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Struggle: Biography of a Fighter Pilot (Monograph)

As for the manner in which the army had responded to the crisis in its assessment and conduct up to that point, Tipnis recalled that there had been a. There had been no call for a joint briefing, leave alone joint planning, both at the service and command headquarters; just repeated requests for armed helicopter support…. There had been no joint deliberations at any level. As Tipnis recalled,. Ved said the air force had to join in as the army was in a difficult position. I told him that there was no doubt of that and the air force was very keen to join in, my only reservation being in respect of the use of helicopters—they would be too vulnerable.

The next day, the Chiefs of Staff Committee met and adopted a unanimous stance regarding what should be done with respect to the intrusion. In the end, it took the incontrovertible evidence of the reconnaissance imagery provided by the IAF and by other sources for the army chief to realize the full extent of the problem and to agree to take the issue to the prime minister. No crossing the LoC. While there, he personally assured the commander of 15 Corps that his troops taking fire would receive all needed air support.

While descending to 22, feet just two miles from the LoC, which put the aircraft as low as 4, feet above the highest ridgelines, the Canberra sustained a direct hit in its right engine by what was later determined to have been a Chinese-made Anza infrared surface-to-air missile. Kinetic air operations began in earnest at on May 26 with six attacks in succession by two-ship elements of MiG, MiG, and MiG fighters against intruder camps, materiel dumps, and supply routes in the general areas overlooking Dras, Kargil, and Batalik.

These initial attacks marked the first time that the IAF had expended ordnance in combat in Kashmir since its early-generation Vampire jet fighters destroyed Pakistani bunkers in the Kargil sector in December The IAF fighters that were pressed into these first-day attacks conducted 57mm rocket attacks and strafing passes against enemy targets.

A second wave of air attacks began that afternoon, followed by high-altitude reconnaissance overflights by Canberra PR57s and subsequent low passes by MiGMs to conduct near-real-time battle damage assessment. Nearly all of the targets selected for attack in those initial strikes were on or near jagged ridgelines at elevations ranging from 14, to 18, feet.

Life Of A Indian Fighter Pilot - A Day In The Life Of A Pilot Of The Indian Air Force

See Figure 2 for a graphic portrayal of the high mountain terrain. The stark backdrop of rocks and snow made for uncommonly difficult visual target acquisition, complicated further by the small size of the enemy troop positions dispersed against a vast and undifferentiated snow background. During the second day of surface attack operations, the IAF lost two fighters in close succession. The ensuing in-flight emergency resulted in the pilot ejecting safely after several unsuccessful airstart attempts, only to be captured by the Pakistani intruders almost as soon as he hit the ground.

The MiG was flying at an altitude well above that at which the rockets had been cleared to be fired. The second fighter loss, a MiG from 17 Squadron flying top cover for the strikers, sustained an infrared surface-to-air missile hit while its pilot was flying over the terrain at low level to assist in the search for the downed MiG pilot.

The pilot, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, also succeeded in ejecting safely but was executed shortly after he was captured following his landing. His body was subsequently returned bearing fatal bullet wounds and clear signs of brutalization.

On the third day of air operations, an IAF Mi helicopter was downed, again by an enemy shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missile while conducting a low-level attack. The ill-fated helicopter had been the last in a four-ship flight of armed Mis flying in trail formation and was the only aircraft in the flight that had not been configured with a self-protection flare dispenser to draw away any incoming heat-seeking missiles. In all, enemy forces fired more than surface-to-air missiles at IAF aircraft throughout the conflict.

PAF Fs to the west typically maintained a safe distance of 10 to 20 miles on the Pakistani side of the LoC, although they occasionally approached as close as 8 miles away from the ongoing ground engagements.

Struggle: Biography of a Fighter Pilot (Monograph) (English Edition)

In all, the IAF flew some fighter sorties throughout the campaign dedicated exclusively to maintaining battlespace air defense. I was fully conscious that as we hit and killed enemy soldiers, there was every possibility for escalation, possibly outside the immediate combat area, and it was my job to be ready with adequate remaining resources for that eventuality.

The closest of those to the fighting, Srinagar, was more than 70 miles away from the war zone. Increasingly as the joint campaign unfolded, most Indian Army operations were preceded by preparatory air strikes, each of which was closely coordinated beforehand between 15 Corps planners and the AOC for Jammu and Kashmir.

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Rapidly adapting to these constraints, on May 30, just four days after the start of Operation Safed Sagar, Air Chief Marshal Tipnis decided to take action to help correct the problem of inaccuracy. He chose to commit IAF Mirage H fighters capable of delivering laser-guided bombs to ground attack operations in the Kargil sector. The fighters first had to be configured to deliver the bombs, so Air Headquarters launched an accelerated effort to do so at Air Force Station Gwalior, where the Mirage Hs were principally based.

In the meantime, air operations against identified intruder positions and support facilities continued in the Jubar and Mashkoh Valley sectors between May 28 and June 1. Throughout the first week of June, inclement weather hindered such operations and persisted to a point where a cloud deck below the ridgelines precluded air attacks entirely on June 10 and Fortunately, 15 Corps had no urgent target servicing requirements for the IAF during those two days.


The overriding objective of those forces was to recapture the high ground from which the intruders had a direct line of sight to highway NH1A, allowing them to lay down sustained artillery fire on it and on adjacent targets. For this pivotal attack, the IAF waited until the encampment had grown to a size that rendered it strategically ripe for such targeting. In the first image, a dense array of tents and structures, as well as tracks leading up the hillside from the encampment, are clearly visible.

They used two 1,pound Paveway II laser-guided munitions, with other fighters striking additional targets with unguided bombs.

The following day, Mirage Hs and Jaguars initiated around-the-clock bombing of enemy positions throughout the Batalik and Dras subsectors. You guys have done a wonderful job. Your Mirage boys with their precision laser-guided bombs targeted an enemy battalion headquarters in Tiger Hill with tremendous success…. The enemy is on the run. They are on the run in other sectors also. At this rate, the end of the conflict may come soon. Other than for an inconsequential brief delay due to weather, IAF combat operations continued without interruption for seven weeks.

At the height of Operation Safed Sagar, the IAF was generating more than 40 fixed-wing combat sorties a day in both direct and indirect support to 15 Corps.

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For that reason, the aircraft were never fully committed to the fight. Aerial strike operations ended on July Table 1 presents a breakdown of the total numbers of IAF sorties flown throughout the campaign by aircraft type. In the end, by its official afteraction count, the Indian Army suffered troops killed in action and 1, soldiers wounded during the Kargil fighting.

For their part, the occupying Pakistani forces were said by Indian sources to have lost more than troops killed in action with around a thousand more wounded, although much disagreement and uncertainty still surround the latter figures. Just three weeks before the commencement of Operation Safed Sagar, Western Air Command had concluded a three-week-long annual exercise during which it had flown some 5, training sorties involving upward of aircraft that included simulated attacks against targets in the Himalayas. There are two compelling reasons why the attempted delivery of effective close air support was so problematic for the IAF throughout most of the Kargil fighting.

First, the enemy targets that presented themselves in the Kargil heights were nothing like the more conventional target array that fighter aircraft typically engage when providing support to ground combat operations. To make matters worse, the IAF, which was well familiar with the use of forward air controllers in support of friendly troops in close contact with enemy forces, was unable to employ ground-based terminal attack controllers for its close air support missions during the Kargil counteroffensive. Second, IAF operations were hampered from the very start by multiple constraints on their freedom of action.

Accordingly, they were not used at any time during the Kargil campaign. In addition, prohibited from crossing the LoC, fast-moving fighters were driven to employ target attack tactics using ingress and egress headings that were not optimal or, in many instances, even safe. By way of example, in the case of a fighter aircraft flying inside a mountain valley with high ridgelines on either side, a turn into a wrong valley that ends up being a box canyon can result in disaster for the pilot if he has insufficient lateral maneuvering room or available power to clear vertical obstructions. When one adds to such complicating factors an unusually small target size, the result all too often is a delayed or failed visual target acquisition or, depending on the terrain layout, an abnormally steep dive angle for weapon delivery.

Since altitude loss during dive recoveries is substantially greater at high mountain elevations than during strike operations conducted closer to sea level, such abnormal dive angles allow little target tracking time before a recovery from the dive must be initiated. All of these complicating factors invariably make errors more likely in weapon release and placement. Our missions could fly in this narrow corridor either west or east or reverse. In particular, the town of Skardu on the Pakistani side of the LoC was only miles from Kargil and had all the needed facilities for providing logistical and artillery support to the Pakistani intruders.

Had the IAF been permitted to cross the LoC, it could have spared the Indian Army the need for its costly frontal assault against the Pakistanis by leveraging its asymmetric advantage to attack their source of resupply in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir, in effect imposing an aerial blockade. That, however, would have risked escalation to a wider war, perhaps one involving the PAF, which the Vajpayee government was determined to prevent at every cost. On top of that, when bombs were dropped, their delivery accuracy was degraded at higher release altitudes.

The reduced air temperature and density above the Kargil heights altered drag indices and other performance parameters that had never before been calculated for those conditions, causing weapons not to guide as predicted and requiring adaptation of delivery techniques through real-time improvisation. In addition, as noted above, the thinner air required pilots to release their weapons and initiate a pullout sooner than they normally would in airspace closer to sea level, further degrading delivery accuracy. Stark terrain folds in the Himalayas tended to obscure the enemy from aerial observation and to mask the effects of bomb detonations, rendering even near misses ineffective.

They also served to canalize aerial approaches to targets, dictating aircraft ingress and egress headings and, in the process, making IAF fighters predictable and hence more susceptible to ground fire. For example, retired Major General G. If the IAF was unable to provide consistently effective oncall close air support for all the prevailing multitude of extenuating factors, it certainly was effective in other air applications no less pertinent to the ongoing fighting. The IAF performed more than adequately in servicing enemy headquarters complexes, supply dumps, and other assets that were more readily accessible to aerial attack from standoff ranges.

With the target coordinates available, on approach to the target, pilots dropped their bombs at the determined distance from the target. We knew that if the coordinates were accurate, the results would be reasonable. That is why we resorted to night operations in those forbidding hills and at low levels of around feet, something never done before anywhere in the world and that also with aircraft that had no modern aids and in an area where no radars could operate.

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The computer releases the bomb automatically at just the right moment once all required delivery accuracy parameters are achieved. With the aid of this proven system, the pilot knows with high confidence that his bomb will land on the point designated by the cursor on his HUD once the weapon departs its pylon. Further innovative real-time adaptation by the IAF occurred when MiG pilots lacking sophisticated onboard navigation suites resorted to the use of stopwatches and GPS receivers in their cockpits for conducting night interdiction bombing.

The air force knew what had gone wrong and knew what was required to be done to ensure we did not repeat the mistakes. Indeed, they did what U. In this, the IAF succeeded in strangling the enemy supply arteries. By one informed assessment, hundreds of enemy troops were killed by IAF air action in such attacks, and Indian military intelligence intercepted numerous enemy radio transmissions during the campaign that attested to the effectiveness of those attacks.

After the surviving intruders were driven back into Pakistani-controlled territory and the Indian Army reclaimed and secured its positions in the Kargil heights, Air Marshal Patney reflected in this regard:. It is the nature of airpower that escalation is inherent in its use, unless its use is one-sided, as happened this time….

We had not planned for this kind of war. We had planned that we would use airpower in this particular area, but certainly not in the way we were required to do so…. If we were to apply airpower in its classical sense, in which we had done all our training, we would have crossed the LoC well before and crossed the [international border] as well.

The Kargil War of was a rich teaching experience for India in the national security arena in many respects. It definitely served as a morale booster for the Indian populace.