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Balakot most significant Indian air action in four decades: IAF chief

The air strikes against the JeM training camp at Balakot delivered a clear message from the Indian govt that Pakistan’s policy of perpetrating cross-border attacks on Indian soil will no longer be acceptable. These strikes were the most significant air action by the IAF in over four decades with our fighters penetrating deep into Pakistani airspace.

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Last Updated: Feb 26, 2020, 10.15 AM IST
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File photo of IAF chief
(This story originally appeared in on Feb 26, 2020)
Breaking a self-imposed red-line exactly a year ago, India with its Mirage-2000 fighters conducted pre-dawn air strikes to bomb a major Jaish-e-Mohammed facility at Balakot on February 26, 12 days after the Pulwama terror attack claimed 40 CRPF troopers. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria tells Rajat Pandit that the strikes delivered an unequivocal stern message to Pakistan. Excerpts:

Q: What did India achieve through the Balakot air strikes, given that the JeM facility is back in action and Pakistan has not stopped aiding cross-border terror?

A: The air strikes against the JeM training camp at Balakot delivered a clear message from the Indian government that Pakistan’s policy of perpetrating cross-border attacks on Indian soil will no longer be acceptable. These strikes were the most significant air action by the IAF in over four decades, with our fighters penetrating deep into Pakistani airspace, executing a precise attack on the terror camp and returning home unchallenged despite the full air defence alert by PAF.

With these air strikes, India conveyed its firm resolve, and Pakistan would surely need to factor in what we might do next if any misadventure is attempted on Indian soil. As far as reactivation of Balakot goes, we are keeping a close watch on activities at all terror training camps supported by Pakistan and appropriate strategies are in place to counter them.

Q: What were the lessons learnt from the air strikes? There were conflicting versions on whether the Spice-2000 bombs hit the targets and the number of casualties in the terror ranks?
A: First and foremost, the Balakot strikes were planned and executed meticulously and professionally. Once the decision on the target was given, we chose weapons to match this target with minimum collateral damage. The Spice-2000 bombs did just that by striking the building harbouring hardcore terrorists. There is absolutely no doubt that we hit our target and achieved our objectives. Our adversary knows it well.

Q: Pakistan’s counter air strike the next day surprised IAF?

A: We were not surprised at all. On the contrary, the IAF responded swiftly to thwart PAF’s attempt to carry out a large attack with a massive force of over 30 aircraft. All air bases in the northern sector were active and combat air patrols were immediately vectored to push the hostile incoming fighters back into Pakistani airspace. They were not able to hit any target. IAF’s young men and women took tough decisions both in the air and on ground and succeeded in their missions. This is in sharp contrast to what we saw on the Pakistani side a day prior when our strike package went deep inside to deliver their weapons and no PAF aircraft came anywhere close.

Q: There are also conflicting versions on whether Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in his MiG-21 actually shot down an F-16?
A: IAF has provided adequate proof that our fighters involved in the response to PAF’s attempted counter-strike challenged the enemy fighters and forced them to withdraw. In the ensuing engagement, Abhinandan followed a PAF aircraft in ‘hot pursuit’, `achieved a weapon solution’ and launched his missile. Electronic signatures and radar pictures indicated he engaged an F-16. Amateur videos of parachutes and DG ISPR’s initial statement of a second pilot being captured were clear corroborative evidence of another aircraft going down across the LoC.

Q: What about the absence of anti-jamming technologies and secure data links on the IAF fighters that caused problems that day?
A: Although secure data links were not available at that point, counter measures were taken when jamming was encountered.

Q: There was also the “blue-on-blue” incident in which a Mi-17 helicopter was shot down by friendly fire near Srinagar on Feb 27, killing six IAF personnel and a civilian?
A: The incident was indeed a tragic mistake, and we have learnt our lessons from it. We have carried out a deep analysis of the causal factors and instituted necessary remedial measures to ensure there is no recurrence. (IAF has also taken disciplinary action against two officers and administrative action against four others).

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