The MiG-25 Foxbat is a supersonic interceptor and recce aircraft that was among the fastest military aircraft to enter service. It was designed by the Soviet Union’s Mikoyan-Gurevich bureau. It is one of the few combat aircrafts which was built primarily using stainless steel. It first flew in 1964 and subsequently entered service in 1970.
Being an interceptor aircraft itself, it flew so high and so fast that it was hard to intercept this aircraft even by the fighters. A total of 1,190 of these mighty machines were built between 1964 to 1984.
In May 1997 a MiG-25R aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) flew deep into Pakistani airspace on a reconnaissance mission, photographed sensitive defense sites and broke the sound barrier, sending a powerful sonic boom over Islamabad. Before the Pakistanis could figure out what had hit them or scramble their fighter aircraft, the intruding MiG-25 – codenamed Foxbat by NATO – was back in Indian airspace.
Details of the missions are classified, so it remains a mystery why the Indian pilot chose to reveal his presence over a heavily populated area of Pakistan.
“The aircraft entered Pakistani airspace subsonically (below the speed of sound) at around 65,000 ft and was undetected,” says Spyflight. “Then having overflown and photographed strategic installations near the capital, Islamabad, the aircraft turned back towards India. Perhaps to rub the Pakistanis’ noses in it, the Foxbat pilot decided to accelerate up to Mach 2 and dropped a large sonic boom as he exited Pakistani airspace. A number of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16As were scrambled, but had insufficient time to make an effective intercept.”
India denied the incident but Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Gohar Ayub Khan, believed that the Foxbat photographed strategic installations near Islamabad. Air Power International says the Pakistan government considered the breaking of the sound barrier as deliberate: to make the point that the PAF had no aircraft in its inventory which could come close to the cruising height of the MiG-25.
Flying at speeds approaching Mach 3 – 3700 kph – at altitudes ranging from 65,000 to 90,000 ft, the MiG-25s flew faster and higher than anything the enemy had. Flying at the edge of space, the aircraft was virtually undetectable to Pakistan’s radar network. 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.
But chasing the Foxbat was pointless. Sources in the PAF told Air Power International there was no need to intercept an aircraft flying at 65,000 feet as the F-16 could climb to an altitude of only 50,000 feet.
For a 25 year period that stretched from 1981 to 2006, eight MiG-25s of the Trisonics squadron based in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, flew unchallenged over Pakistan (and sometimes Tibet), taking countless high definition photographs and radar images of the situation on the ground. Plus, they recorded electronic emissions from Pakistani and Chinese military communication networks. On an average they flew 10-15 missions a month.