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The time when IAF's Garuda roared over Pakistan.


IAF's Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25

Hrishabh Tiwari

31/03/2021

 

The fastest Fighter Aircraft to have ever flown, having capabilities to fly to the edge of the space, the spymaster, IAF's very own Mig-25R aircraft in the year 1997 took to the air for a reconnaissance and surveillance mission, breaking the sound barrier, roared over the Pakistan's Airspace.

 
Dassault Mirage 2000

The whole world witnessed the competence, proficiency and potential of the Indian Air Force during Balakot mission and post Balakot-strike.

Balakot Strike codenamed "Operation Bandar" saw IAF's Mirages entering the Pakistan's Airspace and carrying out the task of bombing the terrorist camps, hoaxing the Pakistani Air Force. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman piloting the Mig-21 Bison in one of the finest dogfights took down the infiltrating PAF's F-16 post Balakot strike, making PAF look Indian Air Force's bunny. Many people raised their eyebrows over the authenticity of Balakot mission. People who questioned the IAF's version of events don't realize that the Indian Armed Forces neither exaggerate the kills nor hide the losses. For that instance, IAF has been sneaking undetected in the Pakistan's Airspace and carrying out several surveillance mission mostly in the 90s and the 2000s but never divulged the information.

 
IAF's Mig-25R

In the year 1981, India purchased 10 Mig-25s from Russia's Mikoyan-Gurevich. IAF had acquired 8 single seat Mig-25R for high-speed reconnaissance, and 2 twin-seat MiG-25U for conversion training. These beasts were inducted into IAF on 17 August 1981 at Bareilly to fulfill the need of a reconnaissance(spy)

aircraft, and this jet has proved its mettle through thick and thin. Under the command of Wing Commander Apramjeet Singh(Vir Chakra), No. 102 Trisonics Squadron was formed with 5 Mig-25R and 2 Mig-25U strengthening the fleet. Indian Airforce had practice of giving "Swadeshi" name to the aircrafts that were purchased, Following the tradition IAF named Mig-25 jets, GARUDA(mythological bird, vahan of Lord Vishnu). Garuda had the capabilities to fly at 90,000 feet at which even the most advanced western aircraft couldn't cruise, Garuda could fly at clean speed of Mach 2.8(3457 kmph) with fuel capacity of 23,000 liters and flying range of 900km.

First of its flight(official) in India took place on 25 August 1981, during one of the sorties carried out by Russian test pilot, one Mig-25 crashed and wrecked to pieces. However, it was replaced by Mikoyan-Gurevich to no extra cost. Air Force Station Bareilly had been the parent base through its service, taking off for sorties or for missions, all were done from this base.

Mig-25R

This aircraft was very advanced of its time with capabilities to fly at 65,000 to 90,000 feet, speed up to Mach 3.2(3950 kmph) faster than most missiles, take high definition pictures, record electronic emissions and sneak out before enemy radar could pick up. This jet was not any normal dogfight interceptor, it was a missile with a man in the cockpit. Not only it was a top tier aircraft, it had very restricted access, only 42 IAF Pilots were ever qualified to fly the Garuda.

 

There are many folklore associated with this aircraft, one such being during 1976 in the Soviet Union. A Soviet pilot Victor Belenko flew the then most secretive soviet aircraft in the world, Mig-25 to Japan's Hakodate Airport and took asylum thus revealing it to the United States. The Americans thoroughly examined the aircraft, the American investigation agency CIA later found that the Soviet Aircraft's 600 Kilowatt radar was virtually immune to the jamming by Western World devices then in service. To counter this Russia had to upgrade the technology of this aircraft to compromise for the loss.

Soviet Pilot Victor Belenko & the Mig-25 in Japan

The betrayal by the Soviet pilot had given Americans an undue advantage in the Cold War and also helped the American Spy & Bomber Aircraft SR-71 Blackbird tackle the Mig-25 fear.

IAF Garuda's story of chasing the solar eclipse is another historic event of Mig-25's service. On 24 October 1995, Air Marshal Sumit Mukerji piloting the Mig-25 aircraft experienced nothing less than a sci-fi movie while chasing the solar eclipse. Leading IAF's participations in the scientific study to study the solar eclipse, he got a rare opportunity to witness the Sun's Corona from a staggering altitude of 80,000 feet.

"We flew at Mach 2.5 in the path of the eclipse at 80,000 feet along the planned central axis of the eclipse over Neem ka Thana (in Rajasthan's Sikar district)," - Air Marshal Sumit Mukerji
“It was an experiment that worked. Not only did we film the diamond ring of the eclipse, but also the starburst, when the sun’s light filtered through the crevasses and mountains on the moon. It was an amazing image. And from that height and speed, we were able to film the eclipse for a minute and 57 seconds, impossible from the ground” - Air Marshal Sumit Mukerji

After the solar eclipse of 1898, it was to be witnessed in India in the year 1995 almost a century later. IAF helped the Department of Science & Technology(DST) to capture this event, with a heavy camera mounted on the jet's nose, solar filters installed on the pilots visors and the co-pilot Wing Commander YS Babu given a remote switch, IAF's Garuda flew deep in the dark sky with astonishing speed of over Mach 2. They flew for over a minute and 57 seconds towards the sun and capturing the images required. This was termed as one of the historic sorties of the aircraft during its service in Indian Airforce.

 

Garuda's flight over Islamabad


Although between 1981 to 2006 IAF had been carrying out various reconnaissance mission over the enemy border, approximately 10-15 flights every month but Pakistan always chose to keep quite as they did not want to show their Air Force's incompetency in tracking the IAF's Mig-25R. The Garuda would Fly deep in Pakistan at its will and would come out undetected, the interceptors and the SAMs(Surface-to-Air) our enemies possessed could not catch this 'manned missile'.

The Pakistani public first came to know about these humiliating sorties on their land in May 1997.

Mig-25R

IAF pilot on a reconnaissance and surveillance mission took off for Islamabad, Pakistan from the base station Bareilly in May 1997. Flying at low altitude, Garuda entered the Pakistani airspace avoiding any radar contact and stepped its foot deep in the enemy territory. As planned the Mig-25 took the aerial photographs, collected sensitive data from defence sites keeping flying parameter of 65,000 feet and low speed. However, on its return Mig-25 pilot accelerated the aircraft to Mach 2.8(3457 kmph) and broke the sound barrier, sending a powerful, ear deafening Sonic Boom of very high intensity over Islamabad.

To the observer on the ground a sonic boom sounds like a loud repeated thunder clap you normally associate with a thunder storm. Before the Pakistani Air Force could understand the situation and deploy their SAMs(Surface-to-Air-Missile) and fighter jets, Garuda was in the Indian Airspace with a lightning quick speed. Although it is still a mystery as to why the IAF's pilot decided to disclose his presence in the enemy territory but some believe that the Pilot decided to go supersonic to send a signal to the Pakistani Air Force that they are minuscule in front of the Indian Air Force and Pakistan has no aircraft in its inventory which could come even close to the cruising height of Mig-25. Indian Airforce and Government denied the incident but Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan believed that the IAF's Garuda took photographs of various sensitive locations and strategic installations. This incident since then has been a hallmark of Indian Airforce's Garuda, the fastest aircraft ever.

 
IAF pilot in Mig-25 Pressure Suit

Mig-25 was not only very powerful but also a difficult beast to handle, which can be seen from the fact that in the IAF, only 42 pilots were ever given access to fly this jet. The unmatched speed of Mig-25 was at times proving to be a curse, Mach 2.8 was considered to be the safe speed to fly the aircraft, however going higher than this speed would often time result in engine failures and even blast in the after burners. The Mig-25 would take about 23,000 liters of fuel in a single mission. The pilots had to wear a lot of safety gears and specially designed "Pressure-Suits" and visors while piloting the Garuda. During its service of 25 years in Indian Air Force, out of the total 10 aircraft fleet, only 3 were lost to crash.





 

The Mig-25 was to be in service for 15 years which was later extended to 25 years and finally bid farewell on 1 May, 2006 at its parent station Bareilly. The six airframes were however preserved to commemorate the great legacy of Garuda with one each kept in Bareilly, Kalaikunda, Dundigal, Palam, Khadakvasla and Jodhpur.


During their service Mig-25R and Mig-25U variants gave the Indian Air Force exceptional advantage to sneak in enemy's airspace at will and capture sensitive data. Mig-25 was to India, what SR-71 Blackbird(Spy and Bomber Aircraft) was to United States.

Few days before the farewell Retired Air chief Marshal Idris Hasan Latif said,

"I am saddened that our Foxbats will soon be gone, but they served an intensely useful purpose. When I was the IAF chief, I was shocked and delighted to learn that the Soviets were actually offering MiG-25 Foxbats to us in 1980. I phoned up Mrs (Indira) Gandhi and she told me to go ahead and make a decision. She was a brilliant leader to work with. The Foxbat was the best in the world and it was made available to us."

There was no aircraft close to the Mig-25 nor will there be in the near future, it had become an inseparable part of the IAF's Fighter fleet, with the Dassault Rafale and HAL's LCA Tejas, Indian Air Force looks to fulfill the void left by the Garuda.


KnowYourHeroes. Lest we forget them

 

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