Balakot airstrikes: How IAF carried out ‘Operation Bander’ and destroyed JeM terror camps in Pakistan

Huma Siddiqui
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In one of the biggest aerial operations in the last decade, the Indian Air Force (IAF) retaliated to Pakistan's terrorist attack in Pulwama, where a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy was attacked and 42 personnel were killed, when it went into the enemy's airspace and carried out operations which destroyed the terrorist camps.

There was a mix of modern combat air tactics, use of the latest weapon systems, fourth-generation aircraft, and use of Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles in play.

It was Friday dawn at around 0330 hours when the Mirage 2000 aircraft of the Indian Air Force made shallow incursions into the Pak-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) and launched a pre-emptive strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror camp at Jabba Top, Balakot, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, all located in Pakistan. The plan was to hit the targets-terrorist camps.

These strikes by the IAF were a complete surprise for the Pakistan Air Force and its military establishments. This was the first time since the 1971 war that the IAF used its air power and crossed the Line of Control (LoC) on an offensive attack mission.

Soon after the IAF penetrated their air space, the Pakistan side began preparing to respond to the Indian hits.

Why the Balakot Strike?

It was a message to the enemy Pakistan that India can and will take action when it gets hit, said a former army officer who wished to remain anonymous.

On February 26 last year, 12 Mirage 2000 aircraft had crossed about 15-20 kilometres inside Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir to target a JeM training camp in Balakot. This was in retaliation to the terrorists’ attacks on a convoy of CRPF in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama, where 42 personnel were brutally killed.

In future operations, the IAF is expected to use a combination of the Spice Bombs of Israel, BrahMos and other weapons that can penetrate deep.

The Spice Bombs come with timed fuses which on firing penetrate deep and explode and damage the whole structure. It weighs around 1,000 kgs and comes with 90 kgs of explosives which has the capability to penetrate through almost 900 kgs of hardened steel.

For future air strikes

For future Balakot-style operations, the government has come up with a new set of protocols. Now, there is going to be a video feed of the attack, so that the military personnel will get real-time information which will help in analysing the whole sequence of the operations.

Also to ensure that the firepower of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is used optimally, the firing protocols for the air-to-surface Israeli missile which was used during the Balakot Operations has been re-written.

The Crystal Maze-the Israeli missile has a camera that opens up when it is near the target and allows the ground control to get insight into the target being hit. It has a range of around 80 to 100 kilometres.

During the operations, the Crystal Maze and the Israeli Spice 2000 bombs were used by the IAF to hit the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) camp in Pakistan's Balakot.

Codenamed ‘Operation Bander’, the operation was carried out to show that India will hit back its enemy when it is attacked. And that’s exactly how it happened on February 26, 2019. The Indian Air Force had despatched 12 Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft that took off from different airbases and crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and the Pakistan air space to carry out missile attacks on Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Balakot town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

During the attacks carried out by the IAF, around five Israeli Spice 2000 bombs were dropped, and, according to sources, four of these penetrated the building where the terrorists were sleeping.

These attacks were carried out in the wee hours of February 26 at around 3.30 AM and soon after dropping these bombs the IAF's aircraft were all back to their bases.

The Mirage fighters had taken off from Squadron No 7 and No 9. The upgraded Mirages of the No 1 squadron at the time did not have the air-to-ground strike capability.

As has been reported earlier, while some Mirage fighters attacked the Jaish camps, there was another team of the IAF pilots of few Mirages and the SU-30 MKIs that was keeping the Pakistan Air Force away from launching any aerial attacks on the Indian critical installations.

In a briefing by the IAF post the attacks, almost 80 per cent of the bombs had been dropped successfully on their targets and it caused substantial damage to the enemy's locations.