1550 HRS THURSDAY
The pilots and the WSOs were running towards their aircrafts parked on the operational readiness platform as soon as the scramble order had been given seconds ago. The base was under attack, and these four SU-30MKIs were the only ones on the ground at the moment, having just returned from a CAP mission over Sikkim. They had not yet been refuelled and the pilots had just come out of the cockpit after several hours of flight. They had not even walked back to their readiness room for some rest when the klaxons had started blaring all around the airfield. Ground crewmen were running around, trying to get everything of value under cover and then to get back to safety. The pilots and WSOs reached the aircrafts and started strapping themselves in even as the refuelling and rearming trucks drove away from the aircrafts without getting a chance for refuelling them. There simply was no time. The aircrafts had fuel to get into the air, where an IL-78 tanker aircraft would be diverted on emergency footing to fill up the fuel tanks of these aircrafts. The only priority right now was getting into the air.
The engines started rolling when the ATC informed that airborne control was being shifted to VICTOR-THREE and that they were shutting down operations. The ATC crew then evacuated the towers and moved to the air raid shelters even as the first SU-30MKI started rolling towards the runway quickly followed by the remaining three aircrafts. The four aircrafts were soon in a line heading along the Taxi track towards the main runway. The stipulated time between takeoffs were dispensed with as the lead aircraft lighted the afterburners and was joined by the second aircraft and these two rolled down the runway and lifted into the air.
They were joined by the remaining two aircrafts within seconds and the formation of four headed southwest towards the nearest tanker aircraft flying and away from the inbound missiles to give the BDZ weapons a clear zone of fire. The IL-78 that had been supporting PIVOT-STRIKE and PIVOT-HAMMER Jaguar formations was diverted to refuel these four SU-30MKIs, and halfway to it the low fuel level started worrying the pilots. They would make it, but only just. It was more than what they could say for the ground crews sitting in their shelters at Bareilly, waiting for the missiles to strike.
The missiles came over the horizon of the Shivalik range a minute later and were detected by the BDZ close range radars. There were distinct disadvantages for the Indian defenders this time around as compared to the morning Chinese strike on the Indian radars in the hills of Nagaland. There the Spyder systems and the radars they were protecting were at an altitude, and looking down into a plain area, and so had sufficient warning of the inbound missile trajectories. Here it was the reverse. The base was in the foothills of the Shivalik mountain range, and thus blinded by this wall. The missiles had simply popped over the hills towards the base. Fortunately for the defenders, the Nepalese radars had detected their launch on radars and this had allowed PIVOT-CALLER to flash a warning to the base via the CAC that missiles were inbound, so at least they were looking for them and waiting. But it wasnâ€™t enough.
Furthermore, the morning strike was from a single thin arc of the overall bearing. That had allowed the missile systems to engage in quick succession. Here, the Chinese bombers had been dispersed while launching, so the inbound missiles were coming from a larger arc of the bearing, thus forcing the Spyder missile systems to change launch bearings after each launch. All that took time, and combined with the geographic disadvantage, they didnâ€™t have much of it. Certainly not enough for engaging all of the eighteen missiles. Even now it was clear to everybody that some missiles would get through. It was now a race to see how many.
The first Spyder system engaged within half a minute of radar acquisition as the missile came in range. A massive dust cloud was raised around the launcher and from that cloud came out the missile rapidly gaining speed and trailing a finger of smoke behind it as it headed skywards. It then turned down to engage the KD-63 that was moving lower than it was and reached close enough for a detonation. The explosion of the intercepting missile sent a massive fireball all around and it consumed the cruise missile. The KD-63 came out of the ball of fire still relatively intact, much to the shock of the ground crews watching the event on the radar screens. Then the missile veered off course and smashed into the ground causing a massive explosion whose noise was enough to cause the people at the base to look up, even though the fireball was too far away to be seen. That was the first missile to go down. Then things started moving quickly.
Two more launchers now released a couple of missiles from the base when the cruise missiles were roughly fifteen kilometres out. The first launcher had to now realign their bearings for the second intercept, something that they wished they could have done without. The second missile secured a hit, and this time the fireball and the shockwave that uprooted trees all around was visible on the horizon, but the third missile missed and detonated behind the inbound cruise missile. By the time three more launches were attempted, the interception failure rate had increased to almost a third. Out of the third volley, only one hit, and the others lost the interception. By the time the fourth set of launches were attempted the missiles were now in extreme range of visual acquisition. This was a problem now. As the missiles came closer, they were rapidly closing to the minimum engagement range of the Spyder system for its engagement profile of cruise missiles. Soon the missiles would reach a stage where even if the missiles were launched, they could pop out of their canisters, leap into the air, but by the time they began their â€˜pop downâ€™ manoeuvre, they would have bypassed the inbound cruise missiles. It was in this range that the radar directed Anti-Aircraft Artillery around the base opened fire, and small black explosions now surrounded the incoming dark specks against the blue sky. It would not matter. The missiles hit the base before any result could be achieved by this gunfire.
The Chinese had armed their cruise missiles with a variety of warheads, mostly reflecting the nature of their original mission. The first KD-63 exploded above the main tarmac from where the four Su-30s had scrambled minutes ago. The warhead was a fuel-air explosive type, and the massive shockwave of that explosion was enough to destroy the entire weak infrastructure on the base and left most of the above ground buildings on fire. The second missile hit the already burning ATC and the massive explosion obliterated the structure from the plinth level upwards in a massive fireball. Another missile hit the base ILS facility near the runway and consumed it in the dust and smoke cloud. The main trailer was sent flying into the air, falling hundreds of meters away by the sheer force of the explosion. Then the remaining missiles hit in quick succession, and the huge thunderclaps echoed around the airbase.
By the time the final missile hit the runway and sending concrete flying in all directions, dust clouds and black pillars of smoke had consumed the base. And the only thing that could be made out amidst all that was the huge flames reaching for the sky. The base was surprisingly quiet, with the only noise being that of the raging fires or of some collapsing hanger structure. The people who should have been trying to contain the fires were nowhere to be seen. The fire fighting vehicles were nowhere to be seen, except for a single vehicle that was lying upside down with some dead firemen nearby. The base fire station had been hit. The radar directed gun battery site was now one massive pillar of smoke, and the one SU-30MKI that had been on the ground was now lying on the ground, its undercarriage collapsed, and cockpit and mid fuselage shattered with concrete of the roof of the HAS that had also taken a direct hit. The radars were gone and so were the base communications.
All contact between the base and CAC headquarters was lost and was not restored. It was then that helicopters from nearby airbases were dispatched to head for Bareilly AFB. However, the first helicopter to arrive at the base was a Dhruv ALH from the nearby army aviation unit, and it landed on a small grass clearing near the tarmac, sending the dust flying in all directions as the army officers scrambled from it. They were met by some of the IAF officers from the Base Operations facility, which was underground and had survived, although their topside communications had been destroyed. These officers told the army personnel what would be required to begin recovery operations.
The helicopter then lifted off and went around the base to look around, but the massive dust and smoke made this hazardous and instead it returned back to its base to fetch more personnel. The Army team was being led by a Major who would coordinate operations until a Group Captain from the IAF, who was at the moment on board a Mi-17 helicopter, could take over control. Several local civilian and army units had been contacted and were dispatching fire fighting equipment, ambulances, vehicles and soldiers to the base. The initial army team had brought with them the radio and communications equipment which they began setting up. These would allow them to coordinate the massive recovery missions that would be needed to return the base to operational status. But at the moment, as far as CAC operations were concerned, IAF Bareilly had ceased to exist.
THE TIBETAN MOUNTAINS
SOUTH OF RAKAS LAKE
1552 HRS THURSDAY
While the people at Bareilly were facing severe conditions, the Mirages flying over Tibet were facing their own problems. PEGASUS flight had dispersed to try and find the bombers but their luck was out. The bombers were visible to them but they were out of missiles, and had little fuel to go tail chasing with them. There was one barely within limits that the flight commander chose to engage whilst simultaneously calling for the Mirages to reassemble for the flight south. The Mirage came up behind the now northbound bomber and let loose several bursts of gunfire. The lighted tracer among those bursts illuminating the bullets trajectory for him to try and realign as the bomber turned erratically to try and evade. The first two bursts of gunfire barely clipped the bomber and it started trailing smoke from the port wing, but as the commander started aligning himself for another shot, the fuel started reaching dangerously low levels. He had now about enough fuel to cross the border and mate up with one of the tankers. There was no choice. He abandoned the final bomber and pulled his aircraft towards the south.
The four mirages were now west of Gurla Mandhata peak and heading southwest towards the Indian border, marked by the white peaked hills around Nanda Devi that were now visible. All four aircraft were scattered, out of missiles, low on fuel, and the pilots were exhausted after forty minutes of continuous combatâ€¦but they had done the job. Eight Chinese bombers were on their way home, with one trailing smoke, but they had aborted their attack on Delhi, and that was all that mattered. The strike on Bareilly was on a military facility, and it could be repaired. The one on Delhi had not been.
The four Mirage-2000s now had little fuel to waste on forming up and so they crossed the peaks around Nanda Devi, scattered and individually, with little cockpit chatter. Now the fuel was getting dangerously low for all of them, and their original tanker had been diverted to fuel the scrambled Sukhois from Bareilly. As a result, a second â€˜Battle Cryâ€™ IL-78 that had been scrambled from Agra some time back was now meeting up with them over â€˜Jolly Grantâ€™ airfield in the foothills of the Himalayas and would remain on station after refuelling the four aircraft to support the four SU-30MKIs that were now heading north to take over the escort mission for PIVOT-CALLER.
PIVOT-CALLER itself would remain on station, having fuel for some more time, and this time it would be protected by these Sukhois. Another eight SU-30MKIs were being scrambled to head north. Either side would not make the same mistake again. The first Chinese SU-27s were now just about to reach the region and were currently over the Kailas mountain range, and about to bypass the northbound force of eight of their H-6s. A Chinese Y-8 AWACS aircraft was behind the SU-27s and would need a little more time to catch up.
As the ARC B-707 detected more aircraft, the pilots decided to move further south for safety. With that the disruption period of Chinese communications and radars was over, and the electronic threat warning picture lit up all across the board immediately. The Chinese were now looking for the Indian standoff EW aircraft, and after repeated discussions with CAC commanders, it was decided that the threat to PIVOT-CALLER was simply too high. The B-707 was told to cross back into India immediately, and soon after receiving the orders, the aircraft turned ever so gently and moved south, thus bringing to a close operation PIVOT-STRIKE and the Chinese bomber hunt. The four SU-30MKIs on the ambush mission over Nepal were told to head south to the foothills and wait there.
Their job was not yet over, and would follow close on the heels of another CAC operation, now named: PIVOT-HAMMER.