Cold War Era

Hot Skies Over Afghanistan: That Time a Pakistani F-16 damaged a Soviet MiG-23 Attacking Targets over the Border between Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Pakistani F-16 pilot released two AIM-9L, rolled 135 degrees and left the fight ‘head over heels’ from within 1500 m of the attacked MiGs. One missile missed far aside, but the second Sidewinder exploded above Privalov’s aircraft, spreading fragments…

The following article was written by ‘Tom Cooper; Syed Shais Ali & Kheiro Hussein’ and originally appeared on website (check out Helion & Company website for books featuring interesting stories).

On Sep. 12 1988, 12 MiG-23MLD from 120th IAP took off to attack targets in the Kunar river valley to the east of Asadabad (the capital city of Kunar Province in Afghanistan, located in the eastern portion of the country adjacent to Pakistan). Having formed up over the reference point Lake Surubi, the group was directed to the border. Two covering pairs separated early: Lt. Col. Sergei Bunin and Maj. Nikolay Golosienko to a CAP above hills 50 km northwest of the attack zone, and Maj. Semyon Petkov and Sr.Lt. Vladimir Danchenkov 40 km to the south. 

Responding F-16s were immediately airborne: a pair of fighters led by Lt. Khallid Mahmood of PAF 14th squadron took off and followed a parallel course with the MiGs. In a few minutes they were informed from the ground that a new column of aircraft had appeared in the air – the strike force, in tight formation. It turned north over Kunar, flying at military power along the border

The cover fighters were sufficiently far that nothing prevented Khallid from joining the middle of the stretched-out target. Near to him appeared the MiG-23MLD (bort No. 55) of Capt. Sergei Privalov, the outer wingman of the second quad. Having crept within 13 km of him through a thick overcast, Khallid heard a tone from his RWR: a flight of MiGs, minutes away, was painting his side. 

This wasn’t in the Pakistani pilot’s plan. He pressed the attack in haste, released two AIM-9L, rolled 135 degrees and left the fight ‘head over heels’ from within 1500 m of the attacked MiGs. One missile missed far aside, but the second Sidewinder exploded above Privalov’s aircraft, spreading fragments. There was a strong impact, the pilot was deafened and his legs were knocked from the pedals. A large fragment passed through the cabin half a metre from his head, others slashed a flap and the left console and punctured a fuel tank

After the first shock, however, the pilot determined the plane wasn’t on fire and still responded to controls. 

Both covering pairs rushed to the point of the battle on afterburner. 

The Pakistanis were threatened – the range of the R-24R quite sufficed to intercept them before the border, a station on the ground even heard the exclamation ‘Give it to him!’ However it wasn’t possible to equalize the score – the control point hastily ordered all to leave, being afraid of combat in a distant location where the situation was not advantageous: the opponent could deploy new forces to action, and the MiGs had a small stock of fuel. Having jettisoned his bombs, Privalov headed for home, and the others pulled in behind him. Bunin and Golosienko also closed, and then the pair of F-16s appeared behind them again. 

Pakistanis pursued some distance, intending to shoot MiGs from behind, but they could not keep up: having positioned wings to maximum sweep, those on afterburner were already near the speed of sound (though with a centreline drop tank there was a restriction M=0.8). 

On the approach to Bagram the damaged MiG passed forward to be first. The stock of fuel on him was practically gone: by the flowmeter, the plane had already lost 1200 l kerosene. Leaving a wet streak on the concrete, the fighter rolled to a stop with the leak finishing right after engine shutdown – the tanks were empty. After landing his own jet Privalov got out of the plane and hurled his helmet about the apron: ‘Mother of them…! If I could still fly to the crosshairs! I had that reptile in sight!'”

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper is an Austrian aerial warfare analyst and historian. Following a career in the worldwide transportation business – during which he established a network of contacts in the Middle East and Africa – he moved into narrow-focus analysis and writing on small, little-known air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives. This has resulted in specialisation in Middle Eastern, African and Asian air forces. As well as authoring and co-authoring 560 books and over 1,000 articles, he has co-authored the Arab MiGs book series – a six-volume, in-depth analysis of the Arab air forces at war with Israel, in the 1955–73 period. Cooper has been working as editor of the five @War series since 2017.

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