Has this been posted before?https://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2020/02/28/hit-and-run.amp.html?__twitter_impression=true
The exact date was left to the political leadership. February 26 was tentatively picked, though we knew we could get better weather two days later. The weather was marginal, with five western disturbances rolling in one after the other. Those who remember the National War Memorial inauguration on the evening of February 25 would recollect the thunder showers over Delhi after the event. The weather affected satellite imagery, which was needed to check on enemy deployment and defences.
Twenty Mirages were to be armed with multiple weapons; the upgraded Mirages carried six MICA missiles each. Six Mirages were armed with SPICE bombs and six with Crystal Maze surface-to-air missiles
Yet, we were certain that Pakistan would retaliate quickly. The next day, February 27, saw action from their side. Our air defence was on full alert; the AWACS was on station northeast of Adampur in the morning and so were the aircraft on combat air patrol. At 9:42am, the Integrated Air Command and Control Station warned of an increase in air activity over Pakistan. Fighters were launched from Kamra, Murid, Chander, Sargodha, Rafiqui and Jacobabad. They were at medium altitude, and some had their friend-or-foe identification on initially. That was a decoy—they were showing themselves on our radar to make it seem like routine activity; some aircraft tried to hide at low altitude. Some of these airfields are close to the border and fighters are routinely airborne for training. Unless hostile intent is seen, taking action would require a lot of effort.
Soon, PAF fighters regrouped and turned east for the attack. The first enemy package crossed the border in the Line of Control sector at 9:58am on the Akhnoor axis, and approached the LoC around 10:06am. Another package approached the Poonch axis, staggered by five to seven minutes. A third package was opposite Anupgarh sector.
Anupgarh mentioned above is most likely in Rajasthan. So, 3rd package was a decoy package.
Each package had eight to ten aircraft, supported by multiple combat air patrols, Saab 2000s and Dassault Falcon 20s for electronic support. On our side there were two upgraded Mirages on combat air patrol east of Udhampur, and two Su-30s near Srinagar. Two MiG-21 Bisons were scrambled in two lots (10:01am and 10:03am) from Srinagar, two Bisons from Awantipur, two MiG-29s from Adampur and two Su-30s each from Halwara, Bathinda and Jodhpur.
Launching Su-30 MKI from Halwara, Bhatinda and Jodhpur makes sense only if the aim was to intercept the 3rd package along Anupgarh axis.
This also shows that in any future shooting match with Pakistan, the PAF strike packages will be against a mix force of Mig-21 Bison/Tejas backed by Su-30 MKI.
The PAF ensured that they did not cross the International Boundary or the Line of Actual Control. Two MiG-21 Bisons, flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and Squadron Leader Vyas, were scrambled from Srinagar at 10:03am for the package on the Poonch axis. On reaching the sector, Abhinandan spotted enemy aircraft at low level, and the radar informed him that all aircraft to his west were hostile. He went for the target in contact on close combat mode with R-75 missiles.
The radar had asked the formation to turn back because of the threat developing on them. Vyas heard the call and turned around. Jammers prevented Abhinandan from getting the call. In the melee, it is presumed that the Bison shot down an F-16D, while breaking off from the attack.
The enemy dropped 11 weapons—two each at Kishan Ghati, Bhimber Gali (Hamirpur), Kesbowl and Tackundi Bowl, and one each at the 251 Ammunition Point in Rajouri and Bharat Gala—but could not cause any damage. The debris indicated use of H4 bombs (range 120km) and range extension kits (60km) on Mk-83 bombs.
Why did the weapons not cause damage? I see two reasons. One, the enemy was forced to turn back by IAF interceptors before weapon release. Or, they were not allowed effective follow-through. Five AMRAAM missiles were fired by the F-16. Debris of AMRAAM AIM-120C5 were picked up and shown on national TV at 7:30pm on February 28.
Why were such beyond-visual-range missiles ineffective? One theory is that PAF wanted to draw our air defence forces to a planned kill box without crossing the LoC and use their superior AMRAAM to get aerial kills. Since this ploy did not succeed, they launched their missiles at longer ranges. We simply defeated their superior weapons with superior manoeuvring.
There were many tactical lessons for us. One, the PAF’s superior beyond-visual-range missiles give them an advantage of first-shot capability with better kinematic range. Our planned induction of the Meteor missile with Rafale fighter jets would change that. Two, weather and mountains do impose physical limitations on aerial surveillance. Good and real-time intelligence will always be the most critical requirement in any conflict.
Three, communication jamming was a vulnerability. The IAF has been crying hoarse for years for securing communications and progressing the case for operational data link. The case has got traction now. Four, dominance in the electromagnetic spectrum will play a key role in future conflict. Five, clear rules of engagement are important in less-than-war situations. These rules need to be reviewed quickly. Seven, combatants need to be trained to quickly switch from peacetime rules to wartime activities.
The shooting down of our own Mi-17V5 helicopter is unpardonable. It was a combination of many mistakes, including personnel being trigger-happy at the first exposure to a conflict. The conflicts of 1965, 1971 and 1999 have shown that the maximum attrition for any air force is in the first three days of conflict, when we experience the ‘fog of war’. The US air force, which leads in combat experience, realised this over years of iteration. The main objective of the Red Flag exercise in the US is to train personnel in handling the first three days of combat with reduced attrition.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT - Need modification.
With stand-off ranges increasing, involving air power for sub-conventional operations will open more windows of conflict and conflict resolution. Today’s rule is that military planes should not operate less than 10km from the border. At normal speeds, this distance can be covered in less than a minute. The issue gets compounded with induction of weapon systems which have assured stand-off ranges, like the Meteor missile (which has a range of more than 100km), SCALP (300km) or S-400 (380 km), with AWACS giving cross-border visibility of 450km. Thus, the fight could take place without crossing the border. We need to remember that it works both ways.