MiG 25R – Foxbat That Flew Over Islamabad Unchallenged

It is a story of MiG-25R of the Indian Air Force flew deep into Pakistani airspace on a reconnaissance mission, photographed sensitive defence sites and broke the sound barrier, sending a powerful sonic boom to Islamabad.

In the summer of May 1997, a MiG-25 of Indian Air Force entered Pakistani Airspace subsonically at around 65000 ft and photographed strategic installations near Islamabad. Then turned back towards India with the pilot accelerating up to Mach 2 and dropping a large sonic boom as he exited the airspace.

A number of Pakistan Air Force F-16A were scrambled but had insufficient time to make an effective intercept. 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. Chasing the Foxbat was pointless in fact there was no need to intercept an aircraft flying at 65,000 feet.

In Contrast, F-16 could climb to an altitude of only 50,000 feet.

Indian denied this incident but Pakistan's foreign minister Ayub Khan believed that the Foxbat photographed strategic locations in Islamabad.

But PAF had no aircraft in its inventory which could come close to the cruising height of MiG-25. Flying at the edge of the space, the aircraft was virtually undetectable to Pakistan's radar.

How it was different?

  • MiG-25R was considered as a gas guzzler. In its single mission, it would burn 23000 litres of fuel.
  • The MiG-25R has no defensive armament but it relies on its Mach 3 speed and its high operating ceiling to escape an enemy.
  • It could detect parked aircraft, trains and visualize the condition of bridges and similar structure.
  • Russians pushed the ceiling of the Foxbat to 123000 ft while Indian Air Force was able to push it up to 90000 ft.
  • The MiG-25 was fitted with powerful 1,200 mm cameras that captured photographs even as it flew thrice the speed of sound, at an altitude three times the height of Mount Everest.
  • Its cameras could check on Delhi without leaving Bareilly. This meant that if it flew over Punjab or Kashmir, it could easily check on Pakistan too.
  • Flying above 70,000 ft, the pilot had to don helmets like Russian cosmonauts and skin-tight inners.
  • This aircraft could map a country the size of Pakistan in a single-digit number of missions. (One lakh sq-km in four-five sorties).

The Indian Air Force had eight single-seat MiG-25R for high-speed reconnaissance, and two twin seat MiG-25U for the conversion training for the No. 102 Trisonics Squadron in Bareily.

Despite the fully loaded weight of 40 tonnes, it can fly 50 km per minute, faster than a bullet. At its fastest speed, it can zip faster than missiles. Built using nickel-steel and titanium in heat-critical areas.

Hence it held the world record for the highest altitude at which an aircraft could fly.

It was retired from the service in 2006. This aircraft was a direct competitor of SR-71 Blackbird of USAF.

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