Pakistan Air Force — new challenges
Air Marshal Ayaz A Khan (R)
Indian Air Force attack air craft have been deployed at Jammu, Udhampur, Avantipur in the Kashmir Valley and at Leh airfield in Laddakh, since long to subdue the Kashmiri’s and crush their struggle for democracy. In the 1999 Kargil war PAF did not confront the IAF, because President Musharraf feared escalation of the conflict into full-scale war. But the lesson of Kargil was that Pakistan needs a strong Air Force.
Going by numbers the Indian Air Force (IAF) is big. It has 1200 aircraft; 750 of which are combat aircraft. But the IAF also suffers the biggest number of air and ground accidents per year. It suffers the biggest numbers of pilot casualties annually. After the death of 200 IAF fighter pilots in MiG-21 crashes, the Mig-21 became infamous as “the flying coffin”. IAF top brass is to be blamed, because under training pilots were pushed directly from basic piston engine trainers straight into supersonic Mig-21’s for fighter training. This was too big a jump, resulting in high U/T pilot casualties.
Another 200 fighter aircraft including Mirage 2000s, Jaguars, MiG-29s, MiG-27s, MiG-25s and MiG-23s have been lost in air crashes and ground accidents. During the last two decades; the total tally of crashed aircraft being 500, and dead pilots 350, the IAF is a big peacetime loser of combat aircraft and pilots. Such losses had a telling effect on IAF’s fighting capability, the combat efficiency and morale of its combat crews. So the IAF had telling weaknesses as well.But IAF has procured 66 Su-30 MK-1 multirole fighter aircraft of advanced technology and high lethality from Moscow. The order was placed for 144 Su-30 MK-I’s by Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes on September 27, 1996. He had boasted that, “India will soon rank among big air powers”. This statement was made during the induction ceremony of the first batch of ten Su-30MKI multi-role jet fighters in No 20 Lightning Squadron at IAF’s Lohegaon Air Base. No 24 Hunting Hawks Squadron equipped with the earlier version of the Sukhoi Mk-30 fighters is also based there. Recently the IAF has deployed ten Su-30 MK-I fighters at Avantipura airfield near Srinager.
The supply of 144 Su-30MK-I’s tailor made for the IAF will greatly enhance IAF’s air combat and ground attack capability. Added to these are the 60 Mirage 2000-H fighters (of Kargil fame) equipped with advanced laser-guided bombs and BVR air-to-air missiles. The IAF will have a distinct edge in advanced air weaponry over the PAF, as and when the IAF procures all the Su-30MKIs, Mirages and new Mig-29’s on order.At the Sukhoi induction ceremony defence minister George Fernandes, pointing his finger at Pakistan, had said that, “The Sukhoi 30 MKI is aimed at silencing those nations who look at us with “buri nazar,” (evil intention).The IAF Su-30 MKI is fitted with superior electronics and avionics. It has thrust vectoring (directional control) capabilities, and is fitted with canards. With such improvements the MKI has amazing air combat maneuverability. It can take off with much higher bomb loads, and has a range of 3000 kilometers. It can go deep into China and Pakistan with a full load of conventional and nuclear weapons.
Indian Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy had stated at the induction ceremony that, “With its ability to engage several targets simultaneously the Sukhoi -30 MKI will redefine the very method of air combat.” In a joint exercise with the US Air Force over Occupied Kashmir, these Indian Air Force fighters proved superior to the F-15 air superiority fighters of US Air Force. Besides twin-engine power and safety the MKI is equipped with stealth technology, enabling it to evade radar detection. Indian defense analysts claim that the MKI can outclass China’s Su- 23 MKK and USAF F-22 and F-15 fighters. The elected government of Pakistan and the PAF must take full cognizance of the induction of 144 Su-30 MK-I aircraft in the IAF, and consequently the enhanced air threat from India. IAF has received 10 new Mirage 2000 H fighters from France and 37 rebuilt Jaguar strike fighters from HAL at Bangalore. But India’s Light Combat Air craft – the LCA under development since 1978 has yet to enter operational service. After 24 air tests, major modifications, the IAF remained highly critical of the LCA, but will be forced to buy up to 400 of these controversial fighters. The LCA will replace the MiG-21 as the IAF’s workhorse. The IAF fighter pilots did not trust Indian manufactured MiG-21s which earned such nicknames as “flying coffins”, “pilot killers”, “widow makers”; and are already distrustful of home made LCA fighters.
Pilot training has been a big problem. IAF pilots were forced into MiG-21 cockpits directly from basic piston engine trainers. The result was high wastage of pilots during operational training. British Hawk advanced jet trainer has now been inducted. It should have been inducted three decades back. It would have saved hundreds of precious lives.. Despite US foot dragging on the supply of F-16 fighters, and numerical disparity, the PAF has proved to be a credible deterrent against Indian air power. This was possible due to the high state of preparedness, readiness and robust morale of the force at all levels. The skillful management of operational assets, exemplary leadership and expertise has enabled the PAF to deter the enemy from any misadventure. The PAF is totally committed to the defense of Pakistan. The government however must realize that the PAF must have matching technology, and numerical balance with the adversary air force, in the entire range of weaponry.
The joint production JF-17 Thunders, procurement of JF-10 air superiority fighters from China, and additional F-16 fighters- should correct the air power imbalance to some extent. These new combat and strike aircraft are urgently needed for ground attack and close support operations against the terrorists, who hiding in the hills and mountains of Tribal Agencies are mounting deadly suicide bombings on Pakistani cities, cantonments and military posts.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the deadly bombing of Marriot hotel in Islamabad, demands enhanced used of air power to root out terrorists and terrorism from Pakistan’s soil.The PAF has been engaged in anti-terrorist operations since several months. Army –air close support operations in the rugged and mountainous areas of Swat and Bajaur have been successful and the terrorists are on the run. Air operations must be sustained till terrorists feel compelled to surrender.
A new dangerous factor is Pakistan’s war against terrorists is United States violation of Pakistani air space by drones, gunship helicopters and fighter aircraft. Predator and Rapaer drones have been violating Pakistan’s air space, bombings tribal villages and killing Pakistani citizens since 2006. They have killed hundreds of Pakistani citizens including women and children. Washington is disregarding warnings by Pakistani President, Prime Minister, Army Chief and protests by Pakistani public. Pakistani blood cannot be allowed to be shed wantonly. Violation of Pakistani territorial sovereignty must be challenged. Pakistan Air Force must be prepared to shoot down American drones, gunship helicopters and engage USAF fighter aircraft attacking and bombings Pakistani tribal villages. We must not act as frightened crows, when outsiders continue to kill our elders, brothers, sisters and children. Pakistan Air Force must defend Pakistan’s air space. PAF’s tradition is that it will rise to great heights to defend Pakistan.