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9 Squadron

The story of No 9 Squadron dates back to May 1944 when it made its operational debut in Burma during WW II. Equipped with Hurricane II C aircraft, it engaged in extensive operations in that theatre and was awarded a souvenir Japanese general's sword in recognition of its meritorious services. In the years that followed, the squadron maintained itself in a high state of combat preparedness on a succession of the latest fighter aircraft of their time: Spitfire VIII, Tempest 11, Fury, Starfighter, Mirage, and most recently, the Fighting Falcon. Five of its squadron commanders - M Asghar Khan, A Rahim Khan, Zafar A Chaudhry, Zulfiqar Ali Khan and Jamal A Khan - rose to lead the Pakistan Air Force. Originally raised at Risalpur on 13 November 43, the squadron was allotted to the RPAF upon partition at the instance of Squadron Leader Asghar Khan, who had commanded it in 1945 and was a member of the Air Force Reconstitution Committee in July 1947.

In its new capacity as the first fighter squadron of the RPAF, it was formed at Peshawar on 15th August 1947 with 8 Tempest aircraft under the command of Squadron Leader M Ibrahim Khan. After flying Tempests for almost three years, the squadron converted onto the Hawker Fury fighters in July 1950. In November 1956, the unit moved to Kohat which was to become its home for the next five years. In 1961, the squadron's decade-long association with Furies as well as its piston-engined chapter came to an end.

In March 1961 came the F-104 Starfighters - the ultimate in aircraft technology at that time. In the PAF, 9 Squadron was the only recipient of this awe inspiring Mach 2 fighter which, through its sheer power and speed, struck terror in enemy ranks in both the India-Pakistan Wars. Sqn Ldr Sadruddin and Flt Lt Middlecoat landed the first Starfighters at PAF Base Sargodha in 1962. In the following months, Pakistan inducted a total of 10 F-104A and two dual seat F-104B training aircraft in No 9 Squadron. These were USAF F-104C aircraft refurbished and updated with the latest J-79-11A engine, and upward ejection seats. Equipped with the M-61 Vulcan six barrel gun, the AIM-9B Sidewinder missile and the AN/ASG-14T1 fire control system, the aircraft was designed for high altitude (above 5000 feet), day /night interception/combat. Pakistan was the first country in Asia to induct a Mach 2 aircraft into its airforce. While most countries in Europe were still flying subsonic aircraft and none in Asia had an aircraft of this class and technology, many in Pakistan and abroad were skeptical of the PAF's ability to fly and maintain this advanced system. The PAF's flying skills, technological prowess, and competence, were soon proven. The pilots and ground crew of No.9 Squadron, who had been handpicked from F-86 squadrons, became the envy of the PAF by gaining mastery of the aircraft. To be part of No.9 Squadron, the cream of the PAF, was a great honour and privilege.

During the course of the Kashmir War, No. 9 Squadron flew a total of 246 sorties, of which 42 were at night. The F-104As gave a good account of themselves on the whole, but criticism was raised over their insufficient maneuverability, lack of ground-attack capability and the inefficiency of their radars at low altitudes. The Pakistanis had actually gotten a lot more value out of their older Sabres, which could be used for both air combat and ground attack.

Pakistan had managed to acquire enough F-104As from the Royal Jordanian Air Force to keep No. 9 Squadron operational, but the Starfighter was no longer Pakistan's only supersonic fighter. By 1971, the PAF had three squadrons of French-built Mirage IIIEJs and three squadrons of unique Shenyang F-6s. Hostilities again broke out between India and Pakistan on December 3, 1971, this time over the secession of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The Starfighter was clearly unable to outaccelerate or out-turn the MiG-21 at low altitude. It was equally clear that Indian pilots were no longer intimidated by the F-104. while no MiGs were downed by Starfighters during the war, one was reportedly shot down by an F-6 on December 14, and another MiG-21 lost a dogfight with a Sabre flown by Flight Lt. Maqsood Amir of No. 16 Squadron, PAF, on December 17.

The IAF "claimed" that all 10 PAF F-104s were destroyed/shot down during the 65 air-war. however the PAF lined-up all 10 surviving F-104s after the cessation of hostilities at Mauripur AB or Sargodha AB. PAF lost two Starfighters during the 1965 war and these two losses were not replaced by the US given the arms embargo imposed on Pakistan. Therefore No. 9 Squadron was left with only 8 F-104s and 2 F-104Bs after the hostilities. In addition PAF faced the problem of spare parts stocks for the aircraft which were also embargoed and had to be sourced from third party sources or black market. During the period between the two wars, one F-104A aircraft was written-off in 1967 in a ground accident while it caught fire during start up. Another F-104A was lost in 1968 when Flt Lt GU Abbasi had a fatal crash while practicing low level aerobatics.

The Starfighters, after rendering valuable service for more than a decade, faded out of Pakistani skies in the early 1970s. After eleven years of eventful service, a pair of No.9 Squadron's F-104As lifts off the Masroor runway to mark the Lockhead Starfighter's last mission in the PAF. The F-104's life in the PAF was cut short by the United States Government's "even-handed" arms embargo on both Pakistan and India after the 1965 and 1971 wars. Washington chose to ignore the fact that India, a long-time ally of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, did not possess any American military equipment and the sanctions thus exclusively penalized the armed force of Pakistan. In the face of increasing difficulty in obtaining spares, the PAF finally decided in mid-1972 to phase out the starfighters. The PAF's F-104s were somewhat unique. While being the lightest among the starfighters in combat configuration, the more powerful J-79-IIA engines gave them additional maneuver energy. The 20mm Galling gun, retrofitted to the PAF's F-104s by specific request, also added to the fighter's combat effectiveness. Many heavyhearted airmen and officers of No 9 Squadron witnessed the farewell flight, some of them served in the Squadron for two wars. From among the Squadron's veteran pilots, the two took up the Starfighters for the last time.

No 9 Squadron reemerged at Rafiqui in January 1973 as a tactical attack unit, equipped with brand new Mirage-V aircraft. On 15 June 77, it became an OCU with the task of converting pilots onto Mirage fighters. On 31st August 1981, it moved to PAF Masroor and remained there till the middle of 1984. As an OCU, the squadron graduated 15 conversion courses on Mirages and in June 84, the squadron changed its location once again and moved to Sargodha, where it was reequipped with F-16 Fighting Falcons and was redesignated as No 9 Multi-Role Squadron. It was on this aircraft that Squadron Leader Hameed Qadri shot down an Afghan Air Force Su-22 and damaged another while flying an air defence mission over Parachinar on 17 July 1986.

9 Squadron's record in war has been as striking as its achievements in peacetime. In the 1965 war it flew air defence, fighter escort and recce missions from the city of Shaheens on its fabled Starfighters. On 6th September Flight Lieutenant Aftab shot down an IAF Mystere which was attacking Rahwali. On the 7th Flight Lieutenant Amjad H Khan accounted for another Mystere. Squadron Leader Jamal A Khan intercepted and shot down 1 IAF Canberra at night. For their acts of valour Squadron Leaders Jamal A Khan and M. L.Middlecoat and Flight Lieutenant Amjad H Khan were decorated with Sitara-i-Juraat.

Soon after the start of the 1971 war the Squadron flew its Starfighters to PAF Masroor. There, while performing air defence day/night strikes, recce and escort duties, its pilots shot down an Indian Gnat, a Su-7 and an Alize. Squadron Leader Amjad H Khan ejected in Indian territory while attacking a radar and was taken prisoner of war. Wing Commander M L Middlecoat and Flight Lieutenant Samad Changezi made the supreme sacrifice by laying down their lives in defence of the fatherland; both Shaheeds were posthumously awarded the Sitara-i-Juraat.

For its meritorious services in war and peace, the squadron was awarded the squadron colour on 25th January 1979. The scrolls around the squadron crest in the middle of the banner carry the battle honours: 'Sargodha 65' and 'Karachi 71'. The squadron crest itself is a griffin; a mythical creature with an eagle's head and wings and a lion's body signifying immeasurable strength, aggressiveness and vigilance.

The PAF operations for the defense of Pakistan's strategic nuclear installations during the May 1998 nuclear tests were codenamed "Operation Bedaar '98" by the PAF. The PAF's elite No. 9 Multi-Role (MR) Squadron "Griffins" (falling under No. 34 Wing led by Grp. Capt. Shahid Shigri), equipped with F-16As, commanded by Wg. Cdr. Azher Hasan, was deployed at PAF Samungli (Quetta, Balochistan) on 27 May 1998 to provide night-time air defence cover to the nuclear test sites at Ras Koh and Kharan.

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