DK Patnaik was a Squadron Leader who wrote a new chapter in the history of air warfare 17 years ago. In the Kargil War, he dropped laser-guided bombs on targets at an altitude of more than 17,400 feet above sea level. In doing so, they demolished the Pakistani post atop Tiger Hill, a post of extreme strategic value because it gave Pakistani gunners a perfect view of the town of Drass and National Highway 1A, the lifeline between Srinagar and Leh.
On June 17, 1999, at the height of the Kargil operations, Patnaik was among the first pilots to spot and attack the key Pakistani outpost at Muntho Dhalo, the main Pakistani administrative and logistics base set up on encroached Indian territory in the Batalik sector in Ladakh; it was this nerve centre that fuelled the entire Pakistani war effort during Kargil.
Using steep dive attacks in conjunction with the Mirage 2000’s computer assisted weapons-aiming capability, the pin-point attacks from officers like Squadron Leader Patnaik destroyed the life-sustaining infrastructure of the Pakistan Army’s war machinery.
Now, both Tokekar and Patnaik are changed men – the former a senior Group Captain, the latter an Air Vice Marshal, both war veterans recognised for their bravery in operations in 1999. They tell me just how tough Kargil was at times. Being shot down by Pakistani soldiers armed with US-made shoulder-mounted Stinger surface-to-air missiles was a constant threat.
Air Marshal Patnaik was also present to share his experiences. The biggest worry was ensuring against injuring Indian soldiers in friendly fire, a distinct possibility given how close troops on the ground were to Pakistani positions that were being bombed by the Air Force. According to Patnaik, “Any miss would mean hitting your own troops which would be inviolate. Secondly, the Line Of Control was just 6 km north of this [from where the IAF was operating]. We had our instructions not to cross the LoC.”
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