Monday, December 29, 2014

Night Engagements

By: Usman Shabbir and Yawar Mazhar 

PAF’s tactics during the war included single or pairs of Starfighters providing top-cover to CAPS of F-86s. In addition F-104’s radar based fire control system meant that it was the only fighter in PAF’s inventory which could take up the role of a night interceptor against IAF Canberras with any degree of credibility. In this role too, the F-104s were limited by lack of a comprehensive low level radar network and th
e technology limitations of its onboard radar which suffered from ground clutter and limited search area. While most F-104s operated from Sargodha, a pair was deployed every night to Peshawar to provide night air defence over northern Pakistan.

The night intruding IAF Canberras were warned of F-104s presence by the Indian ground control radar at Amritsar and its own tail warning radar. On warning of an approaching F-104 the IAF Canberras would resort to sudden change in height making it difficult for F-104s to keep track of the target. The usual IAF method was to approach Pakistan at medium altitude of 25-30,000 feet and then descent to low level to approach the target. On target the IAF Canberras would pull-up to 8-10,000 ft to avoid flak and then egress at low level climbing up to medium level after crossing into India. Given PAF’s own night counter attack missions, IAF had deployed its Canberra at airbases deeper inside India and therefore range considerations were important while flying the hi-lo-lo-hi mission profile just described. PAF’s counter to this tactic was to extend the arc F-104s would patrol at, hoping to intercept an IAF Canberra when it climbed to medium altitude while egressing from Pakistan. CAPS of one or two F-104s and F-86 Sabres were flown against each wave of intruding Canberras. It was hoped that the Sabre although lacking any night capability could act as a deterrent using GCI and infra-red homing heads of its Sidewinder missiles to detect and attack the Canberras at night.

The first positive contact between an F-104 and a Canberra took place on the night of September 13/14, when Sqn Ldr Middlecoat fired a Sidewinder on a Canberra in a blind intercept. An explosion was seen at a range of 4,000 ft but no confirmation was possible as the encounter took place over Indian territory. A confirmed kill was obtained on the night of September 21, when Sqn Ldr Jamal A Khan made radar intercept of an egressing Canberra and shot it down with an AIM-9B Sidewinder. In this particular case the IAF Canberra climbed earlier than usual due to fuel considerations and failed to switch on its tail warning radar while climbing. The pilot ejected and was captured.

One F-104 was lost on September 17 when Flg Off GO Abbasi landed short of the runway when Peshawar airbase was under a dust storm; miraculously the pilot still strapped in his seat was thrown clear of the crash and survived without any major injuries. F-104A 56-868 was the second Starfighter lost in 1965 war. With a Mystere destroyed, the aircraft served the purpose for which it was inducted. The total strength of No. 9 Squadron, at this stage was reduced to 08 F-104As and 02 F-104Bs.It shall be noted that not even a single Starfighter at this stage was credited to the Indian Airforce.

In another incident Flt Lt Amjad Hussain intercepted an IAF Canberra near Lahore and positioned himself neatly behind it, only to experience short circuiting of the gun – missile selection switch rendering both weapons unusable. Amjad then flew along side the Canberra with the IAF pilot looking at him. Other squadron pilots recall watching a long gun camera film of this incident.


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