Monday, December 29, 2014

Indian Version of the Same Incident

By: Group Captain Bharat Singh 

Indian Air Force, after gaining Air Superiority over Pakistan in the Punjab area, the top Indian Air Force planners decided to lure the PAF fighters out of their airfields and engage them using Gnats. The decision was made on the realization that PAF Fighters were conspicuously absent in the Punjab area in the last few days.

I was ordered to select three other pilots and in coordination with the Air Defence staff, plan a "leisurely" Fighter sweep over Pakistan territory. The Patrol height and area was carefully selected where the Pakistan radar and our own radar would have definite pick up on our Fighters. Our Fighters were to maintain radio contact with our Air Defense unit who would maintain a continuous surveillance on our Fighter by tracking us on their Radar scope. I was specifically warned by our Air Defense Fighter Controller that there was a "window" at a point on our flight path were there would be a loss of radar pick up for about a minute or a minute and a half. We were briefed that when this occurred I would be warned. It was understood that the Indian Radar Fighter controller would warn us of any approaching enemy Fighter and give us a running commentary of their position in relation to our Fighters. The discretion to engage the enemy fighters was left to my decision.

After a detailed aircrew briefing along with the ATC (Air Traffic Controller) the Air Defence controller and other sections involved in this operation, we took off in to the clear blue skies and steered a course for our run in point in Pakistan territory. We climbed rapidly to 10,000 feet as we entered Pak air space

It was a nice September morning typical to Punjab. There was no visible sign of deadly war on the ground, it looked so peaceful and quite and the only noise was the lazy drone from my Gnats engine, the sight of the other three Gnats was the only evidence that we were out there to invite Pakistan Fighters to mortal combat.

I ordered the formation in to Battle formation followed by an order"clear your guns" This is a a very short burst to double check that our two 30mm cannons were working.

Reaching our run in point I turned North East parallel to the Indo/Pak border. We started scanning the Western Sky, maintaining a strict look out to our port, the side we expected the enemy threat. We continued a straight and level flight at 10,000 feet, monitoring our fighter controllers commentary for air activity. We were aware that Pak radar and our own radar must have a good pick up on us. Nothing happened; our radar had no pick up of any enemy air activity in that area. At that moment we reached the "null" zone where our Radar would lose pick up on us and also any fighter activity by Pak aircraft. We were warned as we entered the null zone that our radar had lost contact with us. I kept checking the time, one minute then one and a half minute went by yet there was no pick up. I accelerated our planes to combat speed around 450 kts. I warned our Fighter controller that I would turn around if the pick up did not occur very soon. Prolonged loss of radar coverage leaves a formation blind and vulnerable to enemy air attack. The controller insisted that I continue for another one minute, I agreed. Suddenly I started feeling a chill going up and down my spine and an unexplainable sense of danger with an overpowering urge to take evasive action. With the sixth sense of a fox I abruptly ordered my formation "Hard Port, Hard port Go".This is an emergency maneuver to turn round at the maximum rate of turn on ones own axis, maintaining Battle formation. I over rode the Fighter controllers instructions, which is a prerogative of the leader of a Fighter formation.

This maneuver was so fast that we faced the other way with in 30 seconds. The object of this max rate turn is to very quickly turn around because during the turn we have minimum visual scanning ability and a time most vulnerable to an enemy attack.

It seemed that we had, in the nick of time, caught a pair of F-104 Starfighters napping, they were closing in fast, drooling for a kill, It was obvious that the Starfighters were trying to sneak in to a firing position close behind us. As we straightened out facing the way we had come, I received a warning call from my sub section leader who was on my starboard side, "enemy below you crossing from starboard to port". I quickly scanned to my starboard and then to my port! Lo and behold, I saw a dark and a large cigar shaped plane with swept back wings passing under the belly of my Fighter. I was positioned for a perfect kill. He was a dead duck, I was probably 500 to 1000 feet above and three hundred yards behind him positioned just right for a perfect attack from above. I knew I could easily blow him to bits with my gun sight centered on the cockpit. I commenced to roll over to get my 30 mms cannons to bear on to him. I was ready to pump every thing I had in one single continuous burst in to the Starfighter from my two 30 mm cannons, knowing that I would not get a second chance once he cut in his afterburner.

Suddenly my sub section leader sent a chill up my spine, he called urgently, "Negative, it is a Hunter ". I froze in horror I was just about ready to kill one of our own Fighters! Not believing my eyes I again looked carefully at the cigar shaped plane. It certainly was a Pakistani Starfighter. That hesitation for a couple of seconds was enough to save the PAF Starfighter. Realizing the fatal error I quickly rolled in to the attack. It was too late, the Starfighter was observed by me emitting a large trail of flame from its jet exhaust, he had cut in his after burner and accelerated to a very high speed, leaving me standing, so to speak. It was no use, I had him for a while in my sights, the amber light was glowing on my gun sight, meaning that my gun radar was locked on but his range was around 1500 yard, well out of firing range now. In hind sight I should have given him a good long burst from my canons, if for no other reason, just in retaliation for sending that horrible chill up and down my spine. It seems that this F 104 had a "number 2" with him who escaped breaking west, straight to mama's lap.

The horror of this incident slowly downed on me. Far from being the aggressor we nearly became the victims. I could have very easily lost two Gnats and two good pilots. Thank you my Guardian angel for that "chilly" warning. A couple of seconds delay on my part would have been disastrous and a disgrace on me, the leader of the formation and the Squadron Commander to boot. For no obvious reason the over powering compulsion to turn around fast was so compelling, a feeling I had never experienced in my life.

It seemed that the Starfighters were closing in ready to use their deadly "Vulcan guns" which would have pulverized a Gnat in a second. I was numb and humbled by this uncanny urge which saved two lives and two Gnats. In a few more seconds at least two of us would have been dead.

A detailed discussion during the debriefing clarified the scenario. Just before our Fighters went off our Air Defense radar screen, two Pak Starfighters were scrambled by Pakistani Air Defense to intercept us, thereby falling straight in to our preplanned trap as anticipated. Since our radar had no pick up on us at that very moment it was obvious that our Fighter controller also had no pick up on the scrambled Pak Fighters either. We concluded that once the Starfighters were vectored on to us by Pak radar, on sighting us, the Pak fighters approached us stealthily from behind for the "kill". Fighters are vulnerable at the back, which is their blind spot.

It was surprising that they did not use their Sidewinder missiles, as a matter of fact I was close enough to notice that they were not carrying missiles, which can be fired from a much greater distance. Sidewinders are heat seeking weapons and lock on to a heat source like the Jet wake heat emission from an aircraft. These missiles had a history of failing to lock on and hit the target. This we understood was due to internal malfunctions and confusion caused by their inbuilt sensors sensing multiple heat sources. This was true in our case; we had four heat sources emitted by four different aircraft in battle formation, spread far apart.

What ever the reason, the Pak fighters decided to attack us using their deadly six barreled rotating 20 mm Vulcan gun. The volume of fire from these guns is so intense they could cut an aeroplane in to two or pulverize it in seconds. If my guardian angel had not warned me to turn around at the exact moment, at least two Gnats along with their pilots would have been blown to pieces. To use their deadly guns, it was necessary for them to close in, to firing range of 700 to 800 yards. The standard procedure in the front gun attack mode requires a good over taking speed which is required for breaking away after the attack. Because of our very timely and unexpected emergency turn around maneuver, the Starfighters were caught napping and could not decelerate in time and telescoped in to us, passing directly below us in confusion and disarray. I believe they carried out a defensive split and broke off the engagement. They wisely abandoned their attack and escaped home at very high speed.. They did the right thing, because if they had been foolish enough to take us on in combat, on our terms, there were good chances of them being shot down to the guns of four Gnats. The Gnat is superior to the F-104, in a dog fight except in speed and fire power; missiles are unusable in close air combat involving high "G" maneuvers.

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