Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is the air arm of the Pakistani Armed Forces and is primarily tasked with the aerial defence of Pakistan with a secondary role to provide air support to the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Navy. The PAF also has a tertiary role to provide strategic air transport and logistics capability to Pakistan. The PAF employs approximately 65,000 full-time personnel (including approximately 3,000 pilots) and, currently, operates approximately 500 combat aircraft as well as various transport and training aircraft. With an approximate strength of 65,000 personnel and 950 aircraft, the Pakistan Air Force is the seventh largest air force in the world.
In 1933, British colonial government of India established the subcontinent's first Air Force station near Drigh Road, now called PAF Base Faisal. The Royal Pakistan Air Force (RPAF) was established on 14 August 1947 with the independence of Pakistan from British India. The RPAF began with 2,332 personnel, a fleet of 24 Tempest II fighter-bombers, 16 Hawker Typhoon fighters, two H.P.57 Halifax bombers, 2 Auster aircraft, twelve North American Harvard trainers and ten de Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes. The prefix Royal was removed when Pakistan became a republic on 23 March 1956. It has since been called the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
1951-1961: PAF enters the Jet Age
Although the Pakistan Air Force had little funds to use and markets to choose from, it entered the jet age quite early. The first squadron equipped with these aircraft was the Number-11 "Arrow". The Supermarine Attacker had a rather unsatisfactory service in the Pakistan Air Force with frequent attrition and maintenance problems. In 1957 the Pakistan Air Force received 100 American-built F-86 Sabres under the U.S. aid program. Squadron after squadron in the PAF retired its Hawker Furys and Supermarine Attackers, and replaced them with F-86 jet fighters. In 1957 thirty-six year old Air Marshal Asghar Khan became the Pakistan Air Force's first commander-in-chief.
1959: PAF Draws 'First Blood'
On 10 April 1959, on the occasion of the Islamic Eid ul-Fitr festival holiday in Pakistan, an Indian Air Force (IAF) English Electric Canberra B(I)58 intruded into Pakistani airspace on a photo reconnaissance mission. Two PAF F-86F Sabres from No. 15 Squadron on Air Defence Alert (ADA) were scrambled from Peshawar Air Base to intercept the IAF intruder. The Sabre pilots were Flt. Butt (leader) and Flt. Yunus (wingman)(Later Air Vice Marshal) whereas Pilot Officer Rab Nawaz was the on-duty Air Defence Controller for this mission. Nawaz successfully vectored both Sabres to the location of the high-flying Canberra.
1965 India-Pakistan Rann of Kutch Border Skirmish.
In June 1965, prior to the outbreak of the 1965 India-Pakistan War, India and Pakistan had a border skirmish in the Rann of Kutch region near the south-eastern coastline of Pakistan. The PAF was tasked with providing point-defence to the Rann of Kutch region to prevent the Indian Air Force (IAF) from intruding into Pakistani airspace and attacking Pakistan Army positions. On 24 June 1965, an IAF Ouragan fighter (Serial No. IC 698), flown by Flt. 51 Auxiliary Squadron from the IAF's Jamnagar Air Station intruded into Pakistani airspace. A PAF F-104A Starfighter from No. 9 Squadron intercepted the IAF fighter near Badin in Sindh, Pakistan. Just as the PAF pilot locked on to the Indian fighter and was about to release his AIM-9B Sidewinder Air-to-Air Missile (AAM), the Indian pilot lowered his aircraft's landing gear (an internationally-recognized sign of aerial surrender). The IAF pilot was taken prisoner and released on 14 August 1965 - as a goodwill gesture on the 18th Anniversary of Pakistan's Independence Day - minus the IAF Ouragan fighter, which was retained by the PAF as a trophy and flown by a PAF pilot to an airbase in Karachi. (NOTE: This event is not to be confused with the surrender of an IAF Gnat on 4 September 1965 during the 1965 India-Pakistan War, which is on display at the PAF Museum Karachi).
1965 India-Pakistan War
The PAF fleet at the time consisted of 12 F-104 Starfighters, some 120 F-86 Sabres and around 20 B-57 Canberra bombers. The PAF claims to have had complete air superiority over the battle area from the second day of operations. Close air support to the Pakistan Army was unexpectedly effective and the PAF is widely considered to have single-handedly neutralised the large difference in military strength of India and Pakistan.
Many publications have credited the PAF's successes to U.S. equipment, claiming it to be superior to the aircraft operated by the IAF and giving the PAF a "qualitative advantage". As per them ,the IAF's MiG-21, Hawker Hunter and Folland Gnat aircraft had better performance than the PAF's F-86 fighters.
1971 India-Pakistan War
In December 1971, India and Pakistan went to war over East Pakistan. At the start of the war, the PAF inventory contained around 270 combat aircraft while the IAF had over 1,200 - outnumbering the PAF 4:1 in West Pakistan and 10:1 in East Pakistan.
At the end of the war, the Indian Air Force claimed it had shot down 94 PAF aircraft, including 54 F-86 Sabres. According to some sources, the overall attrition rate (losses per 100 sorties) was 0.48 for the IAF and 1.42 for the PAF, the PAF flying 2914 combat sorties while the IAF flew 7,346 combat sorties during the conflict.
1979-1988 Soviet-Afghan War
In 1979, the |PAF's Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Anwar Shamim, was told by then President, and Chief of Army Staff General Zia ul Haq that Pakistan had reliable information of Indian plans to attack and destroy the Pakistani nuclear research facilities at Kahuta. ACM Shamim told General Zia that Indian aircraft could reach the area in 3 minutes whereas the PAF would take 8 minutes, allowing the Indians to attack the facility and return before the PAF could defend it. In 1983, when the first batch of F-16s reached Pakistan, ACM Shamim informed Zia of the PAF's capability to respond to an attack on the nuclear research facilities at Kahuta.
This inevitably resulted in border violations by Soviet and Afghan aircraft attempting to interdict these operations.
9 Squadron. The PAF is believed to have evaluated the Dassault Mirage 2000 in early 1981 and was planning to evaluate the F-16 afterwards.
Desperate for a new high-tech combat aircraft, between late 1990 and 1993 the PAF evaluated the European Panavia Tornado MRCA (multi-role combat aircraft) and rejected it. In mid-1992 Pakistan was close to signing a contract for the supply of 40 Dassault Mirage 2000, equipped with Thomson-CSF RDM/7 radars, from France. French and Russian teams visited Pakistan on 27 November 1994 and it was speculated that interest in the Russian aircraft was to pressure France into reducing the price of the Mirage 2000. Stated requirement was for up to 40 aircraft.
1999 India-Pakistan Kargil Conflict
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) did not see active combat during the low-intensity Kargil Conflict between India and Pakistan during the summer of 1999 but remained on high air defence alert (ADA) and performed F-16 and F-7MP combat air patrols (CAPs) near the eastern border with India. The PAF closely monitored and tracked the IAF's movements near the Line of Control in Kashmir as well as the India-Pakistan international border. Occasionally, IAF planes had acquired missile locks on PAF planes but did not engage due to no formal declaration of war.
The Pakistan Army faced several problems during its 2009 offensive against the Taliban in north-west Pakistan. The PAF's Saffron Bandit 2009/2010 exercise focused on extensive training of combat personnel to undertake COIN operations. New equipment was inducted to improve the PAF's joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. A C-130 transport aircraft was indigenously modified for day/night ISR operations.
Prior to the PA's offensive into South Waziristan the PAF attacked militant infrastructure with 500 lb and 2000 lb bombs.
2008 Air Alert
After the Mumbai attacks and threats made by India PAF was put on high alert. On the morning of 14 December Indian aircraft started moving towards Pakistan,PAF moved swiftly and intercepted them before they entered international borders. Two of the aircraft did cross the border but Indian aircraft managed to turn back.
A number of civilian deaths occurred during PAF air strikes on 10 April 2010 in the Khyber tribal region. In light of Pakistan's significant contribution to the War on Terror, the United States and Western European countries, namely Germany and France, lifted their defense related sanctions on Pakistan; enabling the country to once again seek advanced Western military hardware. Since the lifting of sanctions, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) became heavily active in evaluating potential military hardware; such as new fighter planes, radars, land based air-defense systems, etc. The key factor had been the lifting of American sanctions on Pakistan; including restrictions on military combat aircraft - namely the Lockheed Martin F-16. The modernisation stall would end in April 2006 when the Pakistani cabinet approved the PAF's proposals to procure new aircraft and systems from several sources, including modern combat aircraft from the U.S. and China. The AFFDP 2019 (Armed Forces Development Programme 2019) would oversee the modernisation of the Pakistan Air Force from 2006 to 2019.
Between 2005 and 2008, 14 F-16A/B Block 15 OCU fighters were delivered to the PAF under renewed post-9/11 ties between the U.S. and Pakistan. On 13 December 2008, the Government of Pakistan stated that two Indian Air Force aircraft were intercepted by the PAF kilometres within Pakistani airspace.
PAF new Il-78 Midas aerial refueller
December 2009 saw the delivery of the PAF's first Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C from Sweden and Il-78MP Midas aerial refuelling tanker/military transport aircraft from Ukraine.
The PAF is reported to be considering purchasing the Hongdu L-15 advanced jet trainer to train pilots for high-tech fighters such as the FC-20. Extensive evaluations of the aircraft took place in Pakistan during December 2009.
It was reported that the PAF is in negotiations with the Ministry of Communications to set up all required facilities for Air Force operations on the motorways and highways of Pakistan.
On 26 June 2010 the first batch of 3 F-16C/D Block 52+ fighters were delivered to PAF Base Shahbaz, Jacobabad. According to Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman the new fighters would eliminate the PAF's limitations in precision night-time strike operations, the existing capability being based on around 34 Dassault Mirage 5 fighters upgraded with new avionics for night-time precision strike missions under the Retrofit Of Strike Element (ROSE) programme during 1999-2004.
In July 2010 a squadron of F-16 fighters and 100 PAF personnel were flown to Nellis Air Force Base in the USA to participate in the Red Flag exercise for the first time.
The Air Force has about 65,000 active personnel with about 10,000 reserves. The Chief of the Air Staff holds the operational and administrative powers. He is assisted by a Vice Chief of Air Staff and six Deputy Chiefs of the Air Staff who control and administer the Administration, Operations, Engineering, Supply (logistics), Personnel, and Training divisions of the PAF respectively.
Air Force Strategic Command (AFSC), Islamabad
Northern Air Command (NAC), Peshawar
Central Air Command (CAC), Lahore
Southern Air Command (SAC), Faisal, Karachi
Air Defence Command (ADC), Chaklala, Rawalpindi
These are the bases from which the PAF planes operate during peace time. They have complete infrastructure of hardened shelters, control towers, workshops, ordnance depots etc. There are ten flying bases and also seven non-flying bases:
PAF Base Mushaf (Sargodha)
PAF Base Masroor (Karachi)
PAF Base Rafiqui (Shorkot)
PAF Base Peshawar (Peshawar)
PAF Base Samungli (Quetta)
PAF Base Mianwali (Mianwali)
PAF Base Minhas (Kamra)
PAF Base Chaklala (Rawalpindi)
PAF Base Faisal (Karachi)
PAF Base Risalpur (Pakistan Air Force Academy) (Risalpur)
PAF Base Shahbaz (Jacobabad)
PAF Base Korangi Creek (Karachi)
PAF Base Malir (Karachi)
PAF Base Kohat (Kohat)
PAF Base Lahore (Lahore)
PAF Base Sakesar (Sakesar)
PAF Base Lower Topa (Murree)
PAF Base Kalabagh (Nathia Gali)
The PAF currently operates approximately 450 combat aircraft of 4 different types, planned to be reduced to 3 types by 2015. There are around 20 front-line squadrons.
The primary air defence fighter is the Chengdu F-7, of which two variants are in service; 120 F-7P and 60 F-7PG. An upgraded variant of the F-7M, F-7P incorporates many PAF-specific modifications such as Martin-Baker ejection seat, two extra weapon stations for a total of 5, an extra 30 mm cannon and an Italian-designed FIAR Grifo 7 multi-mode radar. F-7P was inducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, intended to supplement a fleet of more advanced F-16 fighters. The Grifo 7 radar was later upgraded to the Grifo 7 mk.II version. The F-7PG variant incorporates a "cranked delta" wing which improves take-off, landing and turning performance considerably, as well as extra space in the nose to accommodate the much improved Grifo 7PG radar. F-7 replaced around 250 Shenyang J-6 fighters which were the PAF's workhorse throughout the 1970s and 1980s. F-7 is also used to perform limited strike duties.
The second most numerous type is the French-designed Dassault Mirage III and Dassault Mirage 5, which differ mainly in nose shape and avionics fit. Mirage III fighters are geared towards performing multiple mission types, including interception and strike, whereas Mirage 5 fighters are more focused towards strike missions. Around 150 Mirage fighters are in service, many of which are second-hand examples procured from other countries, making the PAF the largest operator of the type in the world. In the 1990s and early 2000s, 33 Mirage III and 34 Mirage 5 fighters were upgraded under Project ROSE (Retrofit Of Strike Element) with modern avionics, significantly improving their capabilities. Mirage III ROSE fighters are configured for multiple mission types such as air superiority and strike, whereas Mirage 5 ROSE fighters specialise in the day/night strike role.
The JF-17 Thunder, a new fighter jointly developed by China and Pakistan, is currently being inducted by the PAF and it is expected to gradually replace all Dassault Mirage III/5, Nanchang A-5 and Chengdu F-7 by 2015. A total of 250-300 aircraft are planned to be built, with later aircraft featuring improved airframes, avionics and engines. Currently 14 aircraft are in service and the first JF-17 squadron is officially made operational. Number 26 squadron is established in Kamra in which 14 airplanes are initially inducted. With the establishment of the first squadron of the JF-17, the two A-5 squadrons will also be grounded. The first Pakistani-built JF-17, manufactured at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, was rolled out and handed over to the PAF on on 23 November 2009.
The most capable fighter in PAF service from 1983 to 2007 has been the F-16 Fighting Falcon. 40 of the F-16A/B Block 15 models were delivered from 1983 to 1987. Deliveries of another 28 F-16A/B were stopped after the 1990 arms embargo imposed on Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment but 14 of these were later delivered during 2005-2008. The F-16A/B fleet is to be upgraded with MLU (Mid-Life Update) modification kits and Falcon Star Structural Service Life Enhancement kits by Turkish Aerospace Industries starting in September 2010 at a rate of 1 per month. Four F-16A/B are already undergoing upgrade in the U.S. for delivery in 2011. The MLU package will include new APG-69v9 radars, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems and Link-16 data-links, along with other new communications, targeting and electronic warfare systems.
In 2006, 12 F-16C and 6 F-16D Block 52+ were ordered with a further 18 aircraft optional. 14 of the optional fighters were ordered in 2010. The first batch of 3 F-16C/D fighters landed at PAF Base Shahbaz, Jacacobad, on 26 June 2010.
The Nanchang A-5C (or A-5III) is a Chinese-designed light bomber. Inducted in 1982 to help defend against a possible attack from the Soviet Union, it replaced the last of the PAF's B-57 Canberra bombers and around 100 were procured in total for a reported flyaway cost of USD$1 million each. Numbers were reduced later and around 42 remain in service. Retirement of the type was initially planned in the late 1990s and shortfall in capabilities was to be met by upgraded Mirage 5 fighters modified under Project ROSE, but the aircraft's excellent flight safety record ensured it stayed operational.
JF-17 flying overhead silhouetteThe PAF is to induct a number of the Chinese Chengdu FC-20, an advanced PAF-specific variant of the Chengdu J-10. 36 fighters equipping two FC-20 squadrons are expected to be delivered by 2015 and, according to some reports, the FC-20 fleet may eventually be increased to 150 fighters.
Special mission aircraft
Built to the PAF's specifications, the Saab 2000 Erieye is fitted with 5 operator stations and 4 command stations. The aircraft's Erieye radar has a range of 450 km and is also capable of identifying the type of aircraft and the weapons it is carrying. Erieye will be connected via data-link to the PAF's command and control ground environment as well as combat aircraft such as the F-16.
The PAF's No.24 Blinders squadron operates three Dassault Falcon 20 aircraft in the ELINT and ECM roles.
The C-130 Hercules has been the PAF's primary tactical transport aircraft since its induction in the early 1960s. The C-130 is supplemented by 4 CASA CN-235 STOL transports, although the 4th aircraft is equipped with an interior for transporting VIPs such as the PAF Chief of Air Staff. Heavy-lift transports comprise 3 Boeing 707s transferred from Pakistan International Airlines starting 1986.
In December 2009 the PAF received its first of four Il-78 aircraft which is capable of aerial refuelling as well as transporting cargo.
Aerial refuelling capability was first demonstrated during the High Mark 2010 exercise on 6 April 2010 when two of the PAF's Mirage III fighters were simultaneously refuelled in the air by the Il-78.
Surface-to-air missile systems
Crotale 4000 - A short to medium range air defence system. MBDA Spada 2000 - A low to medium altitude air defence system consisting of a radar with 60 km range and four 6-cell missile launchers. The Aspide 2000 missile can intercept enemy missiles and aircraft at a range of over 20 km. A contract for 10 batteries was signed after Spada 2000 was selected over competing systems from Raytheon, Diehl BGT and Saab and pre-contract firing tests in Pakistan, which were assisted by the Italian Air Force.
According to some sources, Pakistan ordered 20 Spada 2000 air defence systems and 750 Aspide 2000 missiles in 2007. Latest reports state Pakistan is to test the Spada 2000 air defence system in July 2010, followed by deliveries of first of ten batteries. Pakistan test fired the new SPADA 2000 Plus air defence missile system in July 2010. HQ-2 - Chinese version of SA-2 Guideline high altitude air defence system, 12 or more batteries procured circa 1970s.
It was reported in mid-2008 that Pakistan intended to purchase a high altitude air defence and missile defence system and the FD-2000, another variant of HQ-9, was expected to be chosen.
RBS 70: Low-altitude air defence system that fires laser beam-riding missiles.
Anza Mk.1/Mk.2/Mk.3: Man-portable air defence system of Pakistani origin which is made by Kahuta Research Laboratories.
Mistral: Low altitude man-portable air defence system of French origin.
FIM-92 Stinger: Low altitude man-portable air defence system of U.S. origin.