Jet That Buzzed Pakistan - Cracking The Foxbat


On a secret mission in 1997 a MiG-25 entered Pakistani airspace subsonically at around 65,000 ft and photographed strategic installations near Islamabad. It then turned back towards India with the pilot accelerating up to Mach 2 and dropping a large sonic boom as he exited Pakistani airspace.


In May 1997 a MiG-25R aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) flew deep into Pakistani airspace on a reconnaissance mission, photographed sensitive defense sites and broke the sound barrier, sending a powerful sonic boom over Islamabad. Before the Pakistanis could figure out what had hit them or scramble their fighter aircraft, the intruding MiG-25 – codenamed Foxbat by NATO – was back in Indian airspace.


MiG - 25
MiG - 25 - NATO Codenamed - Foxbat


Details of the missions are classified, so it remains a mystery why the Indian pilot chose to reveal his presence over a heavily populated area of Pakistan. Some sources like Spyflight, a website dedicated to reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, have speculated that the MiG-25 pilot wanted to show that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was India’s bunny.


“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.”


India denied the incident but Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Gohar Ayub Khan, believed that the Foxbat photographed strategic installations near Islamabad. Air Power International says the Pakistan government considered the breaking of the sound barrier as deliberate: to make the point that the PAF had no aircraft in its inventory which could come close to the cruising height of the MiG-25.



Flying at speeds approaching Mach 3 – 3700 kph – at altitudes ranging from 65,000 to 90,000 ft, the MiG-25s flew faster and higher than anything the enemy had. Flying at the edge of space, the aircraft was virtually undetectable to Pakistan’s radar network. Only the sonic boom and the fact that it was flying at an unusually low level allowed a Pakistani forward operating base to trace the Foxbat and scramble a couple of F-16As from Sargodha air base.


But chasing the Foxbat was pointless. Sources in the PAF told Air Power International there was no need to intercept an aircraft flying at 65,000 feet as the F-16 could climb to an altitude of only 50,000 feet.


Peering across the border


For a 25 year period that stretched from 1981 to 2006, eight MiG-25s of the Trisonics squadron based in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, flew unchallenged over Pakistan (and sometimes Tibet), taking countless high definition photographs and radar images of the situation on the ground. Plus, they recorded electronic emissions from Pakistani and Chinese military communication networks. On an average they flew 10-15 missions a month.




The MiG-25 was Russia’s secret weapon against American bombers and therefore was not supplied to even its closest Warsaw Pact allies. However, the defection of the traitor Viktor Belenko in 1976 compromised secrecy and it became available for export. Aviation expert Shiv Aroor quotes former IAF Chief Idris Latif: “I was shocked and delighted to learn that the Soviets were actually offering MiG-25 Foxbats to us in 1980. I phoned up Mrs (Indira) Gandhi and she told me to go ahead and make a decision….The Foxbat was the best in the world and it was made available to us.”


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