In less than two weeks of the deadly car bomb attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, Indian Air Force planned and executed the dangerous mission in a classic manner that will be studied for decades.
India has avenged the killing of 44 CRPF Jawans in less than two weeks after the first ever car bomb attack on a security convoy in the Kashmir valley. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already informed the country that Indian military had started the process of retaliation within hundred hours (four days) of the February 14 attack. However, the big day came when Indian Air Force struck deep inside Pakistan, right at the heart of terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad, killing over 300 terrorists, including some top commanders and relatives of its infamous chief Maulana Masood Azhar.
Day 1: February 15.
All three services chiefs and chief of integrated defence staff (IDS) met a day after the Pulwama attack on the CRPF convoy. They presented their military options to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Their brief was very clear: the targets identified by them should only include terror training camps and launch pads, not the military installations.
Day 2: February 16.
Indian Army’s presentation included a bigger surgical strike that also entailed capturing a few Pakistan Army posts but it was ruled out as it lacked the surprise element. Pakistani ground troops were already on high alert in anticipation of an imminent Indian attack. However, Indian Army was asked to keep Pakistan Army engaged by heavy shelling.
Indian Navy was also asked to deploy submarines close to Karachi and Gwadar to confuse and divert Pakistan’s attention. India had already followed this strategy in 2001 during the year long military stand off following the attack on Indian Parliament. It sends a strong signal to Pakistan that in the event of a full scale war, India will try to impose a full naval blockade of the country, chocking its supply and fuel transported through sea route.
Indian Air Force was selected to carry out a precision strike as another surgical strike by Indian Army was considered risky this time. IAF sought 10 days time to plan and execute the precision strike. NSA Ajit Doval granted the time with the instruction that the operation should entail zero collateral damage to men and machines.
A point of insertion was identified in Muzaffarabad sector, not a heavily guarded sector by Pakistan Air Force. IAF was asked not to fly extremely deep inside Pakistan’s air space. Prime Minister Modi’s instruction was clear to avoid a collateral damage.
The same day, Indian Army and IAF deployed their drones to check the response time of Pakistan’s radars. However, ground intelligence provided by India’s external spy agency was much more useful at this stage than the information gathered by Indian drones.
Indian Air Force’s already planned exercise Vayushakti in Pokhran range in Rajasthan was suitably amended to test the efficacy of Pakistani radars. As expected, Pakistani military was in a state of high alert due to the Vayu Shakti (Air Power) exercise.
Gwalior airbase in the central India was chosen, which houses a squadron of Mirage 2000, as it was expected that Pakistanis will be keeping a close watch on the activities of airbases located near their border.
Indian Air Force had readied its IL-78 refueling tanker from Agra airbase, Airborne Early Warning Systems from Bhatinda Airbase and Sukhoi 30 MKIs from Sirsa airbase to tackle any chase by Pakistan’s F-16.
Day 4: February 18.
India’s top security and intelligence officials presented five targets to the NSA. A total of three targets were chosen one each in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti.
Day 5: February 19.
Indian Air Force received exact operational clearance from the top political and military leadership of the country. The message was very clear that do not go deep inside Pakistan, avoid collateral damage and use laser designated pods to drop the payloads from some distance.
Day 10: The ‘D’ Day – February 26:
Indian Mirage 2000 fighter jets target joint training training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad, LeT and Hijbul Mujahideen in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti between 3 am to 3.30 am in the morning.
The duration of mission was not to exceed 20 minutes given the response time of Pakistan Air Force. However, the entire mission was wrapped in almost 17-18 minutes.
How the operation unfolded:
IAF’s Embraer Early Warning Aircraft (EMB-AEW 145) takes off from Bhatinda airbase at around 0100 hours.
Russian origin IL-78 mid-air refueling tanker takes off from Agra airbase at 0200 hours. Mirage 2000s from Gwalior Airbase also take off at around the same time. They were tasked to carry out precision strike using laser pods. A total of 6 Mirage 2000s (three groups flying in a formation of 2 jets) were tasked to drop their precision bombs on terror camps.
A batch of 4 Sukhoi 30 MKI air superiority aircraft also becomes airborne at around 3 am in the morning to counter any Pakistani chase of returning Indian Mirage 2000s.
All IAF Airbase were put on high alert at around the same time to tackle any emerging situation.
The entire operation was executed by the central and western air commands of Indian Air Force while monitoring was done at Air Headquarter in New Delhi through IACCS – The Integrated Air Comand and Control System.
At around 3.20 am in the morning all IAF Mirage 2000s safely return to Indian air space with complete element of surprise.
As expected, Pakistan first tried to downplay it. Asif Ghafoor, it’s DG ISPR, claimed in a tweet that Indian Jets were challenged and chased by Pakistan Air Force, forcing them to drop their payloads at empty places. However, later when the complete details of damage surfaced then the country vowed that it will avenge the violation of its airspace by India at a time and place of its choosing.