Written by Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar – Deputy Chief of Staff of IAF
On the 24 of June 1999 the Indian Air Force dropped its first LGB in anger. The release was from a Mirage 2000 and I was privileged to have been the pilot in command. In the days that followed I was honoured to drop four more LGBs, thus dropping 5 out of the total of 8 LGBs delivered by the Mirage 2000 in the Kargil Conflict. This is my story.
Adampur is a major Air Force Base in Punjab and I had been deployed there since 22 May 1999 for Operation Safeed Sagar, which was the Indian Air Force monikers for its Air Operations in Kargil. I was then a Wing Commander and posted as the Station Flight Safety & Inspection Officer of Air Force Station Gwalior where the Mirage 2000 is based. I had just over 1900 h on the Mirage and was an Experimental Test Pilot with bags of experience. The Battle Axes were deployed at Adampur and I had been attached to the unit as an “Augementee” along with a few other officers from other units of the IAF.
On the evening of 22 June we were tasked to attack Tiger Hill with LGBs the next morning. I was selected to captain a two seater with Sqn Ldr Monish Yadav as my back seater. The target was a set of enemy tents perched at the top. We got airborne in a two aircraft formation at 0630h and set course after take-off in a North Easterly direction to RV with two Mirages from Tiger Sqn, which was operating from Ambala. The join up was uneventful and we maintained R/T silence as we winged our way to the target.
Tiger Hill is unique in shape and size when viewed from the ground. But from 30,000 ft up it is indistinguishable from the other tall peaks in the vicinity. The only mountain that stands out in this grand vista is K2, Mount Godwin-Austen, which at 28, 2510 ft towers over its surroundings. The aids on board the Mirage allowed us to spot Tiger Hill with relative ease. We had it in contact by 50 km and were unpleasantly surprised to find a tiny cloud perched right on its tip obscuring the DMPI and rendering the LGB impotent. The endurance of the Mirage allowed us to hold on station for about 30 min, so we went around three more times hoping the cloud would drift away and we could complete our mission. In the fourth attempt, as we turned away from the target, Monish yelled at me to “flare left” indicating a missile launch. I instantly throttled back to idle power and hauled the aircraft upward in a steep left turn and commenced dropping flares. I did not spot the tiny shoulder launched missile, but Monish did see it climb towards us and thereafter fall away as we were outside its envelope. We had no choice but to go back with our armament load and prepare for a reshoot the next day.
On the 23rd afternoon we were informed the CAS would be at Adampur so we spent the rest of the day tidying up the Squadron premises for the visit. The CAS landed in the evening and was keen to fly and observe the first LGB drop. The mission profile was revised and the CO was scheduled to fly the CAS in a third two seater, while the remaining formation was unchanged.
Morning Met briefing on the 24th was at 0500 h and by 0530 h a short brief was carried out with the CAS in attendance. The plan was for a three aircraft mission with the two lead aircraft armed with an LGB each, while the third aircraft would follow behind with the CAS in the backseat. The plan was to hit Tiger Hill first and then proceed to recce Point 4388 located 30 km NW of Tiger Hill. By 0600 h we had walked to the aircraft. Walking to the aircraft is a tedious task in war time. We were overloaded with our G-suits, helmets and had to lug our Makarov 9mm pistols along with the various essential items necessary for a successful sortie, such as maps, call-sign cards, MIPs, EW MIPs, INU plans, authentication tables-All in all a very cumbersome procedure.
Wheels Roll was at 0630 and our escort Mirages from Ambala joined up with us about 300 km from the target. The RV point had been selected well away from the border to remain outside the enemy radar cover. The RV as before was uneventful. We maintained R/T silence and meticulously went over the attack drill to ensure all our EW systems and weapons were up and ready. The passage of the magnificent scenery below was barely noticed. We were on the alert checking our systems and all perked up to go.
Tiger Hill was spotted from about 50 km distance in the Litening Pod and we were thrilled to see there was not a speck of cloud around. Things then moved forward at a rapid pace. I had altered heading to place the aircraft track directly at a set of seven Artic tents perched precariously on the South face of Tiger Hill. The white tents made good camouflage sense in winter, but in summer, with most of the snow melted away, they stood out in stark contrast against the black rock formation. Tiger Hill is at an altitude of 16,600 ft, and the pre-briefed altitude for the attack was 28,000 ft, to which we quickly descended. A glance at the INU indicated that the winds at this altitude was 70 kts in a westerly direction and at 90 deg to our planned track. This was excessive and outside the release envelope for the LGB. Going up was not an option as the Laser was known to switch off automatically at around 30,000 ft. A different direction was also not viable as the target would be shadowed. A quick decision was therefore taken to descend down to 26,000 ft, placing us well within the envelope of shoulder fired SAMs. The crosswinds however were more tolerable at 50 kn and just at the limit of the LGB delivery envelope. We had IR flares with us and considered going down an operational risk which we were willing to take. The CRM was excellent and Monish knew exactly what to do.
At 28 km I pulsed the laser to designate the target for the first time. The Litening Pod instantly ranged the distance to target. We had by then accelerated to a ground speed of 550 kn (~1000 kmph) and the distance to the release point rapidly reduced. I repeatedly re-designated the target as it became more discernible when we closed in. At the release range I pressed the trigger and we felt the aircraft jerk upwards as it suddenly shed 600 kg of load. I immediately commenced a hard turn to the left at 4g and stated flaring. Monish took over pod steering and pointed the laser directly at the target while I concentrated on the turn and monitored the video image. The Laser was steadily flashing and we waited anxiously for the target to explode thus signalling a successful delivery. The time of flight of an LGB under the delivery conditions that we had dropped it in was under 30 sec, but to us in the cockpit it appeared as an eternity. Our joy knew no bound as the entire video image of the target burst out into a soundless explosion.
I had by then rolled out on a westerly course and reversed right climbing back to 30,000 ft and monitored the Air to Air TACAN with the other strike aircraft. The plan was to gather together and then set course for Pt 4388. I noticed the distance between the two of us had started to build up as we turned towards the North West. Our faithful escorts from 1 Squadron were however with us so we decided to press on with the remaining mission. A quick R/T call to check gravy and intention revealed that the other members had already set course back to base. We continued and scanned Pt 4388 for targets. On return, 15 min later, we routed back via Tiger Hill to film the Hill from close to assess the damage. The target area had been blown to smithereens, so we filmed the rest of the hill for any other visible signs of the enemy. Gravy was sufficient so we accelerated to our limit speed of 0.95 Mach to get back to Base by 0800 h.
After landing we extricated the video tape from the Litening Pod and headed to the crew room for the debrief. The entire squadron was gathered around the TV as the tape was rewound and played back. Clearly visible on the tape were four enemy soldiers rushing across the screen a few seconds before the bomb got to them. The video on the way back also revealed a person 2,000 ft below the hill top climbing painstakingly upward to the camp.
Note: It was first published on 4 July 2017