NEW DELHI: The strategic surprise element that caught the Pakistan Air Force completely off guard despite being on a heightened sense of alert, the accuracy of intelligence in pinpointing targets besides the proficiency and skills of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots were some of the positives listed out in a lessons learned assessment report brought out by the IAF on the Balakot air strikes of 26 February.
Unfavorable weather conditions besides the inability to drop the entire weapon load carried by the fighters were among the negatives detailed in the IAF report, according to a news report in the Hindustan Times on Thursday.
The IAF report also mentioned that Indian fighter jets hit five of six designated targets — the first official revelation of the number of targets in the Balakot operation.
The Indian air strikes on terrorist training facilities in Balakot, Pakistan’s Khyberpaktunkhwa province were conducted in the early hours of 26 February.
This was in the aftermath of the targeting of an Indian security convoy in Kashmir’s Pulwama region on 14 February by a suicide bomber belonging to a Pakistan-based terrorist group. The Pulwama attack killed 40 security personnel and spiked tensions between India and Pakistan.
According to the IAF report, the “surprise element" was so complete that it was after the Indian jets turned back after striking the targets in Balakot that Pakistan scrambled its jets from as many as eight bases. But by then, the distance between the returning Indian jets and the scrambling Pakistani fighter aircraft was at least 10 minutes, an unnamed Indian Air Force officer quoted by the Hindustan Times said.
The quality of intelligence that led to the accurate pinpointing of the targets also was a clear positive highlighted in the IAF report, with a unnamed second official quoted by the newspaper saying that with quality inputs like this “we can hit any target inside Pakistan within three hours."
Though there were as many as 6,000 defence forces personnel involved in the entire execution of the Balakot strike, all plans relating to the impending mission were successfully kept under wraps — which too has been listed as a positive in the IAF report. That all the top officers of the Indian Air Force went about their routine work helped lull Pakistan to some extent, the IAF report said.
On the flip side, the inability to discharge all the weapons carried by the IAF fighter aircraft, have raised questions about “weapons to target matching," the news report said. Changes made in the software to integrate new weapon systems with existing Mirage aircraft were not found to be successful, leading the IAF to conclude that it would be left to the original equipment manufacturers to integrate new weapons systems with older fighter aircraft.
The choice of the weapon — i.e. the Spice bomb that penetrates a target killing people inside rather than over a fragmentation weapon — was also seen as a negative given that the IAF did not have much evidence by way of pictures to prove that the Balakot strikes actually took place, the IAF report said. A fragmentation bomb would have flattened the structures that would have been easier to present as evidence, it said. This comes in the face of questions being raised in the international media about the efficacy of the IAF strikes given satellite pictures that showed that the structures the IAF said they had hit in Balakot, were seen to be standing intact.