An Indian Air Force review of the February 26 air strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist camp in Balakot confirms that while its bombs struck their targets accurately, the key Israeli air-to-surface missiles called the Crystal Maze, which would have provided a live video feed of the weapons hitting their targets, was not launched.
This video feed, which the IAF hoped to play out in public after the attack, would have been proof that the Indian fighters did strike and destroy targets within the Jaish terror base located near the town of Bisian, north of Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunwa province.
At the same time, the IAF's Mirage 2000 fighters, which made a shallow incursion across the Line of Control on February 26, did manage to launch five SPICE 2000 penetrator glide bombs, which accurately struck their targets, though they did not bring down the buildings they struck. The Spice 2000 bombs were aimed at "four targets, of which three were hit. One [was hit] with three [bombs] and the remaining two with one bomb each," said a source familiar with the operations that day.
However, unlike the Crystal Maze, which the IAF's pilots could not launch that day, the SPICE 2000 glide bombs were not configured to provide the launch aircraft a live video feed as they approached and struck their targets. Consequently, the IAF could not play out actual video of the strikes in public and had to rely, instead, on assessing the success of the operations through high-resolution satellite images procured from a friendly strategic partner. Confidentiality clauses have prevented the IAF from showcasing these images in public. It is unclear if additional non-classified, high-resolution satellite imagery of the strikes have been acquired and whether these will be showcased in public in the future.
Sources familiar with the IAF's attack on the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp have told NDTV that the presence of low clouds prevented the launch of six Crystal Maze missiles meant to accompany the SPICE 2000 glide-bombs. "The Crystal Maze were not launched as the missile works on the pilot flying the missile to the target. The weather conditions of undercast clouding precluded this." Once launched, "the Crystal Maze requires acquisition of [the] target visually by the pilot in the last phase of the attack." In other words, the weapon flies to its target based on pre-fed Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates but requires the pilot of the launching platform to manually steer it to its precise point of impact through an electronic data-link between the launch aircraft with the weapon.
The IAF planned to use the Crystal Maze in conjunction with the SPICE 2000 penetrator bombs. "The Crystal Maze [was meant to target the] top floor and the SPICE for the first and ground floors." Used together, the smart weapons were meant to comprehensively eliminate all the terrorists and bring down the entire structure.
The lack of video or photographic evidence has proven to be problematic for the Indian Air Force, particularly after satellite images of the Jaish camp released a day after the strikes appear to show intact structures with only a handful of signs of clear bomb damage.
According to Adrian Zevenbergen, the Managing Director of European Space Imaging, which released an image of the Jaish camp a day after the IAF's attack, "The image captured with Worldview-2 of the buildings in question shows no evidence of a bombing having occurred. There are no signs of scorching, no large distinguishable holes in the roofs of buildings and no signs of stress to the surrounding vegetation."
This account is disputed by the Indian Air Force, which insists that it struck its targets with the SPICE 2000 bombs it was able to launch. A handful of journalists, including this correspondent, have been shown at least one of the high-resolution monochrome images of the IAF's bomb hits on a structure to the north of the Jaish camp thought to be a hostel for terrorists who were being trained. This hostel was struck with three SPICE 2000 bombs which, according to Indian Air Force sources, "kills all soft skin targets by the blast over pressure wave within a confined room." Unlike the Crystal Maze missile which could not be fired that day, the SPICE 2000 penetrator is not designed to necessarily bring down the structures that it strikes.
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