any enemy.

One day the AVM said to me in great admiration of the Israelis that they had refined methods to turn an aircraft around within seven minutes during actual hostilities. Naturally, short cuts must have been taken at the time. For example, the electrical trolley would not be isolated from it while the aircraft was refueled and rearmed. Oxygen would be replenished during the process even if hydraulic fluid was handled, all without pausing.

I took up the challenge on behalf of our engineers. I told him that we shall have a demo after a week to see what we could do.

Wg Cdr CR Mohan Raj had been with me in ASTE. At my suggestion, he had attended the Work Study Course (mostly known earlier as Time & Motion Study) in Mussoorie. He had joined me in Jodhpur a little while earlier than this talk with the AVM. I asked him to see what could be achieved. A week later, after he had established the optimum sequence and practice, I invited the AVM to a demo. The No. 220 Squadron aircraft was first armed with weapons which were not intended to be fired anyway. On the return of the aircraft, the old armament was removed and replaced with new stores. All other servicing proceeded meanwhile. We beat seven minutes, thanks to his hard work, in such a short time.

Fortunately for the country, we did not face another war during the service of the aircraft.

I had also prepared a new R&I schedule for minor inspection to cut down the time and eliminate some silly requirements. This became necessary as the CAS had ordered that each Marut Squadron must fly its full task of 240 hours each month, or else. With this, minor inspections came up very fast one after the other. The worst of the bad practices was the replacement of the hydraulic oil in the nose oleo, required for extending it for take off. After jacking up, the axle of the nose wheel had to be pushed up by a bamboo-like pole as a lever to squeeze all the oil out. Despite drip trays, this invariably dirtied the hangar floor and made it dangerous for personnel. The oleo was then recharged and reassembled. Through out my two year stay, not a single time did we find anything wrong with it or any contamination in the oil. There were some other similar practices needing to be cut out or the interval between them increased.

We kept a chart of all systems and marked each of them if anything was found wrong in them. This gave a ready statistical record based on which a rational inspection schedule could be developed. I made such a schedule but perforce had to offer it to CSDO for clearance. But conservatism prevailed and not a single change was allowed from what HAL had laid down. Having flown and seen maintenance at HAL for three years, I did not have too much respect for its procedures. Finally, I declared that if any hostilities break out, only my schedule would be used irrespective of any other orders.

I wonder if Air Mshl Shashi Ramdas would care to comment on this. His just has to be the last word on this subject.

Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd)


2 Responses to AVM Subia – Gritty and Determined. By Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

  1. VK MURTHY says:

    I do not know much about Technical aspect to comment. But this much I can say with confidence that whenever we needed Maruts , the base 32 wing always provided aircraft and maintained 100% serviceability throught the War. But for this smooth flow, the Glory & Success of Marut pilots in this secter was impossible.The number of sorties flown in such a short period without any incidents speak for itself.
    VK Murthy (Base Commander Utterlai )

  2. Dara says:

    Air Mshl Shashi Ramdas commented by email:

    “That is a very interesting article by Group Captain Bhargava.

    The overall design of the Marut was very good as was evident from its excellent performance and capability, limited only by the underpowered engines. It was a great pity that the powers that be did not think it necessary to invest a few million pounds sterling in funding the development of the Orpheus 12 which would have made the aircraft truly outstanding.

    As far as maintenance of the Marut was concerned, it was a very interesting and challenging job. Very little thought seemed to have gone into the “maintainability” aspect during the design and manufacture of the aircraft. This was further exacerbated by the CSDO servicing schedules which were based on the Master Scedule produced by HAL. I could write a volume on the maintainability aspect of the Marut, but let me get back to Groupie Bhargava’s article.

    Yes, there were many totally unnecessary items of servicing included in the CSDO schedules but no amount of persuasion would get the worthies in CSDO to cut out those parts. We soon learned to ignore the parts that we conscientiously considered unwarranted and superfluous. Very illegal, but most professional I can assure you. There was never a slightest compromise on flight or maintenance safety.

    Having said that, I am intrigued by the description of a particular operation described in Groupie Bhargava’s article under discussion. I am reproducing, verbatim, the relevant portion below so that my comments can be easily understood.

    ‘The worst of the bad practices was the replacement of the hydraulic oil in the nose oleo, required for extending it for take off.’

    There were two distinct parts of the nose undercarriage; one was the normal nose undercarriage oleo, at the lower end of which was attached the nosewheel axle; and the other (upper) part was actually a 2-position hydraulic jack for extension of the nose undercarriage strut to make it longer for takeoff. This latter (upper) part was permanently disabled, in the retracted position, before the aircraft came into squadron service. There was, therefore, no reason for the hydraulic oil in that (upper) part of the nose undercarriage to ever be replaced. Or, for that matter, to be checked.

    (The reason for this 2-position “jack” in the nose undercarriage strut, and the reason why it was disabled, is a separate matter that has nothing to do with the maintenance of the aircraft)

    ‘After jacking up, the axle of the nose wheel had to be pushed up by a bamboo-like pole as a lever to squeeze all the oil out. Despite drip trays, this invariably dirtied the hangar floor and made it dangerous for personnel. The oleo was then recharged and reassembled.’

    The procedure described, was indeed a messy affair, but was necessary only for recharging the oleo in the lower part of the nose undercarriage. As I recall, a rather strong length of wood was required to lever the oleo into the collapsed position to force out all the old oil. Thankfully, this procedure was required only if there was a leak from the nose oleo.

    As regards the operational turn around of the aircraft, referred to in an earlier paragraph of the article, our Marut squadrons had fine-tuned the procedure to a fine art during the build up to the 1971 ops. I don’t remember the actual timings achieved, but I don’t think there was ever any unacceptable delays in the availability of aircraft for operations. Regrettably, the two Squadron Commanders are no longer with us to comment on this aspect, but I’m sure the Base Commander and Flight Commanders could comment on it.

    This can never be be the “last word” on these subjects. I would be very happy to hear more comments on these matters.


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