London: In May 1997, an Indian air force MiG-25RB also known as Foxbat entered Pakistani airspace undetected , took photographs of vital strategic military installations near Islamabad and went back to India unchallenged. The aircraft entered Pakistani airspace sub-sonically at around 20,000 m and circled on top of Islamabad .

Cameras of the MiG-25RB

Cameras of the MiG-25RB

The mission was top secret and details of the mission will remain classified for a very long time. The pilot took photographs of military installations then flew back to India with a supersonic Mach 2 speed which left a powerful sonic boom on top of the highly populated Islamabad. Still it remains a mystery why the pilot revealed his position specially when Pakistani air force had no clue about its presence. Sonic boom was detected when he was flying at relatively low altitude.

From sargodha airbase PAF scrambled two F-16 fighter planes to intercept . But the Indian pilot accelerated to almost Mach 3 speed or 3700 mph. At a altitude between 20,000 m  to 27,000 m. At that point PAF gave up and decided not to pursue Foxbat anymore.  F-16’s can only climb up to 15,000 m. By that time Foxbat had already entered Indian airspace.

MiG-25cIndia had denied the incident but the Pakistani Foreign Minister  Gohar Ayub Khan believed that the breaking of sound barrier which left sonic boom on top of Islamabad was deliberate by the pilot. He was undetected all the reconnaissance time so he did it on purpose to show Pakistan that Pakistani air force doesn’t have anything similar like Foxbat. Some says he was just teasing PAF because he knew he can not be intercepted .India and Pakistan both did avoid diplomatic tension at that time but not for long.

On 28th may 1998 , a year later of the incident Pakistan tested Nuclear bomb which sent shock waves of fear around the world. It is not a hidden fact that Pakistan’s nuclear program is India centric. Then the infamous Kargil adventure by Pakistan. But one can say there is always tension between these two nuclear armed countries even though they eat same food, sing the same song and speak the same language.

With IAF
MiG-25R of No. 102 Squadron IAF

Ex- MiG-25R of No. 102 Squadron IAF

For the period of 25 years from 1981 to 2006, India had a squadron of 8 Foxbats in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. Flew missions almost every day.

Foxbats flew unchallenged over Pakistan and sometimes over Tibet. Took photographs of military installation and went back safely.

Both China and Pakistan didn’t have anything in their arsenal to intercept this tri-sonic semi mythical aircraft.

Later on India acquired UAV’s from Israel. ISRO developed high resolution remote sensing satellites which can pin point the License plate of a car.

That was the time Foxbats were started to look like reminisce from cold war era . Foxbats production was already halted in Russia so spare parts were a problem for IAF. With heavy heart IAF decided to retire the Foxbat or Garuda (IAF’s call sign).

They are gone but may be one day IAF will declassify the exploits of Foxbats. And their daredevil pilots name who flew against all odds behind the enemy line.

Image Credit: IAF | Russian Air force | Military Images

Story Source : Spyflight | DefenceNewsIndia | Wikipedia