Day 2. 03:55 Hours
A flight of eight maritime Jaguars belonging to No. 6 Squadron “Dragons” had taken off from Jamnagar around an hour back and were flying westwards over the blue waves barely 50 meters below them. Pilots of these aircraft had trained to fly over land too at a similar height, doing so over the water was almost easy in comparison. Although recent upgrades had made the job much easier, they couldn’t afford to make any mistakes or fly higher for that matter. Their targets, two PLAN ships berthed at Gwadar had left the safety net of shore and were fast approaching the safety bubble of a larger Chinese fleet. Jaguars had to make their move in between, just at the right time
“Shikra flight, enemy targets are at bearing Two-Four-Four of you and moving at 14 knots. Change your bearing to Two-Five-Two at waypoint Delta.” The Voice of the mission controller somewhere in Gujarat was calm and all business-like.
The Jaguars were carrying two Harpoon anti-ship missiles each along with one centerline fuel tank. They were capable of carrying AA missiles for self-defence, but not on this mission. Harpoon and Sea Eagle were different categories of missiles than Brahmos. Older, lighter, smaller and slower than Brahmos, they still had their strengths and uses. Harpoon for example could carry a 525 kg warhead to 280 km and had pretty strong anti-jamming capabilities. Multiple upgrades over the years had kept the missile fairly lethal even with advances in anti-missile capabilities. A smaller and lighter version of Brahmos for Jaguar sized aircraft was under development, but it was still some time away from production and induction.
MC spoke again, “You’re about to reach the radar detection range of Weasel 1. Split up and accelerate to launch altitude.”
The eight aircraft split into two formations of four each as they increased their speed and reached the launch altitude. Their Radar Warning Receiver started beeping urgently informing them that they were being acquired by enemy radar. A few seconds later, the second ship had acquired them in its long range radar too. Luckily for pilots, neither of the ships had the range to hit them at the distance.
“Juliets from the enemy carrier group heading your way.” MC spoke and after a pause spoke again, “You’re weapons free. Fire at will!”.
The target coordinates were programmed into missiles and updated a few seconds before the launch. Although the Jaguars could’ve launched them from 280 km away, they had to come closer to have a better chance of successful terminal lock. All sixteen Harpoons left their pylons smoothly and started racing towards the two ships. The pilots watched the missiles fly away for a second and then turned sharply to go back home. Flying at a speed of Mach 0.85 and 8-10 meters above the sea, Harpoons quickly acquired their targets and homed on in.
Both PLAAN ships turned on their electronic countermeasures and launched chaff to confuse the missile and to lead them away. A swarm of HHQ-9 and HQ-16 SAMs managed to shoot down all of them except one which hit the bridge of Zibo destroyer. The debris rained down on the rest of the ship and water around it. Although it didn’t sink and propulsion systems continued to work, there were dozens of casualties including its commanding officer and everyone on the bridge.
“Complete surprise, close range, yet only one out of 16 Harpoons managed to score a hit. Interesting lesson learnt.”, MC thought soberly.