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Pakistan Air Force Mirages during the 1971 Air War
by Usman Shabbir & Yawar A Mazhar
Article last updated in June 2009
During 1965-71, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had absorbed, at the cost of significant combat capacity, five years of the US arms embargo which was imposed on Pakistan at the start of 1965 Indo-Pak war. During this period PAF had continued structurally to suffer a growing offence-defence imbalance with dwindling number of B-57s and F-86s that had to be replaced by the lighter and shorter-range Chinese F-6s and a worsening obsolescence in its combat force. The older F-86s and B-57s were being supported with difficulty by clandestine and piecemeal purchases of spares and by some indigenous manufacture.
Nevertheless these years were also the most interesting from a PAFs historians point of view given some highly innovative solutions adopted by PAF. These included inducting Chinese Mig-19s (called F-6 in PAF service) and ex Luftwaffe CAC Sabre Mk-6s through Iran (called F-86Es by PAF). A more conventional solution was induction of French Mirage-IIIs, it is the role of this aircraft in the later 1971 air war that is the focus of this article.
The PAF has always followed a well-designed system for the acquisition of new aircraft, weapons and equipment. Very briefly, all acquisitions follow from a statement of the Air Staff Requirements for the above mentioned categories of equipment. The ASRs are drawn up through a thoroughly examined and assessed system of evaluation by teams of expert professionals. The ASRs are documented convincingly to show both the operational necessity and relevance to the PAF mission of the intended purchase of any new or enhanced operational capacity.
Performance analysis of each candidate system, based on realistic field trials, and a comprehensive comparative cost analysis of all candidate systems is documented for further examination by the air staff committees charged with the acquisition process. These comparative analyses always include the delivery schedules, the cost of initial purchase of each candidate system (and its weapon stores and initial spares package) and the costs of maintenance in man-hours and priced spares on a yearly basis, as well as the operational cost on a multi-year basis for periods of 10-20 years. The estimated costs of multi-year purchases of munitions and of mid-life upgrades of each candidate system are also indicated. All the candidate systems are then examined, analysed and re-analysed several times to ensure that they continue to meet the ASRs, as new intelligence inputs about the rivals latest defence acquisitions are regularly factored in. Keeping the projected combat performance of each candidate system as the most weighty factor in decision making, trade-offs are then permitted to arrive at a preferenced short list of the top candidate systems, along with their lowest negotiated costs. A final acquisition decision is then made.
It can be seen that through the process outlined above, any newly acquired weapon system would, while meeting the ASRs, also be capable of performing, with the greatest certainty, all of its wartime functions effectively and of contributing directly to the national military policy, while being consistent with the nations operational doctrines and war plans.
As the ratio of combat aircraft between the IAF and the PAF grew worse, and USA as a source of new major weapon systems remained shut, PAF evaluated various European options for its needs. In 1968, after two years of search and analyses, the Mirage-IIIEP (single seat) was chosen for the PAF out of the very few non-US aircraft that met the PAFs Air Staff Requirements (ASRs) in some measure. The ASRs called for a multi-role strike aircraft that could gradually replace the ageing fleet of F-86s and B-57s but would also have some night/all-weather interception capabilities at low altitudes. The Mirage-III did not fully meet the second requirement but was inducted as the best available aircraft meeting most of the ASRs. Eighteen Mirage-IIIEPs were ordered along with three Mirage-IIIDPs (two-seater) trainers and three Mirage-IIIRPs with photo reconnaissance capability. The DPs and RPs could be used for strike missions as well. All these twenty-four Mirages were delivered prior to 1971 war to one single squadron, the No. 5 Squadron based at Sargodha.
These aircraft were ordered under project code name Blue Flash One. PAF at that time envisaged phased induction of Mirage aircraft with these 24 being the first phase of this programme. A further batch of 28 Mirage-5PAs and 2 Mirage-IIIDPs aircraft were ordered in 1970 under Blue Flash Two. Delivery of these aircraft started well after the 1971 war. Two more batches consisting of 10 Mirage-IIIRPs under Blue Flash Three and 18 Mirage-5PA2s, 12 Mirage-5PA3s and 2 Mirage-5DPA2s under Blue Flash Four were ordered in 1975 and 1979 respectively. The mix of the first 24 aircraft was determined to fill the most glaring gaps in PAF orbat. The three RP variant aircraft would strengthen its tactical reconnaissance capability (till date limited to increasingly obsolescent RT-33s), the three DPs would allow local conversion of PAF pilots to Mirages while the 18 Mirage IIIEPs were equipped with Cyrano II radars and Doppler navigation systems. The latter would allow at least some night and all weather operation capability. These aircraft were complemented with purchase of R-530 AAMs while PAFs existing stock of AIM-9B sidewinders were also made compatible for the Mirages.
The First Six in France
To ferry the initial lot of six aircraft from France and to become the nucleus of the future instructor force for the Mirage fleet, six pilots were handpicked for initial training in France. These were Wing Commander M M Alam, Squadron Leaders Hakimullah, Farooq Feroz Khan, Flight Lieutenants Arif Manzoor, Akhtar Rao and Farooq Umar.
These six pilots were chosen for their combat experience and flying record. Wing Commander Alam the new OC for the squadron was the leading scorer of the 1965 air war, Squadron Leaders Hakimullah, Farooq Feroz and Flight Lieutenants Arif Manzoor and Farooq Umar were also 65 war veterans and the first two along with Flt Lt Arif Manzoor were also F-104 pilots. Before proceeding to France for Mirage conversion, all six pilots spent some time flying F-104s with No 9 squadron to gain more supersonic aircraft experience.
The initial lot of six pilots travelled to Paris at the end of 1967 and from there to conversion school at Mont-de-Marsan close to the Spanish border. They stayed there for approximately a month and half doing MTD (Mobile Training Detachment) studying various systems of the aircraft. Afterwards these pilots went to Strassbourg to do Link Simulator training and having completed that returned to Mont-de-Marsan and there flew the dual seat Mirage-IIIDP with French instructors. After as little as three to five sorties in the dual seat the pilots, inspite of European winter weather, were cleared to go solo. Most of the subsequent sorties were flown by the pilots to mostly get acquainted with the tail-less delta characteristics of the Mirage aircraft. They were also checked out on radars, though most pilots being experienced F-104 Starfighter jockeys were quite experienced with airborne radars and found the transition easy and comfortable.
Four Mirage-IIIEPs in diamond formation over rugged Pakistani terrain.
The first batch of six aircraft (Tail nrs: 67-101 till 67-106) was ferried to Pakistan in start of March 1968. After taking off from Mont-de-Marsan and a brief stop in Istres they flew over the Mediterranean and with a cross over Milan landed at Brindisi. After an overnight stay at Brindisi, took off for Turkey next morning and landed at Murted Air Base near Ankara. Next morning took off for Iran and landed at military side of Tehran International Airport and after another overnight stay, took off for Mauripur (now called Masroor) Air Base and landed there on 8th March, 1968. After a brief refueling stop at Mauripur the aircraft took off for the last leg of their journey to the squadron home base, Sargodha.
Single Ship Ferry
The last Mirage-III, a single-seat EP variant was ferried alone at the start of 1970. The pilots chosen for this ferry task were Squadron Leader Farooq Umar, the Flight Commander of No. 5 Squadron and Flight Lieutenant Khalid Iqbal. Despite the senior squadron officers reminding the Air Headquarters the difficulty of ferrying a single, single-engine, and single-seat aircraft in winter weather from Europe, the pilots were asked to proceed to France immediately.
After arriving at Bourges, south of Paris, acceptance trials had to be carried out in several clear weather gaps of no more than fifteen minutes as foggy weather along with occasional hail and snow thrown in the mix made it impossible to fly a sortie of any respectable duration. With upcoming long range ferry in mind, extra attention was paid to the drag index charts and fuel-range figures.
After the acceptance trials Squadron Leader Farooq Umar got airborne to ferry the Mirage-IIIEP. A C-130 carrying technicians was to accompany him throughout the ferry and was based at another air base north of Paris. Over the Mediterranean the aircraft suffered a twin gyro platform failure along with main radio malfunction. Relying on standby compass and secondary radio the pilot navigated his way and after declaring an emergency was given Ground Control Approach by the Italian radar. After landing the pilot eagerly awaited the trailing C-130, as it was also carrying his passport, clothes and currency. After waiting for hours there were still no signs of C-130 and he was finally informed that C-130 had suffered an engine fire and been diverted to Geneva. The C-130 with technicians finally arrived after three days and after quick repairs the Mirage took off again and landed at Murted Air Base, Turkey. At Murted due to bad weather the pilot had to wait for another few days before he could proceed further to Iran. Finally when the weather cleared the aircraft prepared for takeoff and as the pilot was doing initial takeoff checks, the engine fire warning light came on. While technicians were doing a check-up to find the cause, some crew chief fiddled with the aircraft utility system resulting in the landing gear collapse with the result that the Mirage now sat on its external fuel tanks. Some quick repairs and the Mirage was back up on its feet. A ferry that under normal circumstances would not have taken more than a week lasted more than three weeks due to all the weather and technical problems but in the end the last Mirage reached its home base Sargodha, safe and sound.
The PAF Mirage conversion course included lot of ground schooling, technical and especially avionics familiarisation, theory and operation of Doppler navigation system, AI radar training etc. The first four course exercises were called C1, C2, C3 and C4 and flown in dual seat Mirage-IIIDP with a qualified instructor. The exercises would be repeated in case the student was slow on the uptake. Finally he was sent in the first solo chase mission, chased by an experienced pilot and this was followed by second and in an odd case, third chase. Afterwards they were given a few solo missions to fly the aircraft near its performance envelop. This was followed by high level GCI missions to familiarise and make trainee pilots proficient in blind interceptions.
PAF has a tradition of rigorous training and unsurprisingly a high tempo training schedule was also maintained on Mirages with pilots clocking about 20 hours per month Regular dissimilar air combat training exercises were held and new tactics were developed on the Mirage, with Mirages preferring to keep fights at 400 knots plus, using after burners and vertical plane against better low speed turning Sabres and F-6s. Mutual support tactics between lead and wingman were practiced with the lead engaging bogeys and wingman maintaining a higher energy level; intervening at a point where lead gets in a low energy state. Delta winged Mirages would quickly bleed speed in a turn and had higher angle of attack limitations than approximately 16 degree AoA limitation on Sabres and Hunters. These characteristics were used to develop specific tactics against better angle fighters. As a last ditch escape maneuver a Mirage would in a descending vertical turn use higher AoA coupled with its full airframe for braking in a bid to force an overshoot by a tail attacking bogey.
A limited quantity of Matra R-530 missiles were also obtained from France. On some air defence missions, Mirages would be configured with one underbelly R-530 and two AIM-9B sidewinders (though only one R-530 was fired in the 1971 war). Some pilots using partial pressure suits also trained for high altitude intercepts.
Within the No 5 squadron a batch of pilots also trained for photo recce missions on the three Mirage-IIIRPs.
PAFs Operational Concept during the War
The PAFs day and night strikes against Indian airfields and radars which began on 3 December were in accordance with the high commands operational concepts. The overriding priority of the PAF was to give maximum support to Pakistan Armys proposed land offensive into India from West Pakistan; every other air force objective was to be subordinated to this requirement. The proposed land offensive itself was in line with Pakistans grand strategy that in case of Indian aggression against East Pakistan effort would be made to capture strategically important Indian territory in the west and force a political settlement. This strategy was in turn driven by Pakistans limited resources which could not be split between its two wings separated by thousands of miles of hostile India. The air chief and air headquarters staff considered this commitment to be pivotal because the success or failure of the PAFs support would in all likelihood determine the fate of Pakistans crucial offensive. When the estimated cost of fulfilling this commitment was calculated by the planning staff in July 1971, it worked out at a loss of 100-120 combat aircraft and pilots over the projected 7-10 days period. The Air Chief was aware that this would amount to losing one third of his force but he had the full support of his senior commanders when he directed them in August to prepare their units to pay this price for ensuring the success of the armys offensive.
Until the armys offensive was launched, the PAF was to maintain offensive pressure on the IAF with sustained strikes against some of its forward and rear bases. The objectives of these strikes were:
1. Inhibit to the extent possible both physically and psychologically the enemys ability to launch operations against either the Pak Army in the field or other targets on Pakistani territory, including the PAFs own air bases and other installations.
2. Try to force IAF to deploy its strike aircraft at rear air bases and thus deny them full flexibility.
3. Provoke IAF in retaliating against PAFs own airbases where PAF will use advantages that go to a defensive force and inflict attrition on IAF.
PAF was well aware that crippling strikes on IAF bases like those carried out in the 1967 Arab-Israel War or similar to its own strikes in 1965 War (against Phatankot and Kalikunda) were not possible. This was simply because IAF, having learned its lesson well from the 1965 War, when PAF was able to destroy a considerable number of IAF aircraft on the ground as they lacked proper dispersal facilities, had upgraded its air bases. The IAF air bases were now far better protected in terms of aircraft shelters, dispersals, camouflages and air defence. Other than the upgraded air base infrastructure, PAF also lacked some essential tools, such as runway denial/penetration bombs.
During this same period, the PAF was also to provide whatever air support was needed for the Pak Armys holding actions along the entire 3,700 kilometer border from Kashmir to Kutch. These relatively shallow penetrations were meant to tie down as many of the enemys resources as possible and to try to achieve a favourable tactical posture in the process.
Mirage Operations during the War
During the war No. 5 Squadron flew day and night sorties which included photo reconnaissance, counter air, and air defence as well as interdiction missions. Throughout the war the squadron did not lose a single aircraft or pilot to accident or enemy actions.
Counter Air Ops
On 3rd December at 1630 hours, President formally declared a state of war. Just twenty-one minutes later, PAFs first strike formations were taking-off for their targets. As part of these first strikes two four ship Mirage formations led by Wing Commander Hakimullah and Squadron Leader Aftab Alam Khan were tasked to crater the Amritsar and Pathankot runways/taxiways respectively. This was in accordance with a pre-planned assault against IAF airfields and radar stations, in which Sabres, F-104 Starfighters and Mirage-IIIs were to cross the border at the same time and strike their targets between 1709 and 1723 hours. In the words of Wg Cdr Hakimullah Khan (OC No 5 Squadron during the war and later PAF Air Chief),
I went to a forward radar unit in the afternoon of 2nd December, 1971. I had gone there to observe the pattern of IAF's airfield mounted dawn and dusk CAPs (combat air patrols) and after discussing them with radar controllers, evolve tactics and procedures of disrupting them. Next day, I was still busy with the controllers when at about 1200 hrs my base commander called me and asked me to immediately return to the base. I hurriedly drove back and was with the base commander by about 1500 hrs. He handed me the tasking orders for dusk strikes against Amritsar and Pathankot air bases each consisting of 4 Mirages.
Returning to the squadron, I detailed the two strike missions and asked the boys to update the maps and logs and prepare the aircraft in appropriate configuration (2 x 1000 lbs HE bombs and 2 x 1300 liters external fuel tanks). I led the mission to Amritsar at dusk on 3rd December, 1971. The mission was flown as planned except another formation (two F-104s on a mission against a radar unit) which had entered the runway ahead of us occupied it unusually long and thus delayed our take-off by a few minutes. The ingress to the target was as low as 100 ft AGL with initial speed of 480 knots. We had planned a dive-bombing attack using north-south axis. The pull-up for the attack was at 540 knots, at 2 miles north of the airfield to about 6000 ft and was uneventful except as we pulled up, we were surprised to see the runway lights were on. Whether someone was landing or taking off, one thing is sure that we caught them by complete surprise. We saw no interceptors and the anti-aircraft guns started intense firing only after we had delivered the attack.
A quick radio check after the attack confirmed that everyone had delivered their weapons as briefed and that we were exiting safely with no interference from the enemy.
The formation returned safely to Sargodha and after a short debrief, where there was nothing unusual to report, the pilots were assigned their new duties and missions and ordered to proceed. Initial damage based on radio monitor showed that the airfield was inoperative for that night and the next day.
Air Defence Missions
In addition to more conventional strike intercepts, PAF had to prepare for two additional types of intercepts where Mirages were supposed to play a role. The first was interception of high altitude IAF Canberra reconnaissance missions and the second was interception of IAF Canberra night strikes. For the first mission PAF Mirages practiced zoom tactics with R-530 missiles.
Night interceptions were a bigger problem because of a number of reasons including lack of comprehensive low level radar coverage compounded by Pakistans hilly topography in some regions and 1960s airborne radar technology was inadequate for detecting low level targets. Also IAF Canberras would be warned of an approaching interceptor by IAF GCI/ELINT assets and its own tail warning radar.
6th December 1971 Dispersal Area, Sargodha Air Base: BBC correspondent interviewing PAF pilots.
L-R: Squadron Leader Cecil Chaudhry (F-86), Flight Lieutenant Aurangzeb (Mirage-III), Wing Commander Imam Bukhari (Sqn Cdr of F-86E Sqn), Flight Lieutenant Shahid Fouzzi and Squadron Leader Farooq Umar (Flt Cdr Mirage-III Sqn).
Nevertheless one success against IAF night intruders was achieved by Mirages and this was in fact the first night kill by a Mirage-IIIEP. This came on the night of 4th December when Flight Lieutenant Naeem Atta using an AIM-9B Sidewinder AAM shot down a IAF Canberra B(I) 58 bomber on its ingress route to attack Sargodha Air Base. The Canberra crew, Flight Lieutenants L M Sasoon & his navigator R M Advani were killed in action.
It is noteworthy that PAF made pioneering efforts in terms of night interceptions by single engine jets. Not only Mirages but F-104s were also used for this role. In the 1965 war even F-86s equipped with AIM-9B sidewinders and guided by GCI were pressed into the night-interceptor role (with at least one claim against an IAF Canberra).
The second kill, awarded as a joint kill to two pilots, came on 5th December. At the start of the war a detachment consisting of four Mirage-IIIEPs and their pilots was moved to Mianwali Air Base with the aim of protecting the air base and air defence radar located at Sakesar. During the morning Sakesar detected an incoming raid, a pair of Mirages was scrambled to intercept. The pair detected the Hunters as they were diving to attack the radar and Sakesar giving weapons free instruction to own AAA. The pair did not follow the Hunters in dive due to own AAA fire and decided to set up an orbit overhead. Due to bad visibility the Mirages lost the Hunters on pull up. After getting back into crew room the pilots were kidded by Flight Lieutenant Safdar Mehmood for not diving after the Hunters through own AAA. Little did he know that few hours later, he will be facing the same predicament.
This is the Mirage-IIIEP (Tail Nr. 112) in which Flight Lieutenant Safdar Mehmood shot down the Hunter on 5th December.
With an incoming raid warning by Sakesar another Mirage pair was ordered to scramble, this time lead by Flight Lieutenant Safdar Mehmood with Flying Officer Suhail Hameed as his wingman. Again the attacking Hunters were detected when they were diving in for their attack on the radar site and own AAA was firing. Flight Lieutenant Safdar instructing his wingman to stay on his tail, dived through own AA after the Hunters. Seeing the Mirages above and behind them the Hunters hit the deck, split and fled in easterly direction. Instead of splitting and following both fleeing Hunters, Flight Lieutenant Safdar due to wingmans inexperience decided to chase just one Hunter[ii]. The fight was a no contest with Mirages closing in due to superior speed. At close range Flight Lieutenant Safdar fired his guns twice and hit the Hunter on the port wing. At this moment the wingman also acquired a solid lock on the Hunter and fired his Sidewinder which homed into the Hunter. The pilot Squadron Leader Jal M Mistry from No. 20 Squadron was unable to eject. The wreckage was collected afterwards by a PAF team showing the Hunter tail number as BA1014.
A page from pilot log-book of Flt Lt Safdar, noting the sorties he flew during the 1971 war. Notice the "Hunter" entry on 5th December.
The third kill by a Mirage-IIIEP came on the 6th December when Flight Lieutenant Salimuddin shot down a Su-7. Flight Lieutenant Salimuddin had joined the No. 5 Sqn at Sargodha AB on 4th December, and flew his very first mission, an Air Defence sortie, on midnight 4/5 Dec. This was followed by an early morning CAP and participation in a strike against Pathankot Air Base. In total Flight Lieutenant Salimuddin flew 17 sorties during the war, including two Air Test flights to certify the airworthiness of the aircraft. It was during one of the Air Defence Alert missions that he shot down an IAF Su-7 over Jammu sector.
Taking off from Sargodha in a Mirage-IIIEP (Tail nr. 67-102) at noon time on 6 December, along with his wingman Flight Lieutenant Riazuddin Sheikh, they were vectored towards enemy aircraft who were attacking Pakistani army ground troops South-East of Lahore. While flying towards the Lahore sector the pair was informed by own radar that enemy aircraft had turned tail and have fled to their bases. They were now asked to set up a CAP inside own territory, awaiting new vectors. They did not have to wait long, as PAF Air Defence Controller started vectoring them towards four new contacts that were attacking Pakistani ground targets in Shakargarh sector. Flying at combat speed at 5000 ft, they ended on top of the 4 enemy aircraft (identified as Su-7s) in no time. Closing in further Flight Lieutenant Salimuddins wingman being in a better tactical position called in for attack and Salimuddin followed him after clearing his tail.
Noticing the Mirages the enemy formation broke off their attack, jettisoned their payload and headed eastward, towards own territory in two separate formation at low level and maximum speed. Seeing the enemy hit the deck and flee the Mirages started chasing one of the Su-7 formations and soon both Mirages ended up behind a Su-7[iii].
Flight Lieutenant Salimuddin in front of Mirage-IIIEP.
Flight Lieutenant Salimuddins aircraft was configured with two supersonic fuel tanks, two sidewinders and a Matra-530 on centre pylon. Salimuddin wanted to jettison the Matra-530 to improve maneuverability but he did not get time to be in jettison parameters and decided to get rid of the missile by firing it with an intermediate lock. He saw the missile dip and hit the ground. Salimuddin pressed on his attack and after acquiring a Sidewinder tone pressed the trigger. For a moment nothing happened and fearing a misfire he immediately fired his second Sidewinder. As soon as he pressed the trigger he saw both missiles flying away towards the target, the trailing Su-7. Without seeing the result of the missile attack he broke away for a gun pass on the lead Su-7 which was at slightly right position, ahead of the trailing Su-7. While maneuvering for the gun attack Salimuddin was cheerfully informed by his wingman that his missiles have contacted the trailing enemy Su-7. Salimuddin started closing in on the lead Su-7 which was flying at speed higher than 600 knots and fired his guns without any result as the aircraft was still well outside his gun range. At this moment his wingman gave a low fuel call and he decided to call it a day and landed safely back at Sargodha with almost empty tanks.
Flying log book of Flight Lieutenant Salimuddin showing numbers and types of sorties he logged during the war.
Stronger IAF air defence capabilities meant that PAF could not rely on its RT-33 s for reconnaissance missions in strongly defended areas. This was a gap which was filled by the three Mirage-IIIRPs delivered to the PAF during 1968-1970. These aircraft equipped with five cameras in the nose cone, one forward looking long range F600, a pair of F200 for sideways coverage and pair of F100 for look up to horizon, providing a panoramic 180 degree cover, proved themselves very useful. Two recce missions were actually flown before the war, as strong Indian intervention in then East Pakistan lead to the conclusion that war in both Eastern and Western wings was inevitable. At that point Pakistan wanted to know more details of Indian deployment on the western borders. This was in accordance with Pakistans grand strategy which called for an offensive on the western border in case of commencement of hostilities.
A month before the actual start of the war a single Mirage IIIRP piloted by Squadron Leader Farooq Umar penetrated Indian airspace near IAFs Pathankot airbase to gather intelligence on Indian Armys armor deployment. The pilot flying at speed of 600 knots and at 3000 AGL photographed the area from Katwa (near Pathankot) till Jammu. The photo intelligence gathered from this mission was not conclusive as there were gaps in coverage due to aircraft banking to follow the terrain. A repeat mission was flown over the same area and this time the pilot used left and right rudder so that aircraft would skid instead of bank and this proved successful. The photo intelligence obtained from this mission allowed Pakistan Army to draw sufficient information about Indian Army deployments.
Later in the war, a major objective for the recce Mirages was to pin-point main Indian armor deployments as this had direct bearing on Pakistans strategic land offensive in the western sector. Two missions were flown in the area Kot Kupara- Muktasur on December 12, covered by IAFs Halwara and Adampur airbases, the second of these met its assigned objective disclosing main Indian armor deployments designed to blunt Pakistan Armys offensive south of river Sutlej. The importance of this intelligence cannot be exaggerated as confirmation of this deployment, among other factors, played an important role in the ultimate decision by the Pakistan Army of not launching a counter offensive in the west.
Another unintended benefit to PAF of these recce sorties was a blue-on-blue Mig-21 kill by IAF. On the night of December 11, Flight Lieutenant Najeeb Akhtar was detailed to fly a recce mission over Shakarganj-Jammu area to be followed 5 minutes later by Squadron Leader Farooq Umer over area south of Najeebs route. Most probably alerted by photo flashes from Flight Lieutenant Najeebs Mirage, IAF directed a two-ship CAP towards the intruding Mirages.
Mirage-IIIEP with Ground Attack Armament Configuration at Sargodha with Squadron Leader Farooq Umar 1968/1969.
Inside Indian territory Squadron Leader Farooq received a call from own GCI warning of Indian bogies 40 km behind (most probably detecting the trailing No 2 MiG-21). Hearing this Squadron Leader Farooq started his photo run at 3000 ft AGL and 400 knots. Shortly afterwards Farooq saw a yellow flash in the rear view mirror and at the same time got a call from own GCI asking immediate break as bogies were closing rapidly. Making a 4g slightly nose down left break, on full instruments in IFR conditions on a pitch dark night, Farooq egressed to Pakistan and while breaking saw a yellow flame passing by and going into the ground. Immediately later, Pakistani ELINT posts overheard calls from an Indian pilot trying to locate his leader and getting no reply. It later transpired that while trying to intercept Squadron Leader Farooq, the No 2 IAF MiG had shot down his own lead.
Summary of Operations & Forty Years On
PAF Mirages flew over 200 sorties during the war scoring at least 3 confirmed air- to-air kills without a single loss to any cause. The number of sorties were limited neither by the capacity to generate the sorties, losses or lack of will but were dictated by the overall war strategy. Had the war continued or the planned strategic ground offensive in the West launched, PAF Mirages would have undoubtedly been at the center of such operations.
After the 1971 War, PAF placed additional orders for various Mirage types. Here Wing Commander Hasnat, a Mirage veteran of 1971 War, is climbing out of the cockpit of a Mirage-5PA2 after an acceptance e sortie at Daussault's Bordeaux plant.
Forty years on, most of the Mirages from the original 24 that flew during the 1971 war are phased out or are in the process of being phased out. Many will end up being auctioned as scrap and the lucky ones might end up as gate-guardians. Some Mirages have crashed over the years and sadly this includes the very first Mirage-IIIEP (s/n 67-101) as well, which crashed in January 2007 after flying for 39 years! In their forty-plus years of service in PAF these Mirages went through various cycles of repair and general overhaul in Mirage Rebuild Factory (MRF) at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra, which went into operation in May 1978. Over the years the MRF not only repaired and overhauled the Mirages but also started producing many of Mirage and ATAR 09C components locally.
To supplement its original inventory of Mirages acquired under Blue Flash projects PAF has also acquired second-hand Mirages from around the world. These include fifty Mirage-IIIO/IIID from Australia, forty Mirage-5EF/DF from France, ten Mirage-IIIEL/DL from Lebanon and approximately fifty Mirage-5DE/DD from Libya. Though the original Mirages are being phased out these second-hand Mirages, extensively upgraded with new radar and avionics, will be in service for many more years till the JF-17 is produced in sufficient numbers.
Where they are now
Squadron Leader Farooq Umar, retired from PAF in 1992 as an Air Vice Marshal and currently resides in Lahore.
Flight Lieutenant Salimuddin retired from PAF in 1996 as an Air Vice Marshal and currently resides in Islamabad.
Flight Lieutenant Safdar Mehmood retired from PAF in 1990 as an Air Commodore and currently resides in Lahore.
Flight Lieutenant Naeem Atta retired from PAF in 1990 as a Group Captain and currently resides in Lahore.
Wg Cdr Hakimullah Khan later became Air Chief Marshal and Chief of the Air Staff.
Edited version of this article was published in June 2009 issue of Aeroplane Monthly magazine and as a cover story in the September 2009 issue of Le Fana de l'Aviation magazine.
As narrated to the authors by Air Chief Marshal (retd.) Hakimullah
[ii] According to various published Indian sources this was a lone Hunter piloted by Sqn Ldr Jal M Mistry, as his wingman Sqn Ldr Karumbaya aborted on takeoff due to technical reasons
[iii] This formation was piloted by Sqn Ldr Ashok Shinde and Flt Lt Vijay Kumar Wahib, both from 101 Sqn