RIP: Jasjit Singh (1934-2013)

05 Aug, 2013    ·   4069

Gurmeet Kanwal pays tribute to Air Cmde Jasjit Singh, a doyen of India's strategic community

Air Cmde Jasjit Singh AVSM, VrC, VM (Retd)
Air Cmde Jasjit Singh, AVSM, VrC, VM (Retd), Director, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, passed away on August 4, 2013 after a brief illness.

He spent nearly five decades of his life in active service to the nation – first as a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force (IAF, 1954-88) and then as one of the country’s leading strategic analysts. He was an outstanding fighter pilot and was decorated with the Vir Chakra and the Vayu Medal for acts of gallantry during war. He served as the Director of Flight Safety and as the Director of Air Operations at the IAF HQ at New Delhi. Most members of the strategic community and many others are familiar with Air Cmde Jasjit Singh’s outstanding service to the nation in the field of defense and strategic affairs. In recognition of his service to the nation, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the President of India in 2006. 

Air Cmde Jasjit Singh served as Director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi, from 1987 to 2001. During this time, IDSA steered informed opinion making on India’s security and foreign policy during the turbulent period at the end of the Cold War. When India conducted the nuclear tests in May 1998, he travelled to many world capitals to explain the Indian threat perception and the justification for India’s nuclear deterrence. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to state that IDSA shaped the country’s credible minimum deterrence nuclear doctrine over many years before and after the 1998 nuclear tests. 

Air Cmde Jasjit Singh was contributing editor of nearly four dozen books and has personally authored extremely well researched books such as Air Power in Modern Warfare (1985), Non-provocative Defence (1989), Nuclear India (1998), India’s Defence Spending (2000), Air Power and Joint Operations (2003), Iraq War (2004), Defence from the Skies: Indian Air Force through 75 years (2007), The Icon (2009), a biography of Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, Indian Aircraft Industry (2011), and India’s Security in a Turbulent World (2013). 

He had remarkable vision for furthering strategic studies and outstanding capabilities for institution building. After he left IDSA, he established the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), the repository of wide-ranging knowledge and analysis on aerospace and aviation issues. CAPS was soon “adopted” by the IAF and became the first of the four think tanks established by the Services HQ. The Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), the National Maritime Foundation (NMF) and the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS) followed CAPS in quick succession. All four think tanks have been eminently successful in promoting strategic thinking in their respective fields through hard core research, seminars and conferences and by way of publications. He also founded the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, New Delhi. In the process he succeeded in nurturing a rich gene pool of Indian strategic analysts, many of whom have moved on to academia, other think tanks and journalism. 

Some of the major roles in which he rendered notable service to the nation include: Convener of the Task Force to set up the National Security Council, 1998; Member of the National Security Advisory Board, 1990-91 and 1998-2001 (During the second tenure, along with the late K Subrahmanyam, he was one of the principle authors of the Draft Nuclear Doctrine of the country); Consultant to the Standing Committee on Defence of the Indian Parliament; Advisor to the 11th Finance Commission of India; Member of the International Commission for a New Asia; Member of the International Commission for Peace and Food; and, Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science. 

I first met Air Cmde Jasjit Singh when he came to DSSC, Wellington, to address the officers attending the Staff College course in 1985 and after that always kept in touch with him. I served with him first at IDSA (1998-2000) while on study leave from the army and then at CAPS (2006-07) after having opted for voluntary retirement. For me, as for many others in the strategic community, he was a superb guide and mentor. My IDSA book on India's nuclear forces (Nuclear Defence: Shaping the Arsenal, 2002) came about entirely due to his guidance and motivating influence. 

Always full of energy, he worked tirelessly to encourage the development of a strategic culture and analytical thinking on national security issues. He welcomed everybody with a smile and always had time for people who came to him either with questions or with a problem. Though polite to a fault, he was a stickler for deadlines and worked unstintingly for the organisation. He was a worthy role model indeed.

Air Cmde Jasjit Singh was a very perceptive strategic analyst and a great think tank Director. He was an influential mentor for many of us in the strategic community. He was also a wonderful human being. I will miss him deeply. So will friends and colleagues in India's strategic community.