The Trisonics of Stratosphere: IAF MiG-25

Indian Air Force were one of few forces around world to operate MiG-25 Foxbat since 80s under Squadron no.102 “Trisonics”, IAF flew these beasts between 20-25 sorties a month, most across the border by total 42 pilots since its induction to the service.

Not to mention the famous sound barrier breaking tasks IAF did over Islamabad alarming them several times. IAF operated six MiG-25RBKs and two MiG-25RUs in total from 1981 to 2006.

With peak operational speed of 2.83 mach these high altitude interceptor and surveillance aircraft pushed the ceiling of their working realm at 1,23,000 ft in Soviet era, while the Indian Air Force operated them at 80,000 – 90,000 ft ceiling. It was considered a gas gluttony bird. Its twin Tumansky turbofan engine would burn 23,000 litres of fuel in long run of single sortie effectively.

Flying above 70,000 ft, the pilots of Foxbat had to don helmets like Russian space cosmonauts and skin-tight inners within flight G-suits to help them with stratospheric pressure and low oxygen level during supersonic speed.

In its era, it was only a direct competitor of USAF SR-71 Blackbird until the arrival of its successor MiG31 Foxhound, which was later on replaced by satellites and high-endurance UAVs which provide better ISR capabilities.


On a secret mission in 1997 a MiG-25 entered Pakistani airspace subsonically at around 65,000 ft and photographed strategic installations near Islamabad. It then turned back towards India with the pilot accelerating up to Mach 2 and dropping a large sonic boom as he exited Pakistani airspace.

In May 1997 a MiG-25R aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) flew deep into Pakistani airspace on a reconnaissance mission, photographed sensitive defence 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 – code named 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. Some sources like Spyflight, a website dedicated to reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, have speculated that the MiG-25 pilot wanted to show that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was India’s bunny.

The aircraft entered Pakistani airspace subsonically (below the speed of sound) at around 65,000 ft and was undetected. 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 55,000 to 75,000 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.


  • Shantanu K. Bansal

    Founder of IADN. He has more than 10 years of experience in research and analysis. An award winning researcher, he writes for the leading defence and security journals, think-tanks and in-service publications. He is a senior consultant at the Indian Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla. Contact him at:

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