In 1998 the Pakistan Airforce had about 65,000 active personnel, of which 25,000 were civilians, and 8,000 reserves. Its headquarters are based in Rawalpindi, and comprises of directorates for operations, mainteance, administration, and electronics. There are four commands: North, Central, South, and Air Defence which are served by 19 combat squadrons with around 450 combat aircraft.
A lot has been said about Pakistan Air Force over the years, and it has earned every right to be proud of its accomplishments. Created in the infancy of the nation with nearly nothing to fly and even fewer pilots to fly what it had. Established on 15th August 1947, Pakistan had been allotted thirty-two Dakotas, thirty-five Tempests, twenty-nine Harvards, sixteen Tiger Moths, three Auster Vs, and seven Auster VIs: Most of these never arrived. Still the PAF has worked its way to earn the respect it deserves both home and abroad.
Operations had already started when in 1948, tasked with supplying the troops in Kashmir, the PAF began air-dropping much needed supplies to the freedom fighter on ground. These drops were conducted by the two Dakotas Pakistan had received of the thirty-two promised, and even then wrote an epic tale of courage and commitment. On 4th of November 1948, two Tempests of Indian Air Force attacked one of the Dakotas that was carrying a load of 1,600 kilos. In the engagement that followed, Flying Officer Mukhtar Dogar was able to fly the aircraft through the narrow valleys successfully leaving the Tempests uneager to follow and flew back to his airbase, thus becoming the first PAF pilot to be awarded the Sitara-e-Jura't for bravery. With such professionalism the meager air force had completed 437 mercy drops, delivering more than 500 tons of supplies and food.
Similar acts of bravery followed in the coming years when PAF was once again summoned to face an enemy three times its size. In the brief seventeen day war if 1965 M. M. Alam became the fastest ace of jet-age in the world when he destroyed 5 Indian Air Force Hunters in under a minute. Again in 1971 was the domain of PAF challenged: It was readily accepted to the dismay of the enemy.
The PAF's reputation is deservedly high. Its pilots are well-trained and highly motivated, but denial of spares and a further 71 F-16 aircraft by the US has resulted in deterioration in combat capability. Air HQ in Chaklala (close to Islamabad civil airport facilities), commands the three geographic Area Commands (North, Central, and South), and the four Air Defence sectors.
There are some 19 fighter/multirole squadrons, including four operational conversion units, with 32 F-16, 140 F-7P, 80 F-7PG, 40 A-5, and 140 Mirage III/V aircraft. All F-16s are now concentrated at PAF Base Sargodha (also HQ Central Air Command). Some 45 of the 50 former Royal Australian Air Force Mirages IIIOs sold to Pakistan have been refurbished and are in service. Of these, atleast 33 have undergone a local upgrade with the help of Sagem of France and FIAR of Italy. A further 34 upgraded Mirage 5Fs have been inducted since 1998 from France as well. One Mirage 5PA3 squadron, based at Karachi, acts in the anti-shipping role. Mirage IIIRPs are also the sole reconnaissance platform in the PAF, after the retirement of RT-33s in the mid-90s.
The F-7 aircraft obtained from China are intended to compensate, in numbers, for lack of F-16s, and are in the process of being upgraded with modern nav/attack systems and radars at Kamra. The recently delivered F-7PGs are in service with three PAF squadrons. These differ from the F-7Ps in having a redesigned wing, a two-piece canopy and a newer, more powerful radar. PAF's transport fleet has 9 C-130s, 2 Boeing 707s, and 2 Y-12. The recent purchase of 4 CN-235 from IPTN is going to go fill in the gap created by the shortage of C-130s in the past. However, in view of recent warming of relations with the US and the subsequent order of further 6 C-130s, as well as upgradation of the entire fleet, the chances of a repeat order for CN-235 is now very slim. Pakistan is also currently lobbying very hard to the US about the delivery of Peace Gate II batch of 11 F-16s that were ordered as attrition replacement in the late 80s. Upon US Congress's approval, there is also a distinct possibility of Pakistan acquiring upto two squadrons of F-16s from Belgium and Netherlands. A program to enhance the capabilities of the current F-16 force through an MLU upgrade is also in the works.
Initial officer training and basic pilot instruction are conducted at Risalpur over a 3.5-year period, following which combat pilots proceed to a fighter conversion unit for six months. The next stage is six months in an operational conversion unit, after which pilots join their squadrons with a minimum of 250 flying hours. Selection for F-16 conversion is made after assessment in squadrons, and there is keen competition to be chosen to join what is regarded as an elite element. Advanced training is conducted at the combat commanders' school at Sargodha. Many of the 400+ pilots employed by Pakistan International Airlines are air-force reservists and could be expected to augment pilot numbers (mainly in transport squadrons) if there were a national emergency.
Major maintenance and rebuild takes place at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) at Kamra, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Defence Production although immediate and long-term tasking is the responsibility of Air HQ. Some engine rebuild is carried out at Shareah Faisal in Karachi. The PAC is an efficient and well-equipped establishment, capable of rebuilding all types of aircraft in service other than the F-16 (although there has been marked success in engine refit). It manufactures Mushshak aircraft under licence for export and for use by the PAF and the army. The K-8 Karakoram trainer aircraft, in joint production with China, entered service in 1994 and were evaluated and considered fit for training by 1996. However, there are no current plans for a acquisitions since the T-37 went under a life-extension program in the late 90s.
The PAF's mission is to defend sovereign airspace, to strike against Indian surface-to-surface missile launchers, and support the army (primarily) and navy in tactical operations. It is outnumbered by more than 2:1 by the Indian Air Force which, in spite of experiencing serious problems in maintenance and manpower, would attempt to swamp Pakistani airspace. Sheer numbers of IAF tactical and deep-strike aircraft (some 90 MiG-27 and 80 Jaguar), would require committal of the PAF's resources to a degree that could adversely affect offensive operations.