Monday, December 29, 2014

F-104 Starfighter Air Superiority Missions

To maintain its air superiority, and to capitalise on the decisive edge it had gained in air combat, the PAF made several determined attempts between 8 and 23 September to lure IAF into air engagements, through prolonged CAPs and even fighter sweeps. The original plan to maintain continuous operation over the Sialkot, Lahore and Kasur areas to deter enemy from attacking Pak Army units and to intercept IAF close support aircraft.

Attempts were also made, particularly by the F-104s, to provoke the IAF into action by flying across the border into India. But the IAF invariably refused the challenge, although PAF fighters sometimes flew as far as Amritsar and beyond. Single F-104s patrolled almost daily for thirty minutes at a time between Halwara and Adampur at dawn and dusk without any Indian reaction, and at night the Starfighters penetrated as much as 100 miles into enemy territory to try and intercept the IAF Canberras, with no fear of opposition.

Even low level, daylight reconnaissance missions over the main IAF fighter airfields failed to produce any Indian reaction. One pilot from 9 Squadron, Flight Lieutenant Aftab Alam Khan, made as many as three visits during daylight to photograph Halwara, and found that the speed of the Starfighter gave the Indians no time to react at all, even after several passes over the airfield. The F-104s were also used to escort the slow photo reconnaissance RT-33s of 20 Squadron on missions deep into Indian territory, the presence of the Starfighters virtually guarenteeing that no air opposition would be encountered. A couple of Hunters were seen in the distance on one RT-33 escort mission to Halwara, but they stayed well clear of the PAF aircraft, which continued their task unmolested.

The pilots of No.9 Squadron competed fiercely, to undertake as many combat missions as they could. Never missing a chance to close with the enemy, hungry for combat. In the days that followed, the F-104 pilots noted that whenever they got airborne, the IAF grounded all its aircraft. This made it very difficult for the F-104 pilots to engage the enemy during daytime hours. Flt Lt Mushtaq, flying a F-104, made contact with the enemy, only to note that as he approached the target, the IAF Hunters disengaged well in time. Flt Lt 'Micky' Abbas in an F-104 had a similar episode. This experience would be repeated for the F-104 pilots for all daytime interceptions. Flt Lt Aftab personally patrolled in a lone F-104, at 30,000ft, deep inside Indian territory, over the two Indian fighter airfields of Adampur and Halwara for one hour, and there was no response from the Indian side, no IAF fighter aircraft were scrambled to engage the intruder leisurely loitering over Indian airbases. This was total air superiority, and it displayed the complete and utter supremacy the Starfighter enjoyed over the IAF. At medium and high altitudes the F-104 ruled the sky. The IAF refused to challenge the Starfighter, keeping at a safe arm's length distance from challenging it. The F-104 by controlling the sky at medium and high altitude, had reduced the workload for the F-86 's to the extent that the disparity in numbers was manageable.

Missed Opportunity
By: Wg Cdr Aftab Alam Khan, Pakistan Air Force (Retd.)

"The reconnaissance flights revealed that the forward IAF bases had only approximately forty aircraft each at Adampur and Halwara, and even fewer than that at Pathankot. Where were the rest of the IAF aircraft? This got me thinking, and I went on to study the map. Moving further east from the Indian Airfields of Adampur and Halwara were Agra and Delhi. These airfields were 350nm from Sargodha. There was no attack aircraft in the PAF inventory that could reach these airfields flying at low level. If an aircraft approached at a high altitude level, it could easily be intercepted. I, therefore presumed that the Indians would have the bulk of their aircraft at these bases, and because they were sure they could not be attacked, the aircraft would be in the open. Pakistan had the F-104A with the J-79-11A engine, which was very fuel-efficient. This gave the PAF F-104's an extended range capability. I marked the route and was surprised to note that if we took off with four tanks and jettisoned them as they went empty, we could reach these bases while maintaining a speed of 540 knots at low level. It would also allow us to make two gun attacks, exit at 600 knots to the border, climb to attain height and land back with 1000 lbs of fuel remaining.

The plan looked like a very exciting possibility to me. I thought of 'Pearl Harbor'; complete surprise could be achieved. I stayed up all night, made the Flight plan, and next morning made the proposal to my Squadron Commander. He told me that he was against submitting the proposal, as it was too risky. I then took the plan to the Wing Leader who had been my instructor on the Harvard T-6G. He said that it was a good plan but refused to take it any higher. I then went to the Base Commander. He said he liked it, but he would not make the proposal to the high command. There was nobody else to go to.....

Immediately after the war, the Air Chief ordered a high altitude recee mission of the airfields at Agra and Dehli. This was to be flown by the B-57F (Droopy), a four engined Fanjet modified B-57 that had replaced the U 2, and was flown by Pakistani pilots. The reccee Flight revealed that Agra and Dehli were sprawling with aircraft. If the F-104 had attacked Dehli and Agra, it could have been a historic day for the PAF, as well as for the IAF to remember. This was the greatest chance missed by the PAF and the F-104. After the war I had a chance to discuss the plan with the Air Chief, he said that he would definitely ordered the attack if it had been brought to his notice."

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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