It was in 2006, only the weeks before its retirement, the Indian Air force made public the existence of the MiG-25 with it. Shiv Aroor was the first journalist to visit Bareilly Airbase and to report about them.
These aircraft served for almost 25 years with IAF. During this period it acted as a ‘superspy’ in the sky for India. The Foxbat gave valuable intelligence about India’s hostile adversaries by its excellent reconnaissance capabilities. And most importantly except few top officials of IAF and the pilots who flew it, no one knew about its existence in India.
Apart from this, the MiG-25 has many records on its name. These are the fastest fighter jet in the world, the fighter with the highest service ceiling, and many more.
History of MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’-
MiG-25 was a Soviet aircraft. It was primarily an interceptor. In the 1960s and 70s, USSR was facing a major threat from the high flying US bombers. These used to fly so high that no ordinary interceptor could engage them. So the Soviets developed this MiG-25 to counter them. It took off for the first time in 1964.
Initially, they were under extreme secrecy. But in 1976, Viktor Blenko compromised its secrecy. With this, the MiG-25 was no more a secret to the world. Then the USSR made it available for export to friendly nations. It was such a notorious that NATO gave it the nickname ‘Foxbat’.
Service in the Indian Air Force-
IAF inducted MiG-25 in its fleet in 1981. India went for the MiG-25R. This was the reconnaissance version and not the interceptor or bomber version. It was totally unarmed. It didn’t have any modern countermeasures against SAMs (surface-to-air missiles). MiG-25R’s only defence was it’s speed and cruising altitude that no contemporary aircraft could match.
Why There Was The Need of MiG-25?
- These were required for strategic reconnaissance. In the 80s, satellite surveillance was much more a futuristic thing.
- The aerial platforms that were already present were vulnerable to enemy interception. Thus such a platform was needed which could not be countered by India’s both the adversaries.
IAF operated 10 MiG-25s. 8 were single seaters and 2 twin seaters.
They operated from the Bareilly Airbase in Uttar Pradesh. These were part of the 102 Trisonics squadron of IAF. These were primarily worked for the ARC (Aviation Research Centre), which is the premier technical (technological intelligence) arm of the R&AW. R&AW has the responsibility of collecting foreign intelligence and look after the borders of the country. Thus MiG-25 boosted R&AW’s technical capabilities to a large scale.
Specifications/ capabilities of MiG-25-
“From the height at which we fly, you can see the entire Himalayan range at one go. No aircraft has ever been able to achieve for us what the Foxbat has”-Wing Commander Sanjeev Taliyan
It was a Jumbo Jet in every parameter.
- Cruising Speed- 2.8 Mach / 3500 kmph
- Maximum speed- 3.2 Mach. This could beat a missile in a chase!
- Service ceiling (max. height)- 90000 ft / around 21 km– this is beyond the range of radars!
(with this height plane flies in the stratosphere of the earth !) An interesting fact- the service ceiling of F-16 is around 50000 ft and that of Mirage 2000 is around 60000 ft.
- Engines- twin Tumansky turbofan engines. A single long mission could consume 23000 liters of fuel!
- 1200 mm cameras- which could check on Pakistan while flying over Punjab and Kashmir only.
Due to such a massive capability, the MiG-25 was untraceable and indomitable. It flew unchallenged over the skies of Pakistan and Tibet from 1981 to 2006. Foxbat captured HD photographs of military establishments and radar images of their communication networks.
“It could map a country of the size of Pakistan in single digit number of sorties.”
Wing commander Alok Chauhan, the pilot of MiG-25
Retired Air Marshal Travor Usman who commanded the squadron in the 80s tells, “MiG-25 flew 20-25 sorties a month and most were across the borders.” This is enough to give a rough idea of what massive amount of intelligence the MiG-25s would have created for the Indian defence establishments.
Important missions/ achievements of MiG-25-
The MiG-25s operated under thick blanket of secrecy. This secrecy continues to prevail till date about its operations. Thus all the missions of Foxbat are not there in public domain officially. Still some achievements are there in public through sources and the pilots who actually flew it.
- Filming the solar eclipse from the stratosphere in 1995. This gave fantastic photographs of the solar eclipse which could not be otherwise captured from the earth’s surface.
- 1999 Kargil war– MiG-25 photographed the entire conflict zone along the LoC in three sorties. This gave our fighter jets the accurate positions held by the enemy. Thus it contributed immensely to the success of Op Safed Sagar. This operation was revealed recently by Wing Commander Pradeep Thakur in an interview with Shiv Aroor. (video is given below)
- In 1997, a MiG-25 created a sonic boom in the skies of Islamabad while retaining from a sortie. This created a serious panic in Pakistan. Some reports say that the IAF pilot did it deliberately to show Pakistanis how helpless they were in front of Foxbat.
Why MiG-25 Was Retired?
There is an interesting fact that the MiG-25s were retired while they were in good flying condition.
Following factors made it retire at that time-
- Availability of high resolution remote sensing Satellite– This eliminated the need to send an aircraft with a pilot deep into the enemy territory.
- Issue of maintenance- MiG-25 had gone under life extension program in 1995. It had undergone intense operations and extreme operating conditions. This caused much wear and tear.
- Availability of spares from Russia- Russians had stopped production of MiG-25 and their spare parts. They had also reportedly discarded the blue prints of the machine. Although IAF’s technicians and pilots had developed their own ‘jugads’ for maintenance, it was not economically viable to go ahead with it.
These superspies are now stationed at Delhi’s Palam museum for public display. However, the Foxbat archives, the operations of the MiG-25 remain enclosed in the secret files of the IAF. We can hope that in the coming years these glorious chapters of Indian aviation will be made public. Thus they will keep inspiring the upcoming generations of Indians and Indian aviators.