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Pakistan Air Force History

In 1933, British colonial government of India established the subcontinent's first Air Force station near Drigh Road, now called PAF Base Faisal. In 1934, this element of the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) was extended to the north for operations in NWFP. The RIAF had also contributed to the defeat of Japanese invasion during World War II.

In 1947, the British left sub-continent after dividing it into two sovereign states of India and Pakistan. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) came into existence on 15th of August 1947, a day after Pakistan gained its independence. Distribution of military assets between the new states was to follow. However, India with an inherent resentment towards the creation of Pakistan tried to subvert our capabilities by crippling Pakistan militarily. It denied the then Royal Pakistan Air Force (RPAF) even the officially agreed small portions of weapons, equipment and aircraft allocated by departing British as its legitimate share. Much of what was eventually received from India was inoperable. Crates of equipment contained nothing but scrap and waste.

Originally 56 aircraft were transferred from Indian Air Force. This transfer comprised of Austers, Dakotas, Harvards, Tempests and Tiger Moths. These aircraft were used to form three squadrons and an AOP flight and a communications flight. Pakistan inherited most of its structure from Royal Air Force. Most of its original officers were RAF men. The RPAF got 16 fighter aircraft as its foundation. It started off with one squadron of eight Tempest aircraft and a small remnant of No 1 Squadron Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) which was subsequently utilized to raise No 5 Squadron.

While these brave pioneers were documenting the historic beginning of PAF, the force was faced with the enigma of finding aircraft to fly. However, despite the lack of funds and market places, PAF entered the jet age in August, 1951 with the induction of British built Attackers. Until mid-1950s PAF's fighter force comprised nearly 100 Hawker Furies and a dwindling number of Tempests. Then, the first air defence radar was installed and the PAF was rapidly setting up its own advanced flying and technical training institutions.

Soon afterwards Pakistan turned towards USA for Air Force hardware. And for this Pakistan expected to obtain a spectrum of aircraft from the USA. F-86 Sabers and T-33 jet trainers were inducted in PAF as a result of the United States (US) aid. From 1955 to 1965, the Air Force armed its squadrons with the most modern jet fighters and bombers, Sabers and F-104 Starfighters as fighters, B-57s as bombers and the ubiquitous C-130s as transport fleet.

Air Marshall Nur Khan was a dashing commander who believed in leading from the front. He also flew in some of the risky sorties and this further inspired PAF into a truly extraordinary performance by any means in 1965. However valor can only do so much and it was the focused training and discipline which were the hallmark of Air Marshall Asghar Khan's tenure (57 to 65) which turned PAF into a lean mean killing machine. Asghar Khan was a very thorough professional and he can be called the true founding father of PAF.

During the 1965 War Pakistan was put under an arms embargo by the USA. After the 1965 War, Pakistan turned towards China and France to rebuild its war damaged air force. China supplied Shenyang F-6s (MiG-19s), which were both donated and purchased. From France Pakistan Purchased 24 Mirage IIIs. Also Pakistan aquired 90 F-86 Sabres through Iran after the war.

After the 1971 war Pakistan again turned towards China to re-supply its air force. PAF ordered two batches of 60 F-6s to replace its F-86s, which were delivered between 1972 and 1977. Along with F-6s - FT-5s were dilivered for advanced pilot training. After the war Pakistan recieved 28 or more Mirage 5s which were ordered before the war, plus the 10 Mirage III RPs ordered after the war. A dozen and a half other Mirages were procured from Lebenon and France to build up numbers.

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 manoeuvre 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.

The most visible form of aid from the US were the first batch of F-16s. Which also turned out to be the last. Pakistan also bought Chinese F-7s and A-5s most likely with US aid. The most likely reason why PAF only chose to make F-16s record public was the aid it was recieving from the USA and it wanted to show that Pakistan needed those F-16s to protect its airspace. Pakistan got through this difficult time with keeping vigilant eyes on its frontiers.

Pakistan once again concentrated on modernizing its air force. PAF ordered 71 new F-16s and 100 plus F-7s to replace aging F-6s. Also Pakistan bought 40 or so Mirage III Os from Australia to increase its Mirage force which is the second largest now after France itself. Along with these procurements Pakistan also entered into two developmental programs with China. One of them the K-8 advanced jet trainer/ light attack aircraft has shown magnificent results. The other project originally known as Super-7 ran into several setbacks most noticeably the US sanctions against China after the Tianamen Square massacre. Pakistan has also purchased 40 or so Mirages to cover the advanced fighter gap.

The post-Afghan war period witnessed a resource constraint with the drying up of traditional sources. The immediate need for induction of a hi-tech aircraft was one part of the crises; the sheer sustenance of the fleet was another. Due to economic constraints, PAF went for cost effective purchases like A-5 aircraft and such upgrades as the ROSE, which gave the old Mirages very good nav-attack, weapon delivery, and other capabilities. With this, self-reliance picked up pace and PAF worked on Griffo radar, Mistral and Anza missiles simultaneously. To keep the ageing weapon systems & aircraft from becoming obsolete, chaff and flares dispensers, radar warning receivers, and laser automation for better weapon delivery were added to the old aircrafts.

As of 1999 the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was organized into eighteen squadrons, with a total of 430 combat aircraft. The mainstay of the air force is the F-16 fighter. Of the 40 aircraft originally acquired, 34 are in service, divided among 3 squadrons. Pakistan has an additional 71 F-16s on order, but delivery had been suspended since 1990 by the United States. Other interceptors include 8 Interceptor squadrons of 160 F-7Ps, 7 Fighter/Ground Attack squadrons of 70 F-6s, 60Q/A5s, 18 Mirage IIIs and 58 Mirage Vs and 1 Recce squadron of 12 Mirage IIPRs, thus constituting a total of 19 squadrons. For transport purposes PAF has 2 squadrons of 16 C-130 Hercules', 1 Lockheed L-100, 1 F-27 and 1 FALCON2+ aircraft for VIP duties. Training aircrafts include 4 squadrons of 80 MFI-17Bs, 25 FT-5s, T-37s, 11 F-16Bs, 15 FT-7Ps, 2 Mirage IIDPs, and 20+ K-8s. Pakistan also has ALOUETTE and PUMA helicopters. Air-to-air missiles include the Exocet, Sparrow, Sidewinder, and Magic.

The succeeding years witnessed many significant developments including the milestones achieved by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Kamra such as F-7P overhaul, aircraft engines maintenance, the co-production of K-8 and Super Mushshaq aircraft, the quality standards achieved by Kamra Avionics and Radar Factory. Project JF-17 Thunder was conceived to replace the PAF's ageing, medium-tech fleet of Mirages, F-7, and A-5 aircraft that would progressively retire from service. It is planned to be a multi-role, light-weight day/night all weather fighter. It would be able to attack ground targets and ships, and engage enemy aircraft at considerable ranges. The aircraft was inducted in PAF by 2006 and co-produced at PAC Kamra.

Today, new maintenance concepts and facilities are based on a more direct communication, optimum use of software database and reliable electronic networks. Accompanying the technological developments, education and training are duly accentuated with special emphasis on R & D.

In the wake of war on terrorism and with the reality of living with an implacable opponent, Pakistan Air Force keeps on an all-time vigil. During Ops- Sentinel 2001-2002, when India had amassed its forces on Pak borders, PAF remained ready for dealing a telling blow to the enemy.

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Page last modified: 15-07-2014 20:19:25 ZULU