Bengaluru: Be it war or peace time, military history is priceless. And one such inspiring chapter was added to the Indian Air Force (IAF) annals on this day in 1999, during the Kargil War. Executed by IAF's Mirage 2000 fighter - to be precise the first LGB (laser-guided bombs) was dropped on enemy posts in the Tiger Hill 20 years ago – on June 24, 1999.
Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar was in his mid 30s then. He was a Wing Commander and the pilot in command that dropped the LGB over the Tiger Hill, disseminating the enemy target.
Nambiar was part of the team that was deployed at Air Force Station Adampur in Punjab after IAF’s launched Operation Safed Sagar on June 22, 1999.
"Two days after we moved to this base I piloted the Mirage 2000 that carried the first LGB drop ever by an IAF fighter," he recalls.
Air Marshal Nambiar is currently the Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Western Air Command.
Operation Safed Sagar
As he shared the daredevilry with Onmanorama, the IAF on Monday marked the 20 years of the bombing by recreating the attack on Tiger Hill at Air Force Station Gwalior.
Nambiar was posted as the Flight Safety and Inspection Officer at AFS Gwalior when Operation Safed Sagar began.
IAF operates three squadrons of Mirage-2000s from AFS Gwalior, including the No 7 Squadron (Battle Axes), No 1 Squadron (Tigers) and No 9 Squadron (Wolf Pack).
Aviators swear by Mirage-2000s as they are very high reliable machines with best flying with superior availability rates compared to other fighters in the IAF fleet.
Escaped enemy missile
Nambiar said the original plan of the IAF was to strike at the Tiger Hills on June 22.
"We were airborne on June 22 and Sqn Ldr Monish Yadav was seated behind. It was a two-fighter formation. An amazing sight it was to watch the Tiger Hill from the top as we flew closer to our target. When we were set to launch the strike, suddenly Monish saw a missile coming our way and later falling apart. It was a shoulder-fired one. We fired the flares and decided to change our plans," says Nambiar.
After a day's break, the IAF regrouped and flew with a new plan – this time it was a three-aircraft mission. Target Tiger Hill!
"The two lead aircraft had an LGB each, while the third one was followed behind with the then Air Chief in seated behind. We spotted Tiger Hill at about 50 km distance including the seven white tents. After making several aerial adjustments and confirming the designation of the target again, the LGB weighing 600 kg was dropped. It was a great to watch from the top the target getting hit," recalls Nambiar.
He said the crew later did a recce in search of other targets atop nearby by hills and then returned to base to assess the damage at the Tiger Hill.
Enemy soldiers seen
"Everything was blown apart. We returned back to the base and watched the tape recordings taken from the lightening pod. We could see many enemy soldiers, seconds before our 600 kg gift landed on their tents," he adds.
He said following the first drop of LGB on June 24, he was tasked with dropping four more on enemy targets. The IAF is said to have dropped a total of eight LGBs during Kargil War.
"The might of Mirage-2000s – be it during Karigl War or during the recent Balakot operations – is sure to inspire future aviators. I am proud to be known as a Mirage pilot of IAF," adds Nambiar.
Nambi hails from Kadachira near Kannur and is married to Luxmi. Their son Ashwin Nambiar, is a commercial pilot.
Interestingly Nambiar holds the record of flying maximum number of hours on the Mirages in the IAF. On Mirages alone, he has over 2300 hours to his credit.
Commissioned as a Flying Pilot in 1981, Nambiar currently has over 5100 hours of flying on 42 different types of aircraft.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)