Republic TV has accessed full and exclusive details of the Indian Air Force's (IAF's) massive pre-dawn operation on Tuesday in which an estimated 245 Pakistani terrorist foot-soldiers and handlers have been neutralised in three locations across the LoC.
The details accessed by Republic TV, apart from shedding enormous light on the operation itself, confirm that planning had begun in the immediate aftermath of the Jaish-e-Mohammed-perpetrated terror attack on the CRPF in which 40 Jawans were martyred, vindicating the government's position, voiced by PM Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, that the forces had been given a free hand to avenge the dastardly attack.
February 14: A Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide bomber targeted a CRPF convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar highway at Pulwama. 40 CRPF Jawans were martyred in the attack - the worst terror attack on the forces in decades.
February 15 - Conceiving the operation: With the Prime Minister assuring the nation that the forces had been given free rein to avenge the attack, all three Armed Forces chiefs along with the IDF (Integrated Defence Staff) chief presented their military options to the Prime Minister and the National Security Advisor (NSA) to target terror bases in Pakistan. The NSA had given instructions that the target should only be terror bases - training facilities or launchpads - and not Pakistani military bases.
February 16 - Narrowing down the mode of the strike: After the respective presentations of the options at hand, some of them, including one entailing a bigger surgical strike and capture of Pakistani posts, were ruled out for various reasons. The Army was, however, tasked with keeping Pakistan engaged in heavy shelling, the Navy was tasked with deploying submarines closer to Karachi and Gwadar in order to create a maritime attack decoy.
The Indian Air Force was tasked with carrying out the strike. The IAF's DG Air Ops (Offensive) sought 10 days time to prepare precision strikes. NSA Ajit Doval granted the time with the instruction that there be no collateral damage to men or aircraft.
(Identifying the mode of insertion) The point of insertion of the IAF was identified as Muzaffrabad, on account of Pakistan's low air defence capabilities in the sector. IAF DG Air Ops instructed that the fighters not go too deep into Pakistani airspace - not more than 10-15 miles - in order to comply with instructions from the PM and NSA about avoiding any collateral damage.
(Drone deployment, on-ground intelligence and Vayushakti exercise) On the same day, Army and IAF drones were deployed to check Pakistan's radar capability and deployment. However, with drones not giving the desired results, R&AW's ground intelligence from Pakistan proved very effective.
IAF's Vayushakti exercise in Pokhran was quickly modified to check Pakistan's radar capabilities as well. It was found that the Pak radars were extremely sensitive during the exercise, especially focusing on the IAF bases near the LoC and International Border. Hence, Gwalior was chosen as the base to launch the air strikes.
Accordingly, IL-78 air refuelling tanker was readied in Agra, AEW-145 airborne radar was readied at Bhatinda airbase and SU-30s were readied from Sirsa airbase for immediate defence and to tackle Pakistan in case the IAF Mirage 2000s were engaged.
February 18: Military advisor to the NSA, IB Chief and R&AW chief gave 5 target options to the IAF, of which three were chosen considering the operational aspects.
February 19 - Operational clearance received: The IAF received detailed and exact operational clearance, approved by the PM and NSA. Instructions to the IAF were clear:
Locations chosen: Joint training camps of the JeM, LeT and HM in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakothi
Time chosen: Between 0300 and 0330 hours - a window of least resistance from the Pakistani Air Force. The IAF planned to not be in Pakistani airspace for more than 20 minutes considering Pakistan's reaction time. The mission was completed in just 17 minutes.
The following Aircraft, services and systems were deployed:
The operation was conducted by Central and Western Air Command and monitored by Air HQ in New Delhi through IACCS - Integrated Air Command and Control System. The IAF fighters didn't go more than 10 miles into Pak airspace.
Preparedness ahead: The IAF is currently at the highest level of defensive and offensive preparedness.