By Gp Capt Noel Moitra VM ( RET'D)


          Air Marshal R Nambiar PVSM AVSM VM & Bar
"Early on the morning of this very day 22 years ago, 24 June 1999, the Indian Air Force dropped its first Laser Guided Bomb (LGB) in anger. Release was from a Mirage 2000TH two-seater and I was privileged to have been the pilot in command. In the exciting days that followed, I had the singular honour of dropping four more LGBs, thus dropping five out of the total of 8 LGBs delivered by the Mirage 2000 in the entire Kargil Conflict."
Air Marshal R Nambiar PVSM AVSM VM & Bar
Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar, an Experimental Test Pilot with vast experience totalling some 5250 hrs on 42 types of aircraft, first flew the Mirage 2000H/TH as a young and promising fighter pilot in 1986 at AF Stn Maharajpur, Gwalior, a proud member of 7 Sqn IAF, The Battle Axes. In time, he went on to command 1 Sqn AF, the Tigers, also at Gwalior, from 22 April 2002 to 07 July 2003 and has, since then, steadily progressed upwards on outstanding and exemplary personal qualities and ability. He is currently the Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Western Air Command.

As winter withdrew, sunrise cast shadows in Kashmir's valleys from 8AM, when visibility was considerably reduced and targets could not be seen. Low clouds engulfed the ridges and peaks by 11 a.m. The window of opportunity was restricted to the three-hour period between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., provided there was no drizzle. In effect, the Pakistani forces in that area knew they had to stay under cover throughout the morning and start hostile actions only after an early lunch. The Indian Army thus had the entire morning to themselves.
Adampur is a major Air Force Base in Punjab and Wg Cdr Raghunath Nambiar (Nambi) had been deployed there since 22 May 1999 for Operation Safed Sagar, the Indian Air Force designation for its Air Operations in Kargil from May to July 1999. Nambi was then a Wing Commander and posted as the Station Flight Safety & Inspection Officer, Air Force Station Maharajpur, Gwalior, where the Mirage 2000H/TH is normally based. He had just over 1900 flying hrs on the Mirage and was soon to become the only IAF pilot to cross 2000 hrs on that type. The Battle Axes were deployed at Adampur and he had been attached to the unit as an “Augmentee” along with a few other officers from other units of the IAF. That's where this epic saga begins.
On the evening of 22 June 7 Sqn was tasked to attack Tiger Hill with LGBs the next morning. Nambi was to captain a two-seater with Sqn Ldr Monish Yadav as his back seater. The target was a set of enemy tents perched at the top of Tiger Hill. They got airborne in a two aircraft formation at 0630h and set course in a North Easterly direction to rendezvous (RV) with two Mirages from Tiger Sqn, ex-Ambala as their escorts. The join up was uneventful and they maintained radio (R/T) silence as they winged their way to the target.
Tiger Hill is unique in shape and size when viewed from the ground. But from 30,000 ft up, it is indistinguishable from the other tall peaks in the vicinity. The only mountain that stands out in this grand vista is K2, Mount Godwin-Austen or Chhogori, which at 8,611 metres (28,251 ft), towers over its surroundings. The aids on board the Mirage allowed them to spot Tiger Hill with relative ease. They had it in contact from 50 km afar and were unpleasantly surprised to find a tiny cloud perched right on its tip, obscuring the Designated Mean Point of Impact  (DMPI) and rendering the LGB impotent. The endurance of the Mirage allowed them to hold on station for about 30 min, so they went around three more times hoping the cloud would drift away and they could complete their mission.
In the fourth attempt, as they turned away from the target, Monish yelled at Nambi to “flare left” indicating a surface to air missile (SAM) launch from the ground. He reacted instantly as per prevailing tactics and commenced dropping flares. He did not spot the tiny shoulder launched missile, but Monish did see it climb towards them and thereafter fall away as they were outside its envelope. They had no choice but to go back with the armament load and prepare for a reshoot the next day. A surprise lay in store for them.
On the 23rd afternoon, they were informed that Air Chief Marshal AY Tipnis, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), would be at Adampur and they spent the rest of the day tidying up the Squadron premises for the visit, among routine duties. The CAS landed in the evening and was keen to fly and observe the first LGB drop. The mission profile was revised and the Commanding Officer of 7 Sqn, Wg Cdr Chhabra, was scheduled to fly the CAS as an observer in a third two-seater, with the attack formation remaining unchanged.

Morning Met briefing on the 24th was at 0500h and by 0530h a short brief was carried out with the CAS in attendance. The plan was for a three aircraft mission with the two lead aircraft armed with an LGB each, while the third aircraft would follow behind, with the CAS in the rear seat. They were to hit Tiger Hill first and then proceed to recce Point 4388 located 30 km NW of Tiger Hill. By 0600h they had walked to the aircraft. Walking to the aircraft is a tedious task in wartime. They were overloaded with their G-suits, helmets and Makarov 9mm pistols along with the various essential items necessary for a successful sortie, such as maps, call-sign cards, MIPs (data cartridges), Electronic Warfare (EW) MIPs, Inertial Navigation Unit (INU) plans, authentication tables-all in all, a very cumbersome procedure.
Wheels roll was at 0630h and their escort Mirages from Ambala joined up with them about 300 km from the target. The RV had been selected well away from the border to remain outside the enemy radar cover, and as before, was uneventful. They maintained R/T silence and meticulously went over the attack drill to ensure all their EW systems and weapons were up and ready. The passage of the magnificent scenery around and below them was barely noticed. They were on the alert, checking their systems time and again, all perked up to go.
Tiger Hill was spotted again from about 50 km away in the Litening Pod and they were thrilled to see a totally cloudless sky. Things then moved forward at a rapid pace. Nambi had altered heading to place the aircraft track directly at a set of seven Arctic tents perched precariously on the South face of Tiger Hill. The white tents made good camouflage sense in winter, but in summer, with most of the snow melted away, they stood out in stark contrast against the black rock formations.
Tiger Hill is at an altitude of 16,600 ft, and the pre-briefed altitude for the attack was 28,000 ft, to which they quickly descended. A glance at the INU indicated that the winds at this altitude was 70 kts (~130 kph) in a westerly direction and at 90° to their planned track. This was excessive and well outside the release envelope of the LGB.
Going up was not an option as the Laser was known to switch off automatically at around 30,000 ft. A different direction was also not viable as the target would be shadowed. A quick decision was taken to descend to 26,000 ft, placing them well within the envelope of shoulder fired SAMs. The crosswinds, however, were more tolerable at 50 kts(~93 kph) and just within the limit of the LGB delivery envelope. They had their regulation IR flares onboard and considered going down into the shoulder fired SAMs' operational envelope an operational risk which they were willing to take. Inter-cockpit understanding was excellent and Monish knew exactly what to do.
At 28 km, Nambi pulsed the laser to designate the target for the first time. The Litening Pod instantly ranged the distance to target. They had by then accelerated to a ground speed of 550 kts(~1000 kmph) and the distance to the release point rapidly reduced. Nambi repeatedly re-designated the target as it became more discernible when they closed in. At the release range, he depressed the trigger and felt the aircraft jerk upwards as it suddenly shed 600 kg of load. He immediately commenced a hard turn to the left at 4G and stated dropping flares. Monish took over pod steering and pointed the laser directly at the target while he concentrated on flying a steady 4G turn and monitored the video image. The Laser was steadily flashing and they waited anxiously for the target to explode,  signalling a successful delivery. The time of flight of an LGB, under the delivery conditions that Nambi had dropped it in, was under 30 sec, but to the two pilots in their cockpits, it seemed an eternity. Their joy knew no bounds as the video image of the target showed it to burst out into a wide and soundless explosion.
Nambi had by then rolled out on a westerly course and reversed right climbing back to 30,000 ft and checked the air distance with the other strike aircraft. The plan was to gather together and then set course for Pt 4388. He noticed that the distance between the two of them had started to build up as they turned towards the North West. Their escorts from 1 Squadron were, however, with them so they decided to press on with the mission. A quick R/T call to check fuel and intention revealed that the other members had already set course back to base. They continued and scanned Pt 4388 for targets. On return, 15 min later, they routed back via Tiger Hill to film the Hill from as close as possible to assess the damage they had caused. The target area had been blown to smithereens, so they filmed the rest of the hill for any other visible signs of the enemy. They had sufficient fuel so they accelerated to their limit speed to get back to Base by 0800h.
After landing they extracted the video tape from the Litening Pod and headed to the crew room for the debrief. The entire squadron was gathered around the TV as the tape was rewound and played back. Loud cheers and back thumping erupted in ecstasy, as, clearly visible on the tape, four enemy soldiers were rushing across the screen a few seconds before the bomb got to them and the huge explosion. Nobody present there could have survived. The video on the way back also revealed a person 2,000 ft below the hill top, climbing painstakingly upward to the camp. The ongoing retreat of the Pakistani soldiers and mujahideen picked up expressly after this and other deadly LGB attacks.

The IAF also used the MiG-25R – which normally cruises at 65-80,000 ft and M 2.3 – at medium altitude (33-35,000’) for high resolution pictures, something that its Russian designers may never have contemplated. The first such photo mission flown by Wg Cdr PV Thakur, was escorted by a pair of Mirage 2000H aircraft, with all three aircraft at M 0.95, the escorts once again led by Nambi. The cameras on the Mig-25 required delicate recalibration to produce optimal results, as it was designed to film from 40-50,000 feet above the target. The films turned out to be exceptionally good.

Nambi was awarded the Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry) for repeatedly descending into SAM infested heights to deliver LGBs. This particular mission is specifically mentioned in his citation.