The CIA declassified a series of documents on the history of the U-2 surveillance planes. Written by agency historians Gregory Pedlow and Donald Welzenbach, and titled The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954-1974, the study was published in classified channels in 1992. Subsequently, a heavily redacted version of the U-2 portion was published, in 1998, by the agency’s Center for the Study of Intelligence as a book, The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974, in conjunction with a CIA conference on the U-2.
The release is notable for the significant amount of declassified material with respect to the U-2 — with regard to names of pilots, codenames and cryptonyms, locations, funding and cover arrangements, electronic countermeasures equipment, organization, cooperation with foreign governments, and operations, particularly in India and China. Below is an an account (previously redacted in its entirety) of U-2 operations from India, between 1962 and 1967, triggered by the 1962 Sino-Indian war.
In October 1962, the People’s Republic of China launched a series of massive surprise attacks against India’s frontier forces in the western provinces of Jammu and Kashmir and in the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). The Chinese overran all Indian fortifications north of the Brahmaputra Valley before halting their operations.
The Indian Government appealed to the United States for military aid. In the negotiations that followed, it became apparent that Indian claims concerning the extent of the Chinese incursions could not be reliably evaluated. US Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith, therefore, suggested to the Indian Government that US aerial reconnaissance of the disputed areas would provide both governments with a more accurate picture of the Communist Chinese incursions.
On 11 November 1962, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru consented to the proposed operation and gave the United States permission to refuel the reconnaissance aircraft (U-2s) in Indian airspace.
In late November, Detachment G deployed to Ta Khli, Thailand to carry out the overflights of the Sino-Indian border area. Since the U-2s were not authorized to overfly Burma, they had to reach the target area via the Bay of Bengal and eastern India and, therefore, required midair refueling.
Because of severe winter weather conditions, the first flight did not take place until 5 December. Poor weather and air turbulence hampered the mission, and only 40 percent of the target area could be photographed. A second mission on 10 December was more successful, but the U-2 experienced rough engine performance because of icing of the fuel lines.
Detachment G U-2s made four more overflights of the Sino-Indian border areas in January 1963, which led to a PRC protest to India. Photography from these missions was used in January and again in March 1963 to brief Prime Minister Nehru, who then informed the Indian Parliament about Communist Chinese troop movements along the border. Although Nehru did not reveal the source of his intelligence, a UPI wire story surmised that the information had been obtained by U-2s.
The United States had provided photographic coverage of the border area to India for two reasons. First of all, US policymakers wanted a clear picture of the area under dispute. In addition, the intelligence community wanted to establish a precedent for overflights from India, which could lead to obtaining a permanent staging base in India for electronic reconnaissance missions against the Soviet ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] site at Saryshagan and photographic missions against those portions of western China that were out of range of Detachment H.
In April 1963, Ambassador Galbraith and the Chief of Station at New Delhi made the first official request to India for a base. The following month, President Kennedy agreed to DCI [Director Central Intelligence] McCone’s suggestion to raise the question of a U-2 base in India when he met with India’s President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan on 3 June. This meeting resulted in an Indian offer of an abandoned World War II base at Charbatia, south of Calcutta [near Cuttack in Odisha].
The Charbatia base was in poor condition and needed considerable renovation before it could be used for U-2 operations. Work on the base by the Indians took much longer than expected, so Detachment G continued to use Ta Khli when it staged four sorties over Tibet from 29 September to 10 November 1963. In addition to the coverage of the Sino-Indian border during this series of flights, the U-2s also photographed all of Thailand to produce a photomap of the border regions as a quid pro quo for the Thai Government. During one of these photomapping missions, a U-2 pilot conducted the longest mission ever recorded in this aircraft- 11 hours and 45 minutes.
At the end of this flight on 10 November 1963, the pilot was in such poor physical condition that project managers prohibited the scheduling of future missions longer than 10 hours.
Charbatia was still not ready in early 1964, so on 31 March 1964 Detachment G staged another mission from Ta Khli. The first mission out of Charbatia did not take place until 24 May 1964. Three days later Prime Minister Nehru died, and further operations were postponed.
The pilots and aircraft left Charbatia, but other equipment remained in place to save staging costs. In December 1964, when Sino-Indian tensions increased along the border, Detachment G returned to Charbatia and conducted three highly successful missions, satisfying all of COMOR’s requirements for the Sino-Indian border region. By this time, however, Ta Khli had become the main base for Detachment G’s Asian operations, and Charbatia served merely as a forward staging base. Charbatia was closed out in July 1967.