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MIRAGE AT WAR

P akistan’s delta force

USMAN SHABBIR and YAWAR A. MAZHAR relate how Pakistan’s Frenchbuilt Mirage delta jet fi ghters made their mark in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War

IN THE SIX years between 1965 and 1971, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had absorbed — at the cost of signifi cant combat capacity — fi ve years of the USA’s arms embargo that had been imposed on Pakistan at the start of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War.

ABOVE RIGHT Flt Lt Salimuddin of the Pakistani Air Force in front of his Mirage IIIEP. Salimuddin was involved in combat with a Sukhoi Su-7 during the 1971 confl ict.

During this time the PAF had made efforts to replace a diminishing number of Martin B-57s and North American F-86s with Shenyang F-6s (Chinese-built MiG-19s), supplemented by ex-Luftwaffe Canadair Sabre Mk 6s received via Iran, but the combat force was facing obsolescence, with spares for the Sabres and B-57s in short supply.

As the ratio of combat aircraft between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the PAF worsened, and with no possibility of acquiring military equipment from the USA, Pakistan evaluated various European options for its needs.

The need for speed The PAF Air Staff Requirement called for a multi-role strike aircraft that could replace the ageing F-86s and B-57s, but which would also have low-level night/all-weather interception capabilities. France’s Dassault Mirage III did not fully meet the requirement, but was selected as the best available aircraft. Under a project codenamed Blue Flash One, 18 single-seat Mirage IIIEPs were ordered in 1968 along with three two-seat Mirage IIIDPs and three single-seat photo-reconnaissance Mirage IIIRPs.

All 24 Mirages were delivered before the beginning of the 1971 confl ict to a single unit, No 5 Sqn,

Force. It was this aircraft in which Flt Lt Salimuddin shot down an Su-7

RIGHT Dassault Mirage IIIEP 67-102 of the Pakistani Air Force. It was this aircraft in which Flt Lt Salimuddin shot down an Su-7 on December 6, 1971, and it is illustrated here with AIM-9B Sidewinders on the outboard wing stations and a Matra R.530 radar-guided air-to-air missile on the centre fuselage station. Artwork by TOM COOPER/ AVIATIONGRAPHIC.COM © 2009

wing stations and

air-to-air missile

fuselage station. Artwork by TOM

based at Sargodha in West Pakistan. The fi rst batch of six (67-101 to 67-106) was ferried to Pakistan in early March 1968, the last example arriving in early 1970. Once in Pakistan, regular dissimilar air combat training exercises were undertaken and new tactics were developed.

Preparing for war On December 3, 1971, the PAF began day and night strikes

against Indian airfi elds and radar stations. The PAF’s overriding priority was to give maximum support to the Pakistan Army’s proposed land offensive into India from West Pakistan, aimed at stopping Indian aggression against East Pakistan by capturing strategically important Indian territory in the west, thus forcing a political settlement. Pakistan’s limited resources meant it was unwilling to sustain major offensives in both East and West Pakistan — separated as they were by thousands of miles of hostile Indian territory.

Pakistan — separated as they were by thousands of miles of hostile Indian territory.

The air staff considered that the success or failure of the PAF’s support would in all likelihood determine the fate of Pakistan’s crucial offensive. When the planning staff calculated the estimated cost of fulfi lling this commitment in July 1971, it worked out at a loss of 100–120 combat aircraft and pilots over the projected seven- to ten-day period. This would amount to losing one third of the air force, but units were

The air staff considered that the success or failure of the PAF’s support would in all likelihood determine the fate of Pakistan’s crucial offensive. When the planning staff calculated the estimated cost of fulfi lling this commitment in July 1971, it worked out at a loss of 100–120 combat aircraft and pilots over the projected seven- to ten-day period. This would amount to losing one third of the air force, but units were

nevertheless directed in August to prepare for war.

Until the Army’s offensive was launched, the PAF was to maintain offensive pressure on the IAF with sustained strikes against forward and rear bases. The PAF had undertaken crippling strikes on Indian airfi elds in the 1965 war, destroying a considerable number of IAF aircraft on the ground. But the IAF had learned its lesson and upgraded its air bases with shelters, dispersals, camoufl age and air defences.

During the same period, the PAF was also to provide whatever air support was needed for the Army’s “holding” actions along the entire 2,300-mile border from Kashmir to Kutch. These relatively shallow penetrations were to tie down as many of the enemy’s resources as possible and achieve a favourable tactical position in the process.

The fi rst day At 1630hr on December 3, a state of war was formally declared between Pakistan and India. Just 21min later, the fi rst PAF strike formations were taking off for their targets. The assault against IAF airfi elds and radar stations was to involve Sabres, Lockheed F-104s and Mirages striking their targets between 1709hr and 1723hr. Two four-Mirage formations, led by Wg Cdr

At 1630hr on December 3, a state of war was formally declared between Pakistan and India. Just 21min later, the fi rst PAF strike formations were taking off for their targets. The assault against IAF airfi elds and radar stations was to involve Sabres, Lockheed F-104s and Mirages striking their targets between 1709hr and 1723hr. Two four-Mirage formations, led by Wg Cdr

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AEROPLANE JUNE 2009

AEROPLANE JUNE 2009