Forty years ago, on August 25, 1981, Indian Air Force’s, then latest acquisition, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25, rechristened as Garuda, flew its first sortie. The pilots in this flight were the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Idris Hassan Latif and Wing Commander (later Group Captain) Apram Jeet Singh, the First Commanding Officer of the then newly raised 102 Squadron, The Trisonics. This is one of the fastest and highest-flying military aircraft ever manufactured.
A total of 10 such aircraft, including 8 MiG-25R Single-Seat High-Altitude Supersonic Reconnaissance Jets and 2 MiG-25U Twin-Seater Conversion Trainer Jets, were procured from the then USSR. That was an era when the remote sensing satellite technology was in its nascent stage in India, and thus specialized spy aircraft acted as the eyes of the national defence establishment.
Prior to the acquisition of MiG-25, the reconnaissance variant of the English Electric Canberra Bomber performed this role. This role required flying deep into the enemy airspace and taking pictures of its military and strategic assets. However the proliferation of advanced air defence radars and surface to air guided weapons in India’s neighborhood, made the Canberras vulnerable.
Thus the need emerged for an aircraft which could carry out this mission immune to the advanced air defence capabilities of our neighbours. And this led to the acquisition of the legendary MiG-25, (NATO codename Foxbat).
This aircraft, which didn’t carry any armaments, had an operational ceiling of more than 70,000 feet above mean sea level and the ability to fly at speed of up to Mach 3. And it was these characteristics which provided Defence against enemy combat aircraft and surface to air missiles. Behind the design and development of this iconic jet lies an interesting story.