Asubaltern was once publically advised by his senior gunner, “If you want to be safe from friendly artillery fire… be in the target area”. By virtue of this insight, that young gunner survived all blue-on-blues and finally went tangent to the arm of artillery in March 1989, becoming a proud Air Defender. His pride was, however, soon challenged by Air Defence Practice Fire; a recurring event which brutally puts every participating air defender in his place. This gentleman also faced a rude awakening despite that he had permanently averted the possibility of falling victim to friendly (air defence) fire, he couldn’t find a way to stand the anguish of his own gun’s flamboyant astray fire. The dilemma was that if he somehow managed to ignore, none around him ever did. This is because wrath of ‘experienced air defenders’ (not conducting fire themselves) is the very ingredient of soil at all types of firing ranges. Today’s scribble reveals the experience of that air defender who played debut visitor to a firing range.
This memorable voyage kickstarted when I received the orders to proceed to Exercise Al-Bayza. I merrily dashed to the take off point of my flying carpet which awaited me to physically give wings to my earnest desire of reaching the rendezvous for Al-Bayza. Painted dull green, shrouded in morning haze the aristocratic Army Aviation Écureuil presented a mesmerizing view on a faintly lit morning. Take off occurred around mid-day when I thought that the morning haze had lifted. Little did I know that it had merely gone up to greet us a few hundred feet above ground at the height we had to fly. Despite that, the glass body enabled us a good panoramic view of what was beneath us, almost nothing could be seen in the front. Inside the comfy warm cabin, goosebumps rattled my calm when I overheard the co-pilot cautiously revealing the visibility issue to senior pilot over the headphones without realizing that this innocent piece of information could also be heard by the crippled passengers in the rear seats – crippled because one doesn’t even have the liberty to bail out on his own from a helicopter. The senior pilot, however, plainly indicated a far off river-bend to him and claimed the possession of fog lights in his vision. The fact was that the senior pilot had been away from his home in Karachi since over a fortnight due to which more than the machine’s horsepower, it was his strong will which made the heli fly in dense fog. Never had I ever recited Dua-e-Safar so convincingly. Thanks to Allah Almighty who granted my wish by making the pilots use the already installed Global Positioning System (GPS) in the machine while the fog lights remained our last card to use and we sailed smoothly to the point of intended arrival, intact.
Flying across the stretch of almost the entire length of Pakistan, I actually witnessed the earth beneath me changing dress from green to khaki while I reached the former capital on the same day, hale and hearty. The next day, I reached the rendezvous for Al-Bayza which was in full swing like an old fashioned bride with all available cosmetics put on display. A bird’s eye view of the area captured several wind socks amongst the dancing bushes, metalled tracks with military police, multi-coloured flags erected here and there, and finally varying caliber sharp shooters proudly deployed in an orderly manner. The diversity of air defence throbbed at its peak over the entire range with a vast array of in-service air defence weapons. A little away, giant infant of the arm magnificently stood tall amongst all – the long range air defence weapon system LY-80.
Moments before arrival of chief guest – none other than Chief of the Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa accompanied by Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan – the air stirred by the annoying noise of target drone. Its architects seem to have built it with intentional annoying buzz with a view to wake professional beast in the men behind the gun. Well, their mission has been accomplished befittingly. Prior to the experienced barrels turning hot, LY-80 was brought forward to prove its might to the predecessors. This moment marked the first ever fire of LY-80 in Pakistan by the crew of Pakistan Army Air Defence. Curiosity and anxiety prevailed in the visitor’s stand with almost everyone pushed to the front of their seats. A far off flying target, brought to the view of spectators by virtue of technology, had all eyes on it. Suddenly the upright shining knight attired in metallic silver shattered the quiet environment leaping forth to devour its hunt. A fireball visible to naked eye marked the eureka moment for LY-80 detachment, setting remaining weapons in motion to do justice to their targets. Order for ‘safe to shoot’ went halfway in the air when targets kept melting into humid air with spectators appreciating without lapse. I overheard a proud air defender saying, “We, the air defenders, don’t need to explain the results”. To my understanding, these remarks best explained the Al-Bayza – results were in black or white with nothing grey in between.
Then came in the most valuable appreciation of Chief of the Army Staff and Chief of the Air Staff who showed complete satisfaction and appreciation on acquisition of enhanced air defence capabilities by Pakistan. Chief of the Army Staff mildly unveiled the hand in glove relation of Army Air Defence with our elite sister arm, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) by saying, “LY-80 has greatly enhanced air defence capability of Army Air Defence while strengthening it at national level along with PAF, the overall custodian of the defence of Pakistan air space.” The same was pleasantly acknowledged by Chief of the Air Staff who congratulated Pakistan Army for induction of LY-80 that has reinforced Pakistan’s overall air defence capability indicating “Together we defend the frontiers of Pakistan”.
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