July 3, 1999 (by Lieven Dewitte) - In order to respond to any Indian misadventure across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, F-16 multi-role fighter jets of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) have been sent to Skardu deep in the Northern Areas of Pakistan and close to the ongoing battle between Kashmiri Mujahideen freedom fighters and Indian Army occupation forces in the Kargil sector as well as skirmishes between Pakistan Army troops and Indian Army troops on the LoC in the Drass-Kargil-Batalik sectors, PAF sources have disclosed to PIADS.
This is the first time that fighter-jet aircraft have been deployed in the narrow Skardu Valley and the furthest north PAF
combat jets have ever been deployed. Skardu is not an air base of the PAF. It is an airfield used by the PAF to supply the Pakistan
Army with logistic support and only heavy C-130 Hercules transport aircraft are used for this purpose. In addition Skardu is used by the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps to base its MFI-17 Mushshak light observation and recconnaissance aircraft. Skardu is also on the domestic map of the national airline, PIA, which has daily Boeing 737 and Fokker F-27 flights from Islamabad International Airport.
The deployment of F-16s in Skardu is also significant because it places the PAF closer to the LoC in the Kargil sector than the Indian Air Force. Skardu is closer to the LoC in the Kargil sector as well as the town of Kargil than Srinagar, which is the main IAF base in Kashmir.
According to PAF sources, PAF F-16s can scramble and reach the LoC, 100 kilometres away, in less than 2 minutes from the operational readiness platform at Skardu airfield.
In addition, F-16s from PAF's main air bases, further in the southwest, are carrying 24 hours round-the-clock combat air patrols (CAPs) over Pakistan's Northern Areas and keeping a watchful eye on the airspace over the LoC. These aircraft are fitted with sophisticated radar, missiles and guns.
According to PAF sources, by moving F-16s to the Kashmir frontline, Pakistan has conveyed a message to the enemy, that she will not tolerate any violation of her airspace nor any attack across the LoC either by the Indian Army or the Indian Air Force. According to some analysts, India may airdrop paratroopers in the Deosai area in case of a war. But by moving F-16s to Skardu, India will think ten times before considering such an option.
Advanced radar systems have been installed in the Deosai Plains area to keep a round-the-clock vigil on the movements of the Indian Air Force. According to sources, the radar system will be able to notice movements of Indian Air Force for a distance of 400 kilometres deep inside Indian-occupied Kashmir right up to Srinigar.
The Pakistan Army has also deployed high-altititude surface-to-air missile (SAM
) systems along the length and breadth of the LOC.
The Pakistan Air Force was put on 'red alert' on 15 June 1999