The Pakistan Air Force abbreviated as PAF, is the air warfare branch of the Pakistan Armed Forces, primarily tasked with the aerial defence of Islamic Republic of Pakistan with a secondary role of providing air logistics support to the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Navy. The PAF also has a tertiary role of providing 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 400 combat aircraft as well as various transport and training aircraft.
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 entered Pakistani airspace on a photo reconnaissance mission. Two PAF F-86F Sabres from No. 15 Squadron on Air Defence Alert (ADA) were scrambled from Sargodha Air Base to intercept the IAF aircraft. The Sabre pilots were Flt. Lt. M. N. Butt (leader) and Flt. Lt. M. Yunis (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. Butt attempted to bring down the Canberra by firing his Sabre’s machine guns, but the Canberra was flying at an altitude of more than 50,000 feet – beyond the operational ceiling of the F-86F. When Yunis took over from his leader, the Canberra suddenly lost height while executing a turn over Rawalpindi. Yunis grabbed this opportunity and fired a burst from his 12.7 mm guns that struck the Canberra at an altitude of 47,500 feet and brought it down over Rawat, near Rawalpindi. Marking the first aerial victory of the PAF . ’55-5005′ was the serial number of the F-86F Sabre that was flown by Flt. Lt. Yunis that day. Both the occupants of the IAF Canberra, namely Sqn. Ldr. J.C. Sen Gupta (pilot) and Flt. Lt. S.N. Rampal (navigator) from the IAF’s No. 106 Sqn., ejected and were captured by Pakistani authorities and were subsequently released after remaining in detention for some time.
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 entering Pakistani airspace and attacking Pakistan Army positions. On 24 June 1965, an IAF Ouragan fighter (Serial No. IC 698), flown by Flt. Lt. Rana Lal Chand Sikka of No. 51 Auxiliary Squadron from the IAF’s Jamnagar Air Station entered 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 landed at an open field near Jangshahi village near Badin. 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. The IAF Ouragan fighter 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.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”. However some people refute this argument. As per them, the IAF’s MiG-21, Hawker Hunter and Folland Gnat aircraft had better performance than the PAF’s F-86 fighters. According to Air Cdre (retired) Sajad Haider, the F-86 Sabre was inferior in both power and speed to the IAF’s Hawker Hunter.According to Air Commodore (retired) Sajjad Haider who flew with No. 19 squadron, the F-104 Starfighter did not deserve its reputation as “the pride of the PAF” because it “was unsuited to the tactical environment of the region. It was a high-level interceptor designed to neutralize Soviet strategic bombers in altitudes above 40,000 feet.” Nevertheless the IAF is believed to have feared the Starfighter although, according to some, it was not as effective as the IAF’s Folland Gnat. According to Indian sources, the F-86F performed reasonably well against the IAF Hawker Hunters but not as well against the Folland Gnat, which was nicknamed Sabre Slayer by the IAF.
According to Indian sources most aircraft losses of IAF were on ground while PAF lost most in aerial combat. Even though the IAF flew a larger offensive air campaign by devoting 40% of its air effort to offensive air support alone, according to Indian sources the majority of its losses came from aircraft destroyed on the ground through PAF air strikes. The PAF without doubt, had achieved far more in terms of enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground but the IAF had achieved much more in the close support role.
During the last days of the war Pakistani aircraft flew over Indian cities and airbases without any response from the opposing side. At the end of the war, India had lost 110 aircraft with 19 damaged, not including those destroyed on the ground at night, against a loss of 16 PAF planes.
During this conflict the PAF sent personnel to Egypt, Jordan and Syria to support the Arabs in their battle against the Israelis. Some Pakistani sources have claimed that PAF pilots managed to shoot down ten Israeli aircraft.
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 635One of the major operations of the war by PAF was Operation Chengiz Khan which inflicted damages to IAF with all PAF fighters landing home unscratched.At the end of the war, the Indian Air Force claimed that it had shot down 94 PAF aircraft (including 54 F-86 Sabres) compared to 44 to 130 IAF aircraft losses. Independent research, conducted after the war reported 29 PAF aircraft lost including 10 F-86s left on the ground in the East compared to 59 IAF aircraft lost. the PAF flying 2,914 combat sorties while the IAF flew 7,346 combat sorties during the conflict.
1973 Yom Kippur War
Main article: Yom Kippur War
During the war, sixteen Pakistan Air Force pilots volunteered to leave for the Middle East in order to support Egypt and Syria but by the time they arrived Egypt had already agreed on a cease-fire. Syria remained in a state of war against Israel so the PAF pilots became instructors there and formed the A-flight of 67 Squadron at Dumayr AB. One of the PAF pilots, Flt. Lt. Sattar Alvi flying a MiG-21 shot down an Israeli Air Force Mirage and was honoured by the Syrian government.
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 intels on Indian plans to attack and destroy the Pakistan’s 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”. Because Kahuta was close to the Indian border it was decided that the best way to deter an Indian attack would be to procure new advanced fighters and weaponry. These could be used to mount a retaliatory attack on India’s nuclear research facilities at Trombay in the event of an Indian attack on Kahuta. It was decided the most suitable aircraft would be the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which the United States eventually agreed to supply after the PAF refused to purchase the F-5E and F-5G. 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.
A letter of agreement for up to 28 F-16A’s and 12 F-16B’s was signed December 1981. The contracts, Peace Gate I and Peace Gate II, were for 6 and 34 Block 15 models respectively which would be powered by the F100-PW-200 engine. The fist Peace Gate I aircraft was accepted at Fort Worth in October 1982. Two F-16A and four F-16B were delivered to Pakistan in 1983, the first F-16 arriving at PAF Base Sargodha (now known as PAF Base Mushaf) on 15 January 1983 flown by Squadron Leader Shahid Javed. The 34 remaining Peace Gate II aircraft were delivered between 1983 and 1987.Between May 1986 and November 1988, PAF F-16s have shot down at least eight intruders from Afghanistan. The first three of these (one Su-22, one probable Su-22, and one An-26) were shot down by two pilots from No. 9 Squadron. Pilots of No. 14 Squadron destroyed the remaining five intruders (two Su-22s, two MiG-23s, and one Su-25). Most of these kills were by the AIM-9 Sidewinder, but at least one (a Su-22) was destroyed by cannon fire. Flight Lieutenant Khalid Mahmoud is credited with three of these kills. One F-16 was lost in these battles during an encounter between two F-16s and four Soviet Air Force MiG 23s on 29 April 1987. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Shahid Sikandar Khan, ejected safely.The PAF is believed to have evaluated the Dassault Mirage 2000 in early 1981 and was planning to evaluate the F-16 Fighting Falcon afterwards.
2008 air alert
After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, PAF was put on high alert. It deployed to all its wartime locations and started combat air patrols. The speed and intensity of the deployment and PAF’s readiness took the Indian Army High Command by surprise and later reports suggest was the main factor in the Indian decision of not going for cross border raids inside Pakistan. Pakistani press reported issuance of a PAF Standing Order to launch an immediate counterattack in case of an air attack from India, after Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee threatened Pakistani President.
2011 Abbottabad Operation
An initial investigation report revealed that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) reported the movement of some half-a-dozen planes near the Jalalabad border at 11 pm before the US helicopters entered Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden. “One aircraft was identified as a US AWACS and the remaining five were recognised as F-18 jets of the US. These planes flew near the Pakistani border, but did not cross into the airspace of Pakistan,”On detection of intrusion, PAF jets on air defence alert were scrambled and the PAF immediately took adequate operational measures as per standard operating procedure. The PAF aircraft continued their presence in Abbottabad area till early morning and later returned to their air bases.
The Pakistan Army faced several problems during its 2009 offensive against the Taliban in north-west Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis vacated the area when the offensive was announced and, eventually, over 2 million had to be accommodated in refugee camps. The offensive was to be completed as quickly as possible to allow the refugees to return to their homes but the army’s fleet attack helicopters were not sufficient to provide adequate support to the infantry. The PAF was sent into action against the Taliban to make up for the lack of helicopter gunships. Because the PAF was trained and equipped to fight a conventional war, a new “counter-terrorist doctrine” had to be improvised.
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.Use of laser-guided bombs was increased to 80% of munitions used, as compared to 40% in the previous 2008 Bajaur campaign. A small corps of ground spotters were trained and used by the PAF, in addition to PA spotters, to identify high value targets.Prior to the PA’s offensive into South Waziristan the PAF attacked militant infrastructure with 500 lb and 2000 lb bombs.
A number of civilian deaths occurred during PAF air strikes on 10 April 2010 in the Khyber tribal region. According to a Pakistani military source, the first bombing was targeted at a gathering of militants in a compound. Local people, who had quickly moved onto the scene to recover the dead and wounded, were then killed during a second air strike. There was no confirmed death toll but at least 30 civilian deaths had occurred according to the military source, whereas a local official stated at least 73 locals, including women and children, were killed. A six-member committee of tribal elders from the area, tasked with finding the exact number of civilian casualties, reported that 61 civilians were killed and 21 wounded. This was not confirmed by military or political leaders but Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, gave a public apology on 17 April. It is reported that BBC news and several other media correspondences were not allowed to take interviews from injured which makes the whole episode more mysterious.