New Delhi: A group of Mirage-2000 fighter jets entered Pakistan airspace at 3.30 am on Tuesday and struck the biggest Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp across the LoC in Balakot, in what the government described as a “non-military .
Sources told CNN-News18 12 Mirage fighter jets dropped a payload of about 1,000 kilograms on the target in the pre-dawn operation, completely destroying it.
The air strike comes 12 days after the terror attack in Pulwama, Kashmir, when a Jaish-e-Mohammad operative rammed into a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy with a bomb-laden vehicle, killing 40 personnel. Since the terror attack, tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated.
In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said, in the first government reaction.
This was the first time IAF jets entered Pakistan airspace since the 1971 war between the two countries. According to experts, there is a specific reason Mirages were used for the operation.
Mirage-2000, a lightweight multirole fighter designed in 1970s by Dassault Avaiation, the French defence manufacturer who are also providing Rafale jets to India, were acquired by India in response to Pakistan buying F-16s from the United States.
India had also purchased ATLIS II pods and several Matra Bombes A Guidage Laser (BGL) Arcole 1000-kg laser-guided penetration bombs for the Mirage, which the IAF had named the "Vajra".
The first seven aircrafts were delivered in 1985. Since then, the Mirage 2000 has proved to be a trusted fighter in the IAF fleet, with its most notable contribution coming during the Kargil war.
According to Ashok Saxena, a former Managing Director of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Mirages can fly at a very high altitudes and can eliminate targets with laser guided bombs. “Mirages have a capability to hit targets precisely,” Saxena told News18.com following the claimed IAF strikes in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
According to Saxena, target identification for such an operation must have been done in advance with the help of satellites and drones. “Once a target is pinpointed, Mirage has the capability to take it out with precision.”
Mirages played a decisive role in the Kargil war, where battle took place on terrains at high altitude, where aircraft and weapons had limited effectiveness. According to Saxena, the Pakistani targets were bunkered in at Tiger Hill, at an altitude of about 5,000 metres. Due to the altitude and the presence of hostile forces, the option to send in helicopters was discarded.
“They were hiding at high altitude and low altitude aircraft could not reach the targets. Mirage, with its high altitude capabilities and equipped with laser pods, could eliminate the targets. It was the turning point of war,” Saxena said.
Mirage 2000 struck the enemy encampments at Tiger Hill with ‘PAVEWAY’ Laser Guided Bomb (LGB); it was the first use of LGB by IAF. After continues strikes, India recaptured Tiger Hill, which proved to be a turning point in the Kargil war.
“They proved their worth in Kargil. This might be the strategic reason to use them (in air strikes),” Saxena said.
Currently, the IAF has over 50 Mirage 2000s in its fleet and the fleet is also undergoing upgradation, Saxena said. Some Mirage 2000s have been upgraded with modern capabilities and the exercise is still ongoing.
“The entire fleet hasn’t been upgraded, as far as I know,” Saxena said. “Any aircraft has got a technical life of approximately 60 years. During that time, you can’t fly with the same straddle of preparations. You have to do contemporary upgrades. Mirage has got a midlife upgrade and enhanced its competency in electronic warfare,” he added.
The most capable of India’s current roster of fighter jets is Sukhoi-30 Mki, but Saxena said they can be used in case of further escalation of conflict. “Mirages are compact and have high stealth capabilities,” he said.
According to Saxena, the air strikes across LoC must have involved very specific targets that were identified beforehand and the operation needed to be done in double quick time.
“It was a surprise attack. AEWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control System) must have been used. Mirage can fly in low and avoid radars as well,” the former HAL MD said.
“Mirages have done their jobs. They are truly multirole: ground, air, low altitude, high altitude and lightweight. It is a wonderful aircraft,” he added.