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The PAF in the Afghan War
Shooting Down Two Mig-23 Aircraft - September 12, 1988

Pilots: Flight Lieutenant Khalid Mehmood (Leader), Squadron Leader Anwar Hussain (No. 2)
Controller: Squadron Leader Irfan-ul-Haq
Date: September 12, 1988
Aircraft shot: Two Mig-23s
Area: South of Chitral (Nawagi)

This formation took-off from Minhas Air Base at 0606 hours a detailed mission briefing. The formation set up CAP in Nawagai area at 10,000 feet AGL as directed by the GCI controller. At about 0640 hours, the controller vectored the formation to a northwesterly heading for two enemy aircraft that were heading east. No. 2 picked up the intruders flying at 34,000 feet on his AI. Meanwhile, the targets had turned away and started flying parallel to the border in a northerly direction.

The GCI quickly repositioned the formation for four other potential intruders that were heading east. At 18 NM, the leader picked up one blip followed by five more blips within a second. No. 2 also had AI lock on these targets. However, the GCI radar was reporting only five blips. The enemy aircraft appeared in two distinct formations on the scope. There were four aircraft in the first formation and two in the trailing one. The leader locked on the last bogey in the first formation and took necessary tactical actions. The F-16s were flying at 10,000 feet while the intruders were flying at 34-36,000 feet. The F-16s initiated a climb.

They were closing in fast towards the enemy at rates higher than 1,000 knots. The radar controller was continuously updating on the rapidly changing aerial situation. The rear section of two enemy aircraft was flying faster than the front one and had come quite close to the leading section. Vital seconds were passing quickly. The leader rechecked his electronic sensors (ALR-69) to confirm that no enemy aircraft had locked onto his formation. At the same time, with the help of HUD TD Box, the leader quickly picked up the enemy aircraft visually at 7 NM and announced it on the radio. The leading section of the enemy was flying in a right extended echelon with a distance of about 4,000 feet between each aircraft. The rear section was also in the same formation and was positioned on their left side. All six aircraft were Mig-23s, camouflaged in Khaki colour.

The leader closed in and at a distance of about 7 NM, the computer had started flashing the DLZ symbol on the HUD, confirming that the enemy was with his AIM-9L missile range. However, the other two conditions i.e. the IR tone and the missile seeker head being locked on the target were not met. This was probably because the enemy had brought the throttle back as a part of his counter tactics to the IR missile. The leader was closing in fast and he made three attempts to lock the missile seeker head-on with the enemy aircraft but all without success. Luckily, in the fourth attempt, when less than 2 NM from the enemy aircraft, his AIM-9L seeker head locked the bogey and he got solid audio tone that further confirmed that he could fire his missile. In the words of Khalid:

At 1.7 NM, I launched my first missile. My aircraft shuddered as the missile left the aircraft, upsetting me for a while. This was my first experience of firing a missile. I saw my missile taking a lead for its target while I started looking for other enemy aircraft. I had made an oblique, left to right, low to high, conversion attack on the enemy at 130-140 degrees aspect angle. After firing the first missile, I reversed my bank to clear my belly from any unnoticed enemy threat. At this time, I was 1-2 NM behind all the enemy aircraft, which is an ideal position for shooting down a bandit. The leading section was exactly in front of me, whereas the trailing section was 11 o'clock just a few thousand feet ahead. I had rejected lock from my first target and switched over to Missile Override ACM 20x20 radar mode for auto lock on the enemy aircraft. This action would also select AIM-9P missiles that were more suitable for firing under the new set of conditions. I chose the third aircraft of the leading formation as my second prey: the No. 2 and leader could become my subsequent targets. When my Sidewinder-P missile left the aircraft rail, I saw it navigating towards the target, I quickly took aim for the next target.

While Khalid was busy doing this, the GCI controller announced that two enemy aircraft were behind him. He immediately turned around to face the new threat but found nothing. A mistake had been made; the radar controller had given him a wrong break due to false clutter on his scope. Khalid's next target had meanwhile flown out of his weapon ranges and was heading for his own territory. Chasing the enemy was out of the question because of tactical considerations and strict instructions to avoid violating the Afghan airspace. Khalid decided to exit in a safe tactical manner.

After the mission, the Base authorities as well as squadron pilots saw the video repeatedly. Everyone was convinced that Khalid had achieved the kills; however, the wreckage was not found and nothing was heard on the subject for a few days. Meanwhile, a team of American experts analysed the recording and commented that in all probability, missiles had hit the target. Later, Inspector General Frontier Corps (IGFC) visited the squadron about seven weeks later. Since the combat area fell under his jurisdiction, he had organized the search and recovery of the wreckage. The search party had reported that one aircraft had fallen on the Pakistani side of the border while the second debris had drifted into the territory controlled by the Afghan troops. The Afghan forces had mined the area to curb Mujahideen movements; therefore, the recovery of the wreckage was not possible. As explosions above 30,000 feet caused the wreckage to be scattered over a large area, and due to the risk of mine explosions, only one missile pylon of the downed enemy aircraft was recovered and presented to the IGFC by the search party.

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