Exercise ‘High Mark – 89′ and ‘Zarb-e-Momin’

Exercise High Mark-89 was held from 14 November to 23 December 1989. The aim of this exercise was to create a realistic operational environment for the full range of air operations and to employ all participating units in their war roles and to identify weaknesses affecting mission accomplishment. With the overall deployment in mind, the exercise was structured in a manner which ensured that besides achieving the desired aim, maximum air support was made available to the Pakistan Army’s major exercise, ‘Zarb-e-Momin’.

The exercise was conducted on a two-force concept. The AOC, NAC commanded Blueland Air Force (BAF) from his battle headquarters located at Chaklala, while the AOC, CAC commanded Foxland Air Force (FAF) from his battle headquarters at Sargodha. The exercise was conducted in three stages. Counter Air Operations (CAO) including DACT were designated as Stage-I, weapons delivery as Stage-II, and land support operations as Stage-III. The respective force commanders were given the freedom to plan and exercise their allocated assets in Stage-I and Stage-III of the exercise. Stage-II was controlled from the Command Operations Center (COC). The overall battle scenario was portrayed as that of Exercise Zarb-e-Momin and accordingly the air assets were divided to suit the requirements of the exercise.

The exercise commenced with the declaration of Phase -I on 14 November 1989. Phase-II was declared in 22 November 1989. The movement of squadrons took place according to the schedule. A total of 1,083 fighter sorties were flown during the deployment and Phase-II operations. Phase-III was declared on 30 November 1989. The phase lasted till 22 December when the exercise was concluded and unit re-deployed to their peacetime locations. A total of 5, 236 sorties were flown by both the air forces (BAF and FAF).

Conduct of Operations

The counter air operations phase was spread over five days. During the first two days, the BAF was largely on the defensive. The next two days, the FAF was on the defensive and on the fifth day, both attacked each others VPs and defended their own. An important feature of CAO was the employment of electronic warfare assets. This was first exercise where Falcon DA-20 along with ESM and ECM equipment was used. The major lesson was that EW equipment required frequent testing and also that its operational employment was required to be integrated with the overall air plan.

At the end of the CAO phase, with a day’s gap for change of configuration, three days were devoted to DACT, which was controlled by the COC. Over 800 sorties were planned but only half of them could be achieved due to bad weather. A night ground defence exercise was conducted at Sargodha. A group of 105 SSG troops and 14 PAF commandos raided the base defended by 842 personnel, consisting of GCs. Provost, MODC, and technicians. A RRR exercise was carried out at Rafiqui. This exercise pointed out to some deficiencies in the equipment, material, and more importantly trained manpower. Balloon barrages were deployed at Sargodha and Rafiqui without encountering any difficulty.

The Contribution of the PAF in Zarb-e-Momin

It was during the exercise Zarb-e-Momin-89 that the Air-Land warfare concept was tried out for the first time on a very large scale. Plans were integrated at both the headquarters and field formations level. The Northern Air Command (NAC) and corresponding Corps (8B and 18B) interacted in order to understand each other’s requirements at the strategic and tactical levels before finalizing the air support plans.

The BAF headquarters at COC Chaklala operated from four airfields. Air Defence radar assets were allocated under the control of Northsec at ADOC Chaklala, working under the overall command of AOC NAC. At the conceptual stage, it was agreed by the BAF and Blue Army (BA) Commanders that air support for land operations should be provided only at the crucial stages of land battle, such as, in riposte. As the BA plans crystallized for such a riposte, the BAF organized its air defence radar coverage to provide surveillance over the BA assembly areas and subsequent battle-zones.

The BAF fighters provided air cover over the assembly areas to obtain a favourable air situation from R+3 onwards. Photo reconnaissance missions to collect information on the enemy disposition were flown earlier. From ‘R’ Day the air action started at full scale. BA’s surge requirement, contrary to the earlier plans, changed considerably from R+1/R+2 onwards. Therefore, BAF operations were stretched over eleven days, providing a high sortie rate. Despite some difficulties and persistantly bad weather during the earlier hours of the day, the BAF achieved 962 sorties of air support in all forms against a planned target of 1,324 sorties.

Air defence operations in Zarb-e-Momin provided for the first time an insight into the problems of providing air cover to a moving battlefield. BAF demonstrated practically that the ADGE could be kept in step with the changing bomb-line through redeployment of radars in the combat zone. Before the commencement of Zarb-e-Momin, the BAF ADGE was shifted and radar units were redeployed in order to illuminate the entire land battle area in accordance with the battle plans of Blue Army. These deployments were coordinated with the Army’s advance. Radar redeployments were carried out with the progress of the land battle. A total of 221 sorties were flown by the BAF, intercepting 420 FAF aircraft. The FAF generated 354 raids, of which 207 were intercepted.

Large-scale and moving air space management in these integrated Army/Air Force operations was undertaken for the first time. A total of 1,384 Army Aviation aircraft were handled. The existing concept was largely validated. However, some difficulties were faced concerning the indiscriminate use of the radar facility by the operators, radio discipline, etc. Besides, it was realized that there should be an efficient control at the CRC to monitor the activities of the Army Aviation aircraft.


The BAF planned a total of 124 sorties of interdiction and achieved 117 sorties. These included deep interdiction of enemy bridges, with F-16s carrying LGB/ATLIS. The PAF umpires repeatedly awarded destruction of bridges from R-3 onwards, but the Army Control Headquarters withheld the award to suit the battle design. Night interdiction was conducted by Mirages.

Of the 563 sorties planned for the armed reconnaissance, 299 sorties were achieved. Those were pre-planned against expected targets indicated by the Army intelligence and against targets of opportunity in specified areas or line features such as communications arteries. The efficacy of Battlefield Air Interdiction (BAI) is entirely dependent on acquiring advance knowledge of target systems, their location, and type. This is one area that should have received greater attention.

Close Support

Out of 412 sorties planned for close support, 324 sorties were achieved. Post-exercise analysis revealed certain problems related to poor radio contact with the FACs, non-availability of updated maps, navigation problems related to the improper selection of Contact Point (CP), and lastly, delays in mission tasking, leaving insufficient time for mission planning.

Tactical Air Transport Support Tactical Air Transport Support was provided to the Army for para-drops and air supply. A total of eleven C-130 sorties were provided. These missions involved detailed coordination of Director Air Transport (DAT), Tactical Air Support Center (TASC) and Special Services Group (SSG). All the missions were flown successfully.

Photo Reconnaissance

The Photo-Reconnaissance activity was directly controlled by the COC. A total of three LORAP sorties were tasked, out of which two were flown to obtain enemy field deployment intelligence prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Seven Panoramic photo missions were planned and six achieved during the operations.

Claims/Awards, Stage-III

During this stage, 796 ground attack claims were made of which 761 were awarded, giving a success rate of 95%. Targets included bridges, tanks, armoured vehicles, transports/convoys, troop concentrations, logistic installations, railway stations, trains, rail/road junctions, landing pads/airfields, aircraft on the ground, and radar sites. Cumulative air-to-air missions amounted to 535 enemy aircraft. Against those, 515 kills and 24 damages were awarded.

Lessons Derived

Exercise ‘Zarb-e-Momin – 1989′ provided a rare oppertunity for the PAF to participate in a field exercise involving an Army field headquarters consisting of multiple corps. Active involvement of the PAF and the Pakistan Army formations in strategic and tactical planning was very productive in creating a mutual understanding of each other’s capabilities, limitations, and concepts.

An important lesson of this exercise was that the requirement of planning and committing air effort in support of Army operations is a task fraught with complications. The planned commitment of air support becomes totally irrelevant to the actual requirements during operations as the battle unfolds. However, the close-support procedures, integration of Army Air Defence assets with the PAF, and tactical reconnaissance with real time information on targets, emerged as the issues that needed to be tackled at the inter-Services level. Since then a lot of water has flown under the bridge!