1965 Pakistan-India War
During the 1965 War, PAF was forced to rely on its small force of F-104A Starfighters as high altitude interceptors and in its night fighting role, using the radar of its AN/ASG-14T1 fire-control system, in conjunction with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
After 1 September, the F-104s were extremely active in Air Defence and Air Superiority Operations, but of the 246 missions flown by F-104s during hostilities, 42 were at night against the IAF Canberras. The rudimentary fire-control radar met the Soviet high altitude bomber threat of the Cold War era for which it was designed but it could not illuminate small targets against ground clutter. The standard high speed intercept tactic employed by PAF’s F-104 pilots was to approach their targets from below, with a typical height differential of 2-3,000 feet, against a target they wished to acquire at a range of 10-15 kilomenters. This limitation was well known to the Canberra jet bomber pilots of IAF who attacked targets in Pakistan during the 1965 war. They adopted a standard hi-lo-hi profile to minimize the threat of interception. During most of their inbound and outbound flight over Pakistani territory the IAF Canberras would stay below about 1000 feet during their approach and exit phases. This posed a difficult night intercept problem. The PAF’s F-104s had in these circumstances to be used in an unconventional low-altitude intercept profile that severely challenged the capabilities of its airborne radar. To pick up the low flying bombers on their scope the F-104 pilots had to get down to about 300-500 feet above the ground to point their radars upward and clear of ground clutter at the enemy bombers. The problem was aggravated by the Canberra’s tail warning audio alarm that would go off the moment an F-104 got to a near astern position, and enable the bomber to take timely evasive action to shake off its pursuer.
The F-104s were highly dreaded by the Indian Air Force (IAF). On 3rd September, 1965, even before the War began, an Indian Gnat surrendered to an F-104 which forced it to land at the abandoned airfield of Pasrur (in Pakistan). Its pilot Squadron Leader Brijpal Singh Sikand became a POW.
On 6 September, two Starfighters were sent on dawn patrol from Sargodha. They were vectored by Sakesar Radar towards 4 IAF Mysteres engaged in bomb and rocket attacks against a stationary passenger train at Gakkhar railway station. One of the F-104 pilots was forced to return to base with a radio failure but the other pilot, Flight Lieutenant Aftab Alam Khan dived his F-104 with full after burners, going supersonically through the Mysteres formation which promptly scattered. The Indian aircraft tried to escape at about 50 feet above the ground but they were no match for the Starfighter. Aftab destroyed one Mysteres with his Sidewinder missile thus achieving one of the world’s first air victories by a mach 2 combat aircraft.
The other F-104 pilot, Flight Lieutenant Amjad Khan, who had missed his chance the previous day, made amends on 7 September. He was scrambled in an F-104 at about 05:15 hours and directed by Sakesar radar towards an incoming raid at Sargodha. He made visual contact with the IAF Mysteres and headed towards them. By the time he caught up with them, the Indian aircraft were 6-8 miles away from Sargodha, flying at 150-200 feet on a south-easterly heading towards India. As the Mysteres jettisoned their drop tanks, Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain positioned himself behind one of them and released a GAR-8 missile, which went straight into the ground. The Mystere then began to dogfight with the Starfighter, which used its superior climb and acceleration to lift the combat from ground level to about 7,000 feet to gain room for manoeuvre. Hussain fired his cannons and was delighted to see the shell hit the Mystere. The Mystere pilot showed commendable courage in staying with the F-104, and despite being mortally wounded, scored several cannon strikes on the Starfighter. Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain managed to eject safely and reached his Base. This was the first and only Starfighter to be lost through enemy action in the 1965 war. The Indian pilot Squadron Leader A.B. Devayya was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra in 1988, twenty three years after the war, when Indian authorities learnt of the IAF pilot’s valour through an account of the encounter published in John Fricker’s book Battle for Pakistan, published in 1978.
On 21 September, Squadron Leader Jamal A Khan, intercepted an Indian Air Force Canberra at about 33,000 feet and shot it down with a Sidewinder near Fazilka, inside Pakistani territory. The bomber’s pilot, Flight Lieutenant Manmohan Lowe ejected and was made POW while its navigator, Flying Officer A K Kapor could not bail out and was killed in action. The British made Canberra, unlike its American counterpart the Martin B-57, had no ejection seat for the navigator. This was the first kill achieved by an F-104 at night after a number of near misses due to factors described earlier.F-104s were also used during 1965 for low level, daylight reconnaissance missions over the IAF air bases. The speed of the Starfighter gave the Indians no time to react. The F-104s were also employed as escorts for the slow Lockheed RT-33 reconnaissance fighters on photographic missions deep into Indian territory, the presence of Starfighters virtually guaranteeing that no air opposition would be encountered. Six F-104 pilots received gallantry awards during the 1965 War.