Kaalkut. Chapter 26

30 May 2020

00:05 Hours IST

Somewhere in Rajasthan

Brigadier Ashok Jasrotia from AFSOD was briefing the special operations team. 

“The good news is that a Pakistani F-16 shot down a American MQ-9 Reaper UAV which was flown in from Kandhar for reconnaissance. The better part is that Americans had informed Pakistanis beforehand and they still went ahead and destroyed the drone using American supplied F-16 fighter. Ironic, isn’t it? And the best part is that we’re going to take a large portion of nuclear toys away from Pakis.

There’s some more. Now Americans don’t want to play nice with Pakistanis and are launching everything they can to take care of Pano Aqil. Like us, they have made plans for emergencies like these and are now seeking our cooperation with this. Command thinks that it’s a good idea and our mission is to destroy all nuclear warheads and missiles in the Pano Aqil bunkers. The plan is to hit Pakis from as many sides as possible and be quick about it before they realise what’s going on. 

Now, we are hoping to avoid any hostile engagement with Pakistani troops. We are still trying to get them to let us in and do a joint operation instead of this unilateral operation. But they’re acting very stubbornly. If we are lucky, they may see sense and agree. But if they don’t, which I think is more likely,  they are to be considered hostile and treated as such. All except a handful of Rizvi’s supporters are believed to be serving military personnel. So we can’t expect our troops on ground to waste time deciding their motives and loyalties. If you can safely capture him or a handful of his men who can be extracted safely, you are to do that. If that’s not possible, then just shoot them.

Now for the fun details. Even with withdrawal from Afghanistan going on, Americans still have some good air assets deployed there and some in Masirah, Oman and Al DHafra, UAE. They’re deploying 2 P3C Orion maritime surveillance aircrafts, 1 RC-135W Rivet Joint, 4 EA-6B Prowler and 2 E-3C Sentry AWACS for electronic warfare, reconnaissance, early warning and air-traffic control. For aerial firepower, they have ten flightworthy F/A-18D Hornets, fourteen F-16 block 40 fighters and six top of the line F-22s. Additionally, they have a few armed MQ-9B drones for reconnaissance and air to ground strikes.

 That’s not all, fortunately. They are also open to firing up to 108 Tomahawk cruise missiles from their two nuclear submarines lurking somewhere in the high seas. If some of you don’t know about the equipment I just listed, don’t worry too much. It’s sufficient to know that most of Pakistani Navy and Air Force in the region will be a bit too busy to interfere in what our ground teams will be doing. 

The attack will begin by Americans jamming Paki radar and communications networks using cyber attacks and their airborne EW assets en route. American Global Positioning System has been blocked for everyone else but Americans and it’s equivalent Chinese BeiDuo system will go offline pretty soon over Pakistan too. It’ll not affect us, as we will be using our own NaviC system,. Once the jamming begins we’ll be firing a few Brahmos and Nirbhay cruise missiles on the Paki air defence radars, anti-air guns and SAM systems to clear a path for our ground assault team. 

At about the same time, American fighters will start aggressive maneuvers in their coastal areas and in Peshawar, Swat area trying to keep their air force away from us. A Chinese naval ship and a few suspicious freighters are already docked in Gwadar, so this may prove to be a bit interesting

Even as we speak, our intelligence people are confirming the latest enemy positions using satellites and feeding the data to missile batteries. American Tomahawks will be used for disabling a few key radar sites near coastal areas, a few points up north from there and possible points of resistance at Pano Aqil.  We are pretty sure that the initial missile strikes will damage the runways in a few PAF bases long enough to keep Paki fighters on ground. Americans are planning to use their F-22s to destroy Pakistani Karakoram Eagle and Erieye AWACS if they manage to get in the air.  Our flyboys in Jaguars will drop a few tons of ordinance in Pano Aqil after the initial missile attack to mop up or atleast soften up resistance against the ground assault.  The C-130 transport plane carrying the ground assault team will take off from Jaisalmer as soon as the Jaguars are in air. The paratroopers will exit the aircraft around using HALO and destroy or capture the nukes.

We have one deep cover asset near the mission area who is well trained in special operations himself. We will patch his communication line to the Alpha Team leader a few minutes before the paradrop. We hope that he may be able to recommend good landing spots away from enemy interference. If not, you’ll land at the original places. Once you meet up, he will act as your guide on the ground. You will have to bring him back as his cover will be blown after this.  

Once on ground, you can call in air and missile strikes at will to neutralise the remaining resistance. 4 Apaches helicopters will follow you for Close Air Support (CAS). 2 Mi-25 Hinds are also being rushed in for additional support. Alpha teams will attack the missile storage compound and handle the nukes. Bravo will secure the airstrip for landing of C-130. If airstrip is not secure, then Dhruv and Mi-17 will be sent for exfiltration. We can use Mi-25s for exfil in case it’s required. 

 Remember, your primary mission is to either destroy or get the nukes and their delivery vehicles out of control of Rizvi. They’re suicidal enough to launch them if they think that they’re losing. We are assuming that the Ghauri missiles are fueled already and ready to be launched. Our recon assets are monitoring the bunker and adjoining areas. If a missile is spotted, then we are assuming that it’s about to be launched. You have to destroy them before it happens or mark the target for an aerial attack . 

If nothing changes, the C-130 will take flight at 01:45 hours.

Now, I am open to questions.

Few hours later

Pano Aqil

Paratroopers jumping from the C-130 transport plane could see the flashes of numerous small and a few large fires all over their target area. The passive night vision devices amplified every sliver of light and put a gray and green tint to everything. As promised by Brigadier Jasrotia, nearly all of the anti-air assets of the base had been either destroyed by missile strikes and bombing raids by Jaguar deep penetration aircraft. As they got closer to the ground, they could see pillars of dark smoke rising from numerous places. 

There had been no contact from the undercover operative. It had been realised quite late that his radio might be affected by the massive jamming of all radio communications by Indian as well as American EW assets. Someone had forgotten to tell him the updated frequencies and codes and he was without a way to contact them. But that couldn’t be helped now. If they were lucky, he would be able to find them after their landing. Otherwise the mission was supposed to go on without his involvement.. As the paratroopers reached an altitude of around 1000m, they deployed their parachutes. The sudden deceleration jerked their bodies strongly and slowed down the descent.  

As they got closer to the ground, they could hear the sounds of sporadic gunfire and small explosions not too far from the main landing area. All 65 soldiers had landed within a 300 m circle and rallied quickly. Two sections of 10 men each of Bravo team went towards south-east to secure the airstrip while the rest went northwards to the missile complex.

Missile Compound

Alpha team was divided in four sections of 10 men each with rest five on guard and comms duty.  The compact handheld consoles  in the hands of each section leader marked the positions of every man superimposed on a tactical map of the area with a blue marker. Live enemy positions were marked red and those with confirmed kills were marked yellow. It was a bit like some video games, but real. 

Alpha 1 team approached the missile launch complex from it’s southern perimeter. A soldier opened up a hard plastic case he was carrying on his back and took out a small winged drone with unfolded wingspan of 1.2 meters. He turned on it’s nearly silent electric motor and threw it in the air like a paper plane. It got to an altitude of around 50 meters and started beaming the video feed to a small video console in backpack and to handheld consoles of all section leaders.

Even with it’s monochrome night vision feed, they could see huge craters on roofs of all 9 super reinforced concrete bunkers. All of them had been hit with multiple bombs and all of the roofs had caved in.  Even the concrete around the bunkers was all torn up with more holes than original surface left. Numerous small and a few bigger fires raged all over the compound with acrid smoke billowing upwards in the sky. There were bodies everywhere in the compound as well around it. 

Tens of tanks and armoured vehicles lay motionless all around the site. Most had been blown to the smithereens and a few had dead bodies hanging out of the hatches. Alpha 1 leader thanked the makers of CBU-105 cluster bombs. 4 such bombs, each with 10 infrared guided sub-munitions had been dropped on site disabling most of armoured vehicles brought in by the Pakistani army as well as a few controlled by Rizvi’s troops inside the compound.

Indian troops moved cautiously forward while scanning the area around them with their night vision sights. Suddenly there was a whooshing sound and a mortar round landed around 150 meters north of theml. Then there were three more in quick succession. All four rounds fired were smoke rounds meant to hide movement of own troops from the enemy.  The drone went a bit higher and scanned the area around it with it’s thermal scanners.  It detected thermal signatures matching the just fired mortar tube with four human sized targets around it. The coordinates were passed on to the section of 2 Apaches covering them. Apaches acquired the target coordinates from UAV and one fired 70 mm Hydra rockets at it.The spot from where mortars were being fired erupted in a small cloud of smoke and dust. Apaches did a scan of the area with their own more powerful thermal scanners and moved a bit further to find a convoy of 2 Al Khalid tanks and 4 Talha armoured personnel carriers (copy of American M113) racing towards their direction around 4 kms away. 

The targeting computer of Apaches assigned one Hellfire missile to each of the vehicles automatically and pilots saw the notification in their targeting monocle. Six Hellfires left their launchers on the Apaches and hit all six vehicles on their roofs in top attack mode. All four APCs were blown to bits with their parts spread in circles all around them. The heavily armoured tanks didn’t blow up like the thinly armoured APCs but their top armour was not strong enough to withstand High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) warhead of Hellfires either. Armour of both tanks was penetrated and the ammunition box of the one in lead caught fire causing the stored rounds to explode inside the tank. There were jets of fire shooting from the turret and a loud explosion causing the turret to separate from body and soar 6-7 meters up in the air before landing in a ditch on the side.

Imminent threats neutralised, Apaches then moved back to take positions around the complex to provide reconnaissance and air cover to advancing Alpha teams. The 3.5 meter tall concrete wall had shattered to ground during the aerial attack and two sections passed it easily to enter the compound. Apart from the downwash of Apaches, nothing or nobody was moving. A few trees lay uprooted accompanied by a few dead crows. 

The first attack on bunkers had been done by supersonic cruise missile Brahmos. Two missiles had been allocated to each bunker and none had missed. They had flown only tens of meters above the ground after launch from ground launchers  till they reached the target area. Then they had suddenly gained altitude and dived on their respective targets at 90 degrees angles. The Mach 3 diving speed on missile along with a special bunker buster warhead had bored holes in to the six feet thick reinforced concrete roofs. The warheads had then passed the roofs and then hit the floor forming the roof of actual missile storage room below. Some of them had penetrated the second layer too and exploded causing instant destruction of everything present. Even those warheads which had not completely penetrated the second layer had exploded inside it causing large pieces from the shattered layer to bury everything below. Then a half squadron of Jaguars had dropped one bunker busting Sudarshan laser guided bombs (LGB) weighing 450 kgs on each target.  

A few soldiers put on their closed loop respirators and went close for a look. The  respirators would prevent inhalation of any radioactive particles and toxic fumes of missile propellent. The team deployed another drone equipped with sensors to any radioactive material or leakage and presence of HNO3 (Nitric Acid) and N2O4 (Nitrogen Dioxide). Last two chemicals were used by Ghauri missile as propellants. The drones were specially designed to operate in sites of radioactive and chemical leaks in industrial sites and nuclear reactors by a private company. They were modified for military use by adding a few more sensors, shielding and a bigger power pack. Significant amount of propellants and trace amounts of Uranium-235, the main fission component of Ghauri warheads were detected confirming destruction of atleast six missiles in the compound. Samples from each bunker were collected and the Alpha team started marching towards airstrip. 

As they started the march, the Apaches reported movement of a motorbike in their direction and the fact that it was switching on and off it’s headlights. The pattern was recognised as a basic code assigned to the under cover operative who had missed the party but had done a great job by providing precise positions of Pakistani air defence positions. He drove the stolen motorbike to Alpha 1 section leader and confirmed his identity. He had been using cover name Mohammed Gulfam for less than one year, but it felt strange to use the name with his own countrymen. His original identity as Naib Subedar Anil Dahiya, formerly belonging to Para SF was supposed to stay secret even with the Indian soldiers. 

Alpha 1 team leader looked at him from head to toe and remarked sarcastically, “Took you long enough. We’re almost finished now and moving to exfil point.”

Dahiya reached into his pockets to show a remote detonator, “You should have not jammed all the radio frequencies then. Anyhow, if I had not blown up two bridges before your landing, then you’d have been busy fighting off more than half a mechanised battalion of Pakis.”

Alpha leader scoffed and patted his shoulder. “Good job, I guess. Now let’s get back home.”

Airstrip

The defensive structures around the airstrip had been bombed using precision guided munitions by Jaguars minutes before the paradrop. The soldiers could see the fire and smoke rising from rubbles of a few checkposts, anti-aircraft guns and watchtowers. In a normal attack, the airstrip would have been the primary target and be full of craters to make it unusable for enemy aircraft. But since they needed the airstrip for their own exfiltration, precision guided bombs were used to destroy enemy positions without causing any collateral damage. 

Two soldiers used their handheld thermal scanners to carefully check their surroundings. There was nothing left of the base infrastructure apart from a few piles of twisted metal, shattered concrete and smoke. Like the missile compound, here were a few dead soldiers and around a dozen destroyed armoured vehicles lying around in different places. 

A radio signal was given and second section of two Apache helicopters came rushing towards their direction flying barely 20 meters above the ground. All four Apaches had taken off with a payload of 8 Hellfire missiles and 38 Hydra 70 mm rockets. Some soldiers who were close enough noticed that only 3 missiles remained on one of the helicopters. They had to fight their way in even with the massive ordnance drop earlier.

Bravo team formed a perimeter around the strip after ensuring that there were no hostiles in vicinity.  4 men from the team moved towards the only fortified structure, a single story bunker on the airbase. Two Sudarshan bombs had tore through the thick concrete roof and exploded inside itr turning it into a still smoking rubble of reinforced concrete and steel beams. One soldier took out a geiger counter and checked it’s readings from a distance.. There was a large piece of concrete a few meters from it and when the geiger counter was brought near it, it indicated the presence of alpha particles and plutonium. 

The soldiers stopped their advance towards the bunkers and took a few samples of the soil and concrete piece closest to them. Then they rejoined the security perimeter with the rest of Bravo team. 

After the call of exfiltration by Alpha was placed, the same C-130 flew in low firing chaff and flares as it landed on the airstrip. It was time to go home.

Next Day

NTRO, Pune

“So, what do we know so far?”

“It has been pretty interesting to say the least.  I am reading aloud a list of what we know for sure so far.  Damaged or destroyed aircraft on ground include four F-16A/B of 14 Squadron in Kamra, six F-7 of 17 Squadron in Peshawar,  three F-16A/B of 9 Squadron in Sargodha, five F-7 of 17 Squadron in Peshawar,  eight Mirage-III of 7 Squadron and three Mirage-5 of 8 Squadron in Masroor and seven JF-17 of either 26 or 16 Squadron in Peshawar. Additionally we shot down one Saab Erieye in vicinity of Rahim Yar Khan and one Karakoram Eagle near Pakpattan. Some geniuses from the area have already uploaded the pictures of these two planes claiming that those are wreckages of Indian planes. 

Additionally, air force is claiming that they downed three JF-17 near Sialkot and four F-16s roughly 80 KM north from there. Then there are  three or four helicopters, two JL-8 trainers, two C-130 and  three more yet unidentified wreckages on some of airbases we hit. “ the NTRO analyst barely took a breath while talking excitedly..

The other analyst whistled,”That’s a lot of damage for one night! How sure are you about this?”

“Pretty sure! Don’t miss the two AWACS. A lot of Pakis will be very sore over this.” He laughed excitedly and continued, “The funnier part is that we didn’t even hit  Masroor and Peshawar.”

“Americans did it?”

“Yeah and they have supposedly downed a few more in the air too. We haven’t received detailed information from them yet.”

“Don’t count on getting it anytime soon. Do we have any information or informed guesses of our own about that?”

“It is all so chaotic and there’s so much information from so many sources, We haven’t been able to process even the CartoSat data yet. So there may still be more to come. But we can assume atleast 8-14 more damaged or destroyed planes on ground, perhaps more when we analyse pictures of shelters that were hit. Some important radars and SAM systems were also targeted in a few locations like Sargodha. Someone here is going through latest RISAT (Radar Imaging Satellite) data for more details.“

Indian expertise is satellites is perhaps not as advanced as a few other countries like USA, Russia but it is fair to say that it is quite substantial. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had launched a number of dedicated spy satellites as well as those with dual use in the last few years. Real capabilities of many of these satellites are usually kept confidential but there are some sources which provide a glimpse into this secretive field. For example, CartoSat series of satellites is said to have an optical resolution of 80 cm, but some people believe it to be much higher. RISAT, another spy satellite which is listed as a  earth observation satellite for disaster management during floods, cyclones etc is actually a high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar technology based satellite which can see through to the ground in all kinds of weather conditions. 

Additionally, there are a handful of geo-stationary satellites meant for secure communications for each of three services and a few very specialised satellites like EMISAT which is used for space based electronic intelligence gathering. Services of these satellites are utilised by military as well as intelligence agencies and there are some deliberate ambiguities about their exact roles.

“Hmm. And most of these aircraft were either flying or were in open, right?

“Yes, I think that all aircraft apart from a few Mirage-III and F-16s were in flying condition. It’s not exactly a crippling blow, but it sure is very painful. With their economy, it’ll take them years to make up for the losses. Their F-16 fleet is not likely to get much support or spares from Americans for quite some time after this.”

“Let’s hope so. Send me the data after you finish. Dhumal sahib has called twice already.”

“I’ll send it In 40-45 minutes.”

Defence Review Blog

2nd June 2020, 23:00 Hours IST

Unprecedented joint operation by Indian and American forces 

More stunning details about the daring raid on Pakistani nuclear weapons storage site in Pano Aqil have started trickling in from various sources. Readers of this blog already know about the nuclear threat raised by a rogue Pakistani Major General Qasim Rizvi who was commanding officer in charge of the nuclear facility. He along with still unknown number of followers had taken control of the atleast 6 nuclear tipped Ghauri and 7-8 Nasr missiles with ranges 1200 km and 50-70 km respectively. The warheads on Ghauri used Uranium-235 and had a blast yield of around 35-50 KT, enough to destroy everything within a 2-2.5 km radius. Nasr warhead on the other hand is  meant for tactical uses in a battlefield against the advancing enemy columns. If successfully detonated, it’s Plutonium based warhead is claimed to have a yield between 0.5 to 5 kt with a destruction radius of a few 100 meters to 1 km.

Rizvi had demanded complete withdrawal of Indian forces from Jammu & Kashmir, removal American bases from Afghanistan and handing over control of the Pakistan to a small committee of people chosen by him. It is reported that Pakistani authorities had refused all offers of assistance by NATO and India and had even shot down an American drone sent in for reconnaissance. 

A joint raid was then executed by Indian and American units which then destroyed most of Pano Aqil’s military facilities. It’s being reported that Indian forces had fired 35-40 cruise missiles and sent a whole Jaguar squadron to pummel the base. Role played by US forces has not been disclosed yet. But some defence experts have speculated that one squadron each of F-16 and F-18 deployed in Afghanistan and Oman respectively could have been used along with support elements like AWACS, refuelers and Prowler EW aircraft along with some naval vessels. 

Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Sattar  dismissed most of these claims in a press conference in Islamabad claiming that Pakistani special forces had brought the whole situation under control long before the aforementioned raid happened. He further claimed that Pano Aqil had only four Nasr missiles of which only two were armed with nuclear warheads. He condemned the Indo-American joint operation calling it an assault on sovereignty of Pakistan and Islamic brotherhood. Twitter account of Pakistan armed forces published a picture of two Nasr launchers which they claimed were recovered from the Pano Aqil nuclear bunkers on 22nd August.

Few other defence analysts on Twitter including AlNihiro, BreadAamLatte and PennyDosa have claimed that Indian Air Force hit four other Pakistan Air Force bases in Sargodha, Sukkur, Peshawar and Chabbar. The exact damage to Pakistani defence infrastructure has not been confirmed by official resources, but Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) suggests that there have been considerable damage to Pakistani defence forces. Some local Pakistani accounts have uploaded pictures of what seems to be  wreckages of Chinese built Karakoram Eagle AWACS and of Chinese built JF-17 or American built F-16 mulit-role fighters. A lot of local news channels had reported sounds of loud explosions and fires in the four air bases mentioned but a PAF spokesman dismissed it as mere fiction.  

It’s being reported by many Pakistani news sources that most of the Pakistani internet and communications had stopped working a few hours after the release of video by General Rizvi. As the connectivity is being restored, more images and videos from ground zero are coming online confirming some of the claims made by above mentioned experts. 

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