Operation Balakot Part 4: Deciding upon the Weapon Mix by Indian Forces
Underestimating the opponent is one grave mistake that no one should make in a battle. It is a known fact that the Pakistani Air Force is a competent fighting force.
In 2019 they had F-16 jets, which were known as the top of the line fighter jets all over the world. Our mainstay was Mig 21s which was of old vintage.
Pulwama terror strike took place on 14 February 2019. On 15 February 2019, while paying homage to martyrs, the Indian Prime Minister declared,
“Sacrifice of our brave soldiers will not go in vain….. Those behind the attack would pay a ‘heavy price’..”
The Prime Minister asserted that the security forces had been permitted to choose the time, place, intensity and nature of their response to the Pulwama terror attack.
It would have been naïve to think that Pakistan would not be prepared for hostilities to flare up. Success for India hung in a heart-thumping balance. India had to rely on Secrecy, weapon mix and tactics heavily.
Indian side decided to use the best weapons they had. They had no alternative to success.
Balakot Camp had resort-like structures for accommodating trainees. Dormitories with the tin roof could accommodate 300 to 500 trainee terrorists at a time.
From the tell-tale electronic signature of mobile phones, an estimated 350 trainees were probably present in Balakot Camp in the last week of February 2019. Therefore, one needed a weapon to hit a maximum number of trainees terrorists without much collateral damage.
The IAF found Mirage 2000 as the best-suited weapon for the purpose. These fighters had the range of 1850 km to fly to Balakot Camp and return with ease.
Moreover, these jets could fire Israeli made ‘SPICE’ (Smart, Precise Impact & Cost-Effective) bombs. Therefore, these bombs were considered ideal for the operation.
Once a SMART bomb is dropped from a certain altitude over a pre-determined location, the bomb’s onboard computer takes over. Based on data already stored in the memory chip, the bomb finds the target and hits it with precision.
A SMART bomb first drills through the roof and then bursts indoors, throwing shrapnel and splinters all around. Thus without causing much damage to a building, the bomb can create a maximum number of casualties in a dormitory.
In addition to SPICE Bombs, the armament of Mirage 2000 also includes Crystal Maze AGM 142 missiles. GPS coordinates are fed into the onboard computer of these missiles as well. But unlike SMART bombs, the pilot of Mirage 2000 has to follow the Crystal
Maze missile visually and guide it manually onto the target at the last stage of its flight.
These missiles have various unique advantages:
- A Mirage 2000 pilot could fire a SMART bomb from a safe distance of 80km.
- These could cause more significant structural damage than the SMART bombs.
- These missiles can transmit live video footage of hitting the target just before the impact.
Real-time videos such as these would provide undeniable proof of the operation’s success.
Because of their multi-role capability, the IAF decided to use 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets to participate in the Balakot operation.
India had planned to arm three fighters with six SMART bombs and an unknown number of crystal maze missiles. An adequate number of Mirage 2000 fighters were to fly along with the bombers as protectors. Their role would be to engage Pakistani fighter aircraft in case of interception.
In addition, the IAF tasked two Mirage 2000 to activate Electronic Warfare System to jam Pakistani Radars at the time of operation.
Thus only Mirage 2000 fighters were to be deployed in different roles. Those made up the entire task force for the Balakot operation.
The IAF kept a large panel of supporting aircraft available for any contingency to support the attacking group of Mirage 2000 planes.
Firstly, the IAF held all the operational units on high alert to tackle any retaliation by the PAF. They were to wait for a call on the ground.
India arranged Netra, Israeli made Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft to remain airborne within Indian borders at the time of operation.
AWACS would look for Pakistani fighter aircraft and provide an accurate, real-time picture of the battlespace to the Joint Air Operations Centre. The AWACS could locate any PDF aircraft the moment of their take-off and pass it on to the Mirage Pilots escorting the bombers.
In addition, the IAF readied IAI Heron UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) in some close-by bases. These are long-range medium-altitude armed drones. These would be pressed into action if needed.
Finally, the controlling Air Marshal ordered Ilyushin II -78 Aerial Refuelling aircraft to participate. These airborne fuel tankers were to fly for inflight refuelling Mirage 2000 fighters.
These were the array of weapons that India deployed for Operation Balakot.