Friday, September 17, 2010

AIR WAR OF 1965 REVISITED - F-104 Starfighter ends the 1965 war in style

F-104's Successfull Night Interception
By: Wg Cdr Aftab Alam Khan, Pakistan Air Force (Retd)

The F-104 was the only night fighter with the PAF. Its radar was good for high altitude, line astern missile attack, but was unusable below 5000 ft, because of ground clutter. Also, if the target started to turn, it was not possible to deliver a missile attack. These were the limitations of the system. The IAF Canberra bombers would operate at night, usually below 500 feet. One aircraft would drop flares while others bombed the targets. After delivering their ordinance they would exit at low altitude, but as they approached the border, the Canberra's would start climbing. At this time the F-104's would be vectored for the intercept. The IAF had also installed tail warning radars on their Canberras. As the F-104 started to get into a firing position, the bombers would start a defensive turn and radar contact would be lost. Twice, I had made radar contact but as I closed into missile range, the aircraft executed a defensive maneuver. Only Sqn Ldr Jamal A Khan was lucky enough to shoot down a Canberra. He executed a perfect 'text book ' attack, with a missile launch. The Canberra Pilot was captured. He stated that the tail warning radar made very annoying beeping sounds at low level, therefore, he had switched it off, and he had forgotten to switch it on again as he had climbed out. Although the F-104 made only one night kill, it did achieve an ancillary objective, i.e. it did prevent the enemy from doing damage. The threat or fear of the F-104, forced the Canberras to operate at low altitude levels, once over Pakistani airspace. This prevented the attacking pilots from making determined attacks. They did not, or could not properly identify their targets, and thus dropped their bombs at random, doing little or no damage.

As the war progressed, a radar controller assigned to the army gun radar unit told me that the army radar could spot the IAF Canberras very clearly at night, but the track length was limited to approximately 20 NM. I realized that this was good enough for the F- 104 to make an interception. With its high speed it could position itself behind the target very quickly, and once this was done, the F-104 could be aligned with the help of its InfraRed (IR) gunsight for a missile or a gun attack. The Canberra tail warning radar was ineffective at low altitude. To get the system functioning, only a radio had to be installed in the army radar unit. The war ended before the system was made effective and put into practice.

Flying the high speed F-104 at night in war time conditions was hazardours. The environment was as hostile and dangerous as the enemy. When there was no moon visible, the nights were pitch dark, as the blackout was complete. Haze and poor visibility was common. The runway lights were switched on once the aircraft was about to pitch out for a landing, we were lucky if we could see the airfield lights on downwind, and turning base. The landing conditions were severe. The TACANs were not aligned with the runways, there were no approach lights, ILS or VASI. It was under these conditions that Flt Lt Abbasi, while making an approach, crashed short of the runway. The F-104 was completely destroyed but he miraculously escaped and survived to fly again.

The Last Flight
By: Wg Cdr Aftab Alam Khan, Pakistan Air Force (Retd)

A cease-fire had been agreed to, and the fighting was to stop at 3 am on 23rd September, 1965. I was told to confirm the same from the air. The visibility was excellent, but it was a dark night. From 30,000ft, I could see the firing along the bombline. It looked like a ping pong match. Exactly at 3 a.m. the firing started to slow down and then it stopped completely. I made the report and was ordered to land back at the home base. As I came on for final approach, I noticed the runway was tilted to the left, I turned left, and discovered that I was no longer aligned with the runway. I approached the runway in a zig- zag manner and decided to go around and try again. I guess the stress, fatigue and landing conditions were creating illusions. I asked for my Squadron Commander, who came immediately, I explained the problem, and he gave me the necessary instructions. The next approach was worse, after which I had fuel left for two further attempts. I tried again, and was told to overshoot. My Squadron Commander then told me to eject on the down wind; he was getting the helicopter airborne. Now I only had 200lbs of fuel left, just enough for one last approach. At this time the air traffic controller requested permission to switch on the entire airfield’s lights, as the war was over. As soon as this was done, my senses returned to normal, and a safe landing was carried out. Thus ended the 1965 Indo-Pak war. The F-104 and myself had seen the start, and we saw it finish, a lucky and historic coincidence.

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