Exercise Saffron Bandit

In order to keep the PAF's fighting elements at the peak of their efficiency, the CCS was vested with the responsibility of conducting annual visits to all the fighter squadrons to enhance their combat awareness and for the purpose of assessing their combat efficiency. Later, Air HQ instituted Squadron Combat Upgradation Programme (SCUP), which started in June 1990. Two fighter squadrons and a number of CCS pilots and air defence weapons controllers participated in each cycle, which lasted for a month. Four such cycles were conducted, and they concluded in October 1990. In order to further consolidate the professional architecture of the PAF, a new exercise, 'Saffron Bandit' was launched in September 1992. This exercise was concieved and anointed by the then DCAS (O). Air Vice Marshal Shafique Hyder, Air Commodore Zahid Anis, along with the operations staff at Air HQ did the necessary spadework to put it into action.

The exercise runs concurrently with the other planned events and is aimed at providing a realistic environment to the PAF aircrew to apply the basic skills acquired through the training syllabi of every fighter squadron. The syllabi are in line with the specified role for the respective weapon systems. The objective of this command level exercise are quite broad-based. The exercise include role-oriented, applied training to the piltos in near-realistic scenarios and effecitive training of operational controllers in the planned phases of combat flying. This approach not only aims to achieve standardization of tactics/tactical procedures, and up-gradation of tactics, but also generates applied thinking to varying scenarios in the exercise.

Saffron Bandit is designed on the building block concept. It progressively increases in complexity, and various elements are added with every mission to provide a complete threat scenario towards the final stages of the programme. The assets are employed in offence versus defence set up with the respective weapons system taking up their prescribed role. Some of the missions are planned to culminate with actual weapon deliveries against tactical targets at the live firing range.

The exercise is chalked out in an area around the PAF's tactical training range. All targets are selected within a specified area. A bomb line is demarcated as a boundry between the offensive and the defensive areas of employment. The altitude of operation in the specified area extends from low-level to 20,000 ft AMSL. The range has been developed with more realistic structures such as a concrete bridge, a SAM site, and a command and control center. An airfield closeby is yet another target. used for practising mass raids.

All targets are set up with an array of surface to air threats to provide practice to the missile crews, and for the pilots to use skills in weapons delivery and attack planning. Some other targets within the radar lit up areas ilke the bridges, railway stations, and stretches of roads and railway lines are selected as targets for some missions.

The threats employed against attacking targets vary with every mission. In the initial phase of interdiction attack, the AAA and SAM ate simulated so as to enable the crew to cope with simpler employment considerations. In the subsequent missions the defences are in the form of low level radar, with only a limited track length and a pair of interceptors. The subsequent missions entail an integrated defence system involving AAA, Mistral, Crotale, Low Level Radars with progressively increased track length and pair of interceptors increasing from one to three towards the last mission. ECM/ESM support is provided by Falcon DA-20 aircraft and the types of missions include both offensive as well as defensive counter air operations.

A syllabus of ten sorties per operational pilots is prescribed for the offensive squadrons while those operating in the defensive role are able to fly thirteen sorties per pilot. Details on every mission in terms of the target, defences, threats, attack and weapon options etc. are all pre-decided. This is also the case with formation sizes and supporting elements. A progressive analysis of all operations culminating in comprehensive debriefs for the participating squadrons is finally put upto the Air Staff after the exercise. The data available from these exercises enables the PAF to validate the current tactics and standardize the PAF doctrine for most aspects of applied air power. An elaborate orginizational structure has been put in place to plan, conduct, and monitor these exercises.

Saffron Bandit exercises have proved to be extremely useful. They have helped upgrade the operational efficiency of PAF squadrons and their standardization. This is a non-assessed exercise, which is overseen by the CCS. It evokes keen and enthusiastic participation among both pilots and controllers. At the end of each exercise, The CCS carries out a detailed analysis in order to identify strong and weak areas vis-a-vis operational readiness at the field level. The exercise was conducted in 1992, 1994, 1997, and 14 May 1999.