Success Story: Surgical Strike-2 Retaliation of the Pulwama Attack
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 05 Mar , 2019


After the Pulwama massacre where more than 40 CRPF jawans were martyred in a convoy by Pakistani terrorists as claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) Chief Masood Azhar, Modi government gave a stunning blow to the Pakistani terrorists. In the early hours of 26 February, 12 Mirage-2000 combat jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) armed with Israeli Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) also SPICE 2000 and Crystal Maze Mk2, called AGM 142 Popeye PGMs, retaliated by taking off from their Gwalior airbase on a crucial mission, cloaked in secrecy. The multirole fighter aircraft flew over Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir before crossing into Pakistani airspace and striking the largest training camp of the JeM in Balakot inside Pakistan.

The terror launch pads along the line of control (LoC) were moved deep inside after the Pulwama attack. The camp in Balakot, which was targeted, is JeM’s major training camp. It’s in Pakistan itself, close to Abbottabad infamous because of Osama bin Laden. Balakot is about 80 km aerial distance from the LoC, in the Mansehra district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and is about two hours’ drive from Abbottabad.


Other Measures

The IAF also deployed the Israeli Phalcon and indigenous Netra early warning aircraft to monitor the mission — to direct the aircraft as well as to keep an eye out for Pakistani F-16s jets that might be deployed to counter them — and a Heron long range UAV that was used for monitoring and assessment. Sukhoi Su-30MKIs fighter jets were also airborne and standing by, as a precautionary move.The Mirages used the Israeli Lightening targeting pods to mark the targets and the PGMs were launched from a safe distance.Another source said the initial Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) was that the hit was 100% and that all aircraft had returned safely.

EAM in Wuzhen, China: You heard the address by Mr Wang Yi, he said “We will cooperate to eradicate breeding ground of terrorism & extremism.” It’s not just a joint strategy but also our commitment…Terrorism is a threat to humanity, so strategy by the 3 countries is not enough.

A large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, and senior commanders were eliminated in largest JeM camp in Balakot. Camp was led by Maulana Yusuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghauri, brother in law of JeM Chief Masood Azhar.Vijay.

The Indian Air Force’s strike on a JeM terror training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot delivers a robust but calibrated message. The latter is manifest in New Delhi’s diplomatic utterances. While the strikes followed the Pulwama attack by a couple of weeks, Gokhale referred to the action as a “non-military pre-emptive strike” which is a new tactical phrase coined. This phrase indicates the action was based on an assessment of an imminent threat, and had ensured that Pakistan’s military personnel and infrastructure were not targeted, and civilian casualties were actively avoided. In effect, New Delhi’s line is that the operation was an intelligence-driven counter-terror strike rather than escalatory military aggression. The government said all other options had been exhausted in making Islamabad keep its commitments since 2004 on curbing the activities of groups like the JeM. There is no denying that the decision to send Mirage jets across the Line of Control (LoC) to fire missiles 80 km inside Pakistan represents a major shift. The government has judged, perhaps correctly, that global opinion has shifted and there is little tolerance today for terror groups that continue to find shelter on Pakistan soil. There has been no global criticism of India’s statement on the strikes, and most have just counselled restraint to both countries.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan had called for a joint session of Parliament and for its diplomats to raise the matter at international fora. He had convened a meeting of the National Command Authority that oversees Pakistan’s nuclear policy. However, Pakistan’s options remained limited. It could continue to deny that the Indian strike caused any damage on the ground, and obviate the need for retaliatory strikes; or it could escalate the situation with a military response. It could also make a break from its past, and begin to shut down the terror camps on its soil, which would win friends internationally and ensure peace in the region.

MiG 21 Bison

Now about MiG 21 Bison, the upgrade involved changing the entire ‘intestine’ of MiG-21 in the space available. Young Abhi deserves ‘thumbs up’ for engaging and shooting down the PAF aircraft, which was a F-16 trainer. In a one on one close air combat F-16 will invariably win the battle entirely due to the outstanding design of the wing. In a BVR scenario as it happened the F-16 made the fatal error of entering operational envelope of R-73. BraveAbhi grabbed the opportunity with both hands.RWR suite of F-16 can be compared with that of MiG-21 BISON.

F-16s are SINGLE ENGINE fighters. However, on maneuverability and Thrust/weight ratio (depending on external load) the F-16 is far superior to MiG-21 Bison variants. 


Pakistan on 27 February crossed the LoC with three F-16 jets to undertake strikes in Jammu and Kashmir. Indian officials said Pakistani F-16 fighter jets violated Indian air space in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch and Nowshera sectors but were pushed back by Indian MiG-21 jets. However, the Pakistan foreign office said in a statement, “Today, Pakistan Air Force undertook strikes across Line of Control from within Pakistani airspace. This was not a retaliation to continued Indian belligerence” but an action in “self defence”. “If India is striking at so called terrorist backers without a shred of evidence, we also retain reciprocal rights to retaliate against elements that enjoy Indian patronage while carrying out acts of terror in Pakistan. We do not wish to go to that route and wish that India gives peace a chance and to resolve issues like a mature democratic nation,” it said.

On 27 February the aerial skirmish began when three Pakistani jet fighters, out of a “fairly large formation” of over 10 F-16s, JF-17s and Mirage-5 attack jets, crossed the LoC in the Kalal area in Nowshera region of Rajouri in Jammu around 10.20 am. A media report said four military installations were being targeted – the Brigade headquarters in Krishna Ghati (Poonch), a battalion headquarter in Nangi Tekri, Supply dump and Ammunition point in Niyari. A small number of these fighters then proceeded to cross the Line of Control, when eight IAF jets, which included four Sukhoi 30s, two-upgraded Mirage 2000s and two MiG-21 Bison, intercepted them. The Air Force fighters gave chase to the Pakistani jets on their return leg after they had dropped a handful of laser-guided bombs that narrowly missed their military targets along the Line of Control.

The Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was in hot pursuit of a Pakistani F-16 jet, which he engaged with an R-73 air-to-air missile.  The state-of-the-art Pakistani fighter, thought to be a two-seater variant of the jet, was shot down. Both pilots were seen parachuting down on the Pakistani side of the LoC.

The Pakistan Prime Minister offered talks with the India Prime Minister Modi for de-escalation the war like situation between the two countries and promised that Wing Commander Abhinandan shall soon be released.


Purchase Agreement of F-16 Jets

The US has been “monitoring closely” Pakistan’s use of American-made defence equipment in an air strike it carried out on Indian defence facilities on 27 February disregarding appeals to avoid military actions that could exacerbate tensions and imperil its future arms purchases.

Indian defence officials said while speaking to reporters on 28 February that Pakistan used American-made F-16s and Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) in a raid into India in retaliation for its air strikes against a terrorist camp run by Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot, Pakistan.

India presented parts of an American-made AMRAAM missile used in the raid to reporters at a rare joint defence briefing as evidence that Islamabad was allegedly violating contractual obligations with its chief supplier of subsidised military hardware, apart from flagrantly disregarding an appeal to avoid a military response to Balakot.

India on 27th February responded to Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s offer for talks with a demarche, which stated, “It is unfortunate that instead of fulfilling its international obligation and bilateral commitment to take credible action against terrorist entities and individuals operating from its soil, Pakistan has acted with action against India.”

It has been reported that on landing in Pakistan controlled territory, Abhinandan was beaten, bloodied, shot in the leg, tied and blindfolded against the Geneva Conventions – but a Pakistani video released thereafter shows him maintaining himself with exemplary decorum.

To the satisfaction and great solace to every Indian, brave and bruised hero Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned to his grateful country late on 1st March 2019 after an agonizing day long wait as Pakistan rejected India’s request to allow IAF to fly him in a special aircraft.

A “confession” video having 20 cuts praising Pakistan was extracted from Abhinandan at an ISI facility in Lahore. Indian officials said it was extracted under duress and only undermined Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “peace gesture” of releasing him. This video delayed the home coming of wing commander by four hours.

Brave Abhinandan had a black eye but he walked ramrod straight, betraying no signs of the injuries inflicted by the mob who had pounced on him when he bailed out from his MiG-21 Bison and landed in PoK.

The whole incident is a wake up call for the Modi government to modernise its defence forces lest it cuts a sorry figure during encounters with age-old weapons against its adversaries. India is the fastest and sixth largest economy in the world. However, its defence budget is 1.44 per cent of the GDP, which is the least since 1962. How long will the IAF continue flying 50 years old vintage jet fighters for the combat and how long will the soldiers continue sacrificing their lives with old rifles, carbines, sniper rifles, light machine guns and without latest night firing devices. Armed forces must have a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for coordination of operations during war and he must be part of member of the Cabinet Committee on Security CCS for authentic and expert strategic military advice at the crucial times.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva

is author of World Trade Organisation: Implications for Indian Economy, Pearson Education and also a former Professor International Trade.

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