How Was Indian Air Force Able to Guard the Secret about MIG25 Foxbat?
The MiG-25 Foxbat can be described as a legend shrouded in darkness and secrecy. The MiG-25 serving in the IAF retired from active service in 2006 . This magnificent aircraft was acquired around 1981 with the 102 Trisonics and stationed in Bareilly. The IAF had around eight single seat and two twin seat MiG 25’s in service, and they were the MiG 25 R, the reconnaissance version.
The IAF operated perhaps the smallest squadron of MiG 25 aircraft. The sole purpose of this aircraft was of course ‘Strategic Reconnaissance.’
The acquisition of the MiG25 was crucial to the IAF as at that time the Canberra reconnaissance aircraft were vulnerable to interception and satellite reconnaissance was an unknown future, back then.
The MiG 25 aircraft were flown in dismantled condition to their base in Bareilly, in Antonov aircrafts which led western analysts to believe the Antonov as huge acquisition. The base for the MiG25 was located in Bareilly, an other wise not a location one can think for a secret aircraft.
This aircraft got the IAF in the Mach 3 club. It’s pilots had to don a Cumbersome pressure suit and a helmet a bit similar to Russian cosmonaut’s.
The aircraft had 1200mm cameras, so in a way if a Foxbat MiG 25R flew over Punjab or Kashmir , could easily check on Pak or Chinese controlled Tibet.
At high altitude of around a 90,000 feet and at a speed of Mach 3, it made the enemy slow to any response and remained undetected.
This aircraft remained so secret that not even all serving officers of the IAF had seen the aircraft during its active years and why was that ? Because the MiG 25 R was to the IAF what the SR 71 was to the USAF . It was the best aircraft which the IAF had and naturally was flown by the best Pilots the IAF had.
One incident to add to this aircrafts legend, in May 1997 , an IAF Mig 25R was on a reconnaissance mission over Pakistan, when the aircraft broke the sound barrier right over Islamabad and the sonic boom was mistaken for a blast down on earth. The Pakistani radars picked up the aircraft signature and scrambled F16’s but could not get to it.
Pakistani ministry in the evening that day made a clarification to clear the fear caused in Islamabad due to this incident saying, the MiG 25 pilot deliberately gave out aircraft signature to show PAF it had no equal in its force.
The details of the mission are classified and it still remains a mystery that why the Indian air force pilot chose to reveal his presence over heavily populated area of Pakistan. Spyflight a website dedicated to reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, has speculated that the MiG-25 pilot wanted to show that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was nothing in front of India.
“The aircraft entered Pakistani airspace subsonically (below the speed of sound) at around 65,000 ft and was undetected,” says Spyflight. “Then having overflown and photographed strategic installations near the capital, Islamabad, the aircraft turned back towards India. Perhaps to rub the Pakistanis’ noses in it, the Foxbat pilot decided to accelerate up to Mach 2 and dropped a large sonic boom as he exited Pakistani airspace. A number of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16As were scrambled, but had insufficient time to make an effective intercept.”
A MIG-25 taxies at the Bareilly Air Force Station after its last ceremonial flight on the completion of the plane’s total life of 25 years, in Bareilly
Let’s see what experienced IAF fighter pilots say about foxbat, all of them flew Mig 25 in all its glory.
The field of vision from the MiG-25 is 1,100-km and its clarity of perspective remain unsurpassed. These planes have served their utility. We are moving to a higher network-centric warfare capability. — Air Commodore Shankar Mani, Base Commander, AFS Bareilly
The MiG-25s are still in perfect condition. Even at the time of phase out, all systems are working fine. We even made structural changes to the undercarriage all by ourselves.
— Wing Commander Jayapal Patil, Rapiers Sqn Technical Officer
Most in the IAF have not even seen this base or the aircraft. Frankly, we can push our Foxbats for another 2-3 years, but after three life extensions, it’s prudent to retire them now.—
Wing Commander Alok Chauhan, Rapiers Sqn MiG-25 pilot
After 25 years, letting go of the Foxbat is sentimental. It has done what it was inducted to do. My job is to wind up the squadron and raise a new MiG-21 unit.
— Wing Commander Manish Khanna, Commanding Officer, Rapiers Sqn
MiG 25R that served the IAF had a clear significant purpose ‘ Strategic Reconnaissance’. Back in the 80’s satellite reconnaissance was not an Indian affair and MiG 25R was perhaps the only option. Now Indian security establishment has options of high resolution satellite imagery through constellation of indigenous satellites
The use of Unmanned aerial vehicle has changed the war scenario altogether. So technically the purpose is served by other means.
But still among the present aircraft perhaps the Mirage 2000 with a service ceiling of 60,000 ft + comes a bit close ( the IAF MiG 25 was flown at 90,000 ft).
In 1995, the IAF MiG 25R flew up to the stratosphere to get crystal clear photographs of the solar eclipse, where the sun rays untouched and unscattered by interfering atmospheric molecules.
One of the two pilots who flew that mission is also the seniormost and most experienced Foxbat pilot still in service is Air Vice Marshal Sumit Mukerji himself.
“It was an experiment that worked. Not only did we film the diamond ring of the eclipse, but also the starburst, when the sun’s light filtered through the crevasses and mountains on the moon. It was an amazing image. And from that height and speed, we were able to film the eclipse for a minute and 57 seconds, impossible from the ground,” he said as reported in Indian Express‘s article.
A part of this answer was taken from Quora’s answer by K Siva.