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The Fighter Gap

Sqn Ldr (Retd) SHUAIB ALAM KHAN gives a gripping account of the facts, hitherto largely undisclosed, that has led to the present situation with respect to fighter aircraft in Pakistan

Has the PAF performed well? There has been no critical appraisal. The PAF like the other services must have made mistakes or even blunders but these have not been debated. Truth is stranger than fiction. The PAF except for a very short period in '65, performed well below the required. It is a relatively small force, the support that it can provide to the Army and Navy must be its main role. Has the PAF provided such assistance? Why not? Because the PAFs role remains a debate. It should assist the Army and the Navy and not fight its own war. The three services must fight the same war and not their own separate battles. To enforce this should the Air Force be placed under command of the Army and Navy?

For the last few years there is a debate on buying a very expensive weapons system for the Air Force because of the 'FIGHTER GAP, is this system to be used to defend the fighter establishment, defend Pakistan or just another gimmick for the kick backs! Quoting from the 'News April 13, 1998 ̉The most lucrative contract discovered was a $ 4 billion deal to buy 32 Mirage jets from the French company Dassault. The documents, which include letters from Dassault executives, indicate an agreement was reached to pay 5% 'remuneration about $200 million to Marleton Business, a BVI company controlled by Zardari. In a report published in the 'Hindu on 21st January 1998, the Air Chief said Islamabad needed to carefully evaluate how to 'address this (Indian) threat. According to him, India had as many as 232 'hi-tech aircraft as opposed to the 32 F-16s of the Pakistan Air Force. He said since the role of the PAF was a 'pivotal one, Pakistan must 'do something as the Air Force was losing some seven to eight aircraft every year on account of 'phasing out and partly because of attrition. The growing technological disparity between the Pakistan and Indian Air Forces has now assumed 'acute proportions, Air Chief Marshal Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has said. Referring to the addition of sophisticated aircraft to the Indian Air Force and the inability of the PAF to come up with a matching response, Air Marshal Mehdi Qureshi said: 'If this widening technological disparity between India and Pakistan is not plugged or narrowed down within the next 36 to 48 months, it would pose a direct threat to national security. Is this the 'Fighter Gap? Or is it more than this?

I plan to describe several unrelated incidents to show that a 'Fighter Gap exists. This 'Fighter Gap does not relate to technology and numerical disparity, but to the organization, employment and training. The incidents relate to the period, 1947 - 1971 in the employment of the Air Force in combat and discuss the causes, the resulting situation, and with hindsight suggest perhaps what should have been done.

In 1947 and 1948 the IAF provided direct support to the Indian Army, bombed Murree, attacked the Kohala bridge several times and an unarmed PAF transport. The PAF role in Kashmir was transport support, and despite IAF fighter activity it continued air transport operations but limited them to moonlit nights. Our fighters remained employed on 'watch and ward in the NWFP, quoting from the 'Story of the PAF-- 'an unarmed Fury, while engaged in leaflet dropping over a hostile area, was fired upon with a light machine gun. The aircraft sustained some damage but the pilot landed safely at Miranshah, where he quickly took another Fury, this one bristling with weapons, and went back to even the score --.. in an another sequence, '-. Exemplary punitive action-the RPAF--flew 139 sorties in which 72 bombs, 108 rockets and 4600 rounds of 20 mm ammo were expended. The 500-lb high explosive bombs proved useful against mountain hideouts and mud houses - this employment was termed as heaven on earth - 'Was a dream base in many respects- far enough from Peshawar to be free of daily nagging by supervisory authority, a detachment could really let its hair down and dispense with all those nuisances which were collectively labelled bullshit.

The PAF was also a circus outfit and it performed many air displays, always very good ones. Should we not have flown air combat, strike and ground support missions in Kashmir instead of 'watch and ward and air displays?

As soon as the US Aid started flowing the PAF assets increased to 12 F104 interceptors, 104 F86 fighter bombers, 26 B57 bombers, 6 C130 cargo, some RT/ T33 recce / jet trainers and some T37 trainer aircraft. We also had two very high altitude RB 57F recce, 4 SA 16 amphibious long range maritime search and rescue aircraft and helicopters. By 1959/60 the PAF was fully trained and competent in the use of its aircraft. In 1959 the last, all PAF exercise 'JANUS was held. Little or no training was conducted with the Army and Navy. We did train with the USAF, RAF, Turkish and Iranian Air Forces who visited Pakistan regularly. Watch and ward continued in Dir, Bajaur, Kalat and the downing of an IAF Photo Recce (PR) Canberra were added to the PAFs battle honors.

I was posted to Air HQ Plans Directorate in the summer of 1964. This meant about half an hours work a week. Others had less. I was comparatively over worked, but who is complaining. Air HQ was a great place, we had endless samosa and tea sessions, visits to the library and calling on friends. Those were the good old days. 1964 slipped into 1965 and one Monday morning we learnt through the 'rumor channel that the Pakistan Army was being deployed against the Indians in the Rann of Kutch. To make matters worse the C-in-C was in Bangkok attending a SEATO meeting and would be away until Sunday. To further compound the issue we had three war plans, war against India, war against Afghanistan and the third war against both India and Afghanistan. The alert phase was also- 'total, either you were at peace or on full alert. The war plans had no provision for limited action. Finally at about mid-day, orders came through that we were to update and revise all existing plans, meetings were held and work started in earnest which continued until the 'top secret typists were exhausted. There was a great demand for security, since the previous Director Plans had been court-martialed, and some of the officers summarily retired. The day would start at 0730 and continue until 2200 or 2300 hours. On Wednesday evening the Assistant Chief Air Staff (Operations) (ACAS(O)), Director Operations and the Director Plans met us to check progress, at the end of the meeting the ACAS(O) remarked that he did not understand why the Indians had not attacked us yet. There was silence, since no one else said anything, I ventured to say that the Indians were waiting for us to complete our war plans. The meeting came to an abrupt end, and no one disagreed with me!

On Saturday, our revision was complete, we were as ready as could be expected, and the Director Operations took the responsibility and placed the Air Force on alert. The C-in-C returned in the night, called us to work and reversed all the orders. He took one other action -- spoke to his counterpart in India offering that he would not use the PAF if Air Marshal Arjun Singh did not use the IAF! Arjun Singh flew one of his PR Canberras, took photographs of US Aid supplied equipment, when these were seen by the Americans, military aid to Pakistan was stopped!

The fighting in the Rann of Kutch finished, the matter was referred to The Hague and Lal Bahdur Shastri vowed that the next bout would be on a battlefield of their choosing. We did learn some lessons from this--the alert was phased and we prepared for contingencies. These plans permitted flexible response without going into full-scale war. Besides, ammunition and stores had moved despite the reversal of the alert actions.

In July, the C-in-C PAF and Managing Director PIA exchanged positions and AVM Nur Khan assumed command of the PAF. The usual presentations were made. At Plans Directorate we were discussing the returning of stores and ammunition back to their depots. On Monday morning in late July the ACAS(O) returned from Pindi to report that the Army was to engage in a 'do in Kashmir. Since no further details were available, the C-in-C flew up to Pindi to find out for himself. The Army Chief informed him that 'Gibralter Force was to be launched into Kashmir which would create insurrection in the occupied valley leading to its secession to Pakistan. He said that details were with the 12 Div Commander in Murree. Nur Khan flew to Murree in a helicopter and met the operation commander. After the briefing the Air Chief asked whether any air effort was required, the answer was that the entire plan was prepared without any requirements of air support!

On his return from Murree Nur Khan lost no time in calling in Operations and Plans directorates and ordered that plans be drawn up based on the following premise 'IN VIEW OF THE PAKISTAN ARMY INITIATIVES IN KASHMIR AND IF THESE WERE SUCCESSFUL THE INDIAN ARMY WOULD ATTACK ACROSS THE INTERNATIONAL BORDER.

Recall of stores and ammunition was forgotten and working hours again were extended to 'until the days target was achieved. While this was underway only plans and operations directorates discussed war, what we expected and the comparison of our orders of battle was endless. Watching changes on the Indian side, their moves usually involved squadrons. When a single F86 was released from 102 Maintenance Unit, Operations Directorate would call a meeting with plans at Astt. Dir level who would recommend that the aircraft be placed at Sargodha. Then the Deputy Directors would meet and recommend that the aircraft be sent to Sargodha, the Directors would repeat the exercise and place their recommendations with the ACAS(O), who would go to the Chief and get his blessings to send the F86 to Sargodha. This was serious business!

Towards the middle of August '65, the Army sent an SOS that the 'Gibralter Force was in trouble and required immediate air drops of food and ammunition. It was decided that a C130 carry out a night drop. The Air Chief, Base Commander Chaklala and the OC 35 Wing were a part of this crew. The weather was terrible, rain, low clouds, yet the mission flew and satisfactory results were achieved.

Air Force 'Forward Headquarters were activated on 30th August and I joined 7 Squadron. On 1st September the army attacked in Chamb, no air effort was requested or planned, but the C-in-C Air was over the battle field in an L 19, to see the complete rout of the Indian forces, he placed Sargodha on high alert. In the afternoon, flights of Indian Vampires started attacking Pakistani troops, the army requested help and 4 Vampires were shot down. The Indian air action stopped as suddenly as it had started. Still no planned tactical air support was requested! The army stopped four kilometers short of Akhnur!

Were Asghar Khan and Musa on speaking terms? Will we have a one sided story now? Why did Asghar Khan speak to Arjun Singh? Was Asghar Khan under orders to speak or was it initiative on his part? Did he speak? This is contained in John Frickers book 'Battle for Pakistan and in the 'Story of the PAF and also reported in the press without contradiction by Asghar Khan.

Was this the only problem? Asghar Khan claimed that there was no effort to spare for the Army as such the Army doctrine of not to include the PAF in the preparation plans. Asghar Khans policy was dictated by : 'It is true that the PAFs primary role, in essence, is to assist the Army in every possible way to achieve its objectives. But in order to be able to do this the PAF must first achieve a high degree of air superiority over the land battle areas, and it must be equipped to do this effectively. The Army seldom understood or recognised this precondition.

The Air Force according to the war plan attacked the IAF forward bases on the opening day of the war in West Pakistan. Air action in East Pakistan was delayed to the second day since a dusk strike was anticipated. The plan included a single F104 conducting a 'recce over Halwara, followed by F86s, attacking 'guns only Halwara, Adampur, Pathankot and the various forward radars in the north, with T33s in the south, followed by all available B57s after sunset.

After attacking the Indians on the 6th, the Air Force expected retaliation by the IAF on the 7th. No effort was made to launch dawn strikes instead the PAF requested the Army to launch paratroopers against the IAF forward bases on the night 6/7th . Three companies of SSG were launched.

The decision to launch the Special Service Group (SSG) was taken late on the 6th; they left without maps, proper briefing and worst of all with no planning or preparation! The results were disastrous, only a handful returned, most of them were captured or killed. Then every PAF base in Pakistan experienced Indian commando attacks and in their defence thousands of rounds of small arms ammunition was expended at imaginary commandos and the SSG were summoned to save Sargodha!

The operational statistics for 1965 are as under:
Air Defence 1303 55%
Army / Navy support 647 27%
Day Strike 100 4%
Night Strike 165 7%
Photo / Recce 148 6%

On the opening day of the '71 war, I had just returned from Jaisalmir, on entering the crew-room, I saw Gp.Capt. Rashid Rehman and Captain Bhombul the Director Naval Operations. They said that they had sighted an Indian convoy at about 1800 hours from a PIA Fokker, consisting of two merchant men escorted by six warships. Their position was 150 nautical miles south of Karachi, steaming south-east at about 15 knots. The OC Wing joined us and we found that 7 serviceable B57s were available and after modification of the weapons load to include parachute flares and rockets we could strike this convoy several times before dawn and before it could gain the security of friendly air cover. With this information plotted on a chart we moved to the base ops-room and briefed the Base Commander recommending that we attack the convoy or set up a standing patrol of a single B57 about 70/80 nautical miles from Karachi, outside Indian radar/fighter air cover and wait for the Indian Navy. The Base Commander spoke to the Air Chief who said 'LET THE NAVY FIGHT ITS OWN BATTLES!

The Navy got the message despite all our excuses. There were no more missions that night. The Indians bombed us by the hour and we got a taste of our own medicine. In the early morning we had a completely different type of attack-missiles,- the missiles struck without warning, no air raid alert, suddenly the dawn sky was filled with light and Karachi oil terminal started burning, punctuated with its own explosions. It seems that the Indian convoy reversed course and returned towards Karachi, launched its full complement of 'Osa boats. These boats were capable of speeds of 35/45 knots and armed with missiles with a range of 25/30 miles. Osa boats returned to Karachi again, they sank two naval vessels, two merchant men, captured a merchant vessel from our coastal waters, damaged PNS Dacca and the oil terminal. The Pak Fleet returned to harbor, off loaded its heavy ammunition and remained docked for port air defense for the rest of the war.

The Army deployed 18 Division in the Sukkur - Rahim Yar Khan area and the Air Force was to provide air support from Jacobabad. This forward base was equipped to house and maintain 6, F86s. The Army launched the operation, caught the enemy completely by surprise only to be beaten back by 4 IAF Hunter aircraft based at Jaisalmir. Jacobabad was activated after the cease-fire!

On 16th December a tank battle developed in the Zafarwal area, where an Indian armored brigade consisting of four tank regiments broke the protective cordon of our minefield and massed to attack. When air support was requested, support was not provided, could the answer have been: 'LET THE ARMY FIGHT ITS OWN BATTLES?

The battle raged all day, 13th Lancers and 31st Cavalry lost most of their tanks, the enemy was held despite the Air Force. Over a 100 serviceable F86s, F6s, B57s or Mirages were available at Murid, Peshawar, Mianwali, Shorkot, Faisalabad and Sargodha but remained grounded.

The Air Force provided air support to the Navy at Karachi, on a report from a PIA aircraft flying reconnaissance for the Navy, the morning CAP (combat air patrol) at Masroor was asked to investigate, the result was that PNS Zulfiqar took 900 hits of point 5 inch ammo killing several officers and men, with many more injured.

The ship was at anchor, it was not going anywhere! Had the pilots not been so trigger happy, the ships identity could have been established with just two radio calls, and had the pilots had been trained in ship recognition they would have reported back that it was the PNS Zulfiqar!

The operating statistics for 1971 war are as under:

Air Defence 1748 58%
Army / Navy support 951 32%
Day Strike 160 5%
Night Strike 130 4%
Photo / Recce 38 1%

Now that I have compiled a survey of PAF disasters, incompetence and achievements covering about 25 years, what conclusions can be drawn? Could it that there is no defined role for the Air Force? Or is it that the PAF defines its own role? Or is it Air Force incompetence? When such incompetence / disasters do occur they are immensely costly; which is why the next part of the article is written with no holds barred.

The PAFs role was not cleared even by the British Chiefs, who understood the role of air power in the light of WWII, and they became involved in a concepts struggle. In August 1950, General Gracey the then Army C-in-C wrote: 'The small PAF should be primarily trained for the tactical support of the Army and Navy--.. Army / Air and Navy / Air cooperation must be perfected especially as regards air recce, production of air photos and the direct support of Army, in conjunction with artillery, in the destruction of enemy tanks. However, the C-in-C Air AVM R.L.R. Atcherly was of the opinion: '-I am not inferring that you dont know your job; I am saying that you dont know mine. Air must be left to the airmen; even Monty preaches that.

By the time the Rann Kutch started there was no training for forward air controllers, no testing of communication with the Army and Navy. The war plans did not assign, specify support to the Army and Navy. Horizontal communications at various levels of the Army, Navy and the Air Force were non-existent. Even after the IAF had flown over the Kutch battle area, joint action did not result. The PAF could only venture 10 miles from the recognised border. Even though we had two high altitude RB57F recce aircraft, these were not used. We put them to aggressive use only after the '65 war. With such a situation as far as recce was concerned, then the question of direct support was entirely out of question!

With the start of operation 'Grand Slam this situation persisted. The IAF did intervene in the land battle, the PAF restricted itself to air defence. On 6th September the Director Operations PAF was in Aden, enroute to the UK, accompanied by his wife, presumably for a belated honeymoon! However, as the war progressed the Army did call and receive tactical air support, but no pre-planned combined operations took place, either with the Army or the Navy. Not even when the Navy visited Dawarka!

Between the '65 and 71 wars some Army/Air Force co-operation took place, but the Navy was left high and dry. The Navy had no defence against the Osa boat. The Egyptian Navy using the Osa had sunk an Israeli destroyer. The PN approached the Air Force, but no solution was suggested nor were any joint plans agreed upon. The Air Force phased out its only Long Range Maritime Search and Rescue aircraft the SA16! The Osa defence plan is quite simple, identify the convoy or boats and zap them with fighters in the day or bombers by night. The B57 crews had been extensively trained in night operations. The use of parachute flares, night gunnery, rocket attack or skip bombing had all been practiced. The Osa had little or no air defence capability. As far as finding and recognition of the Osa is concerned the C130 was available for long range maritime patrol, its navigation radar was adequate and with an endurance of 10 to 12 hours at patrol altitude, the lack of specialist maritime recce aircraft would not be felt. Our highly sophisticated Electronic Intelligence B57 was also an available asset at PAF Masroor, it should have scanned the Arabian Sea daily, starting well before the war, finger printing all Indian naval ship and shore radars! This aircraft did not get airborne throughout the war and was lost due to enemy night bombing! However, Naval support required will, training, co-ordination and the earnest desire to help and not fight over the budget! Even on the night of the 3rd, the Director Naval Operations had sighted the Indian convoy from a PIA Fokker, all that was needed was that the B57s mop them up. Air effort was available. The Air Force / Navy co-operation that had resulted in the shooting up of an anchored Naval vessel borders on criminal negligence. The Indian version of the Osa attack is: '.. The main attack on Karachi harbor would be launched by tiny PT-15 missile boats-. without air cover -these boats were designed for coastal defense and not for long range offensive action-.The Indian Navy accomplished the task assigned to it within a few days of the war. No enemy shipping could move in or out of its harbors. Control of the sea around both wings of Pakistan was with the Indian Navy.

The Air Force blames the Army for not informing them or giving sufficient notice of its operations in the desert and on this basis denied support to 18 Division. What alternatives did the PAF have even if Jacobabad was not activated? There were 8 B57 at Masroor and perhaps 9 at Mianwali, Jaisalmir was within range of both B57 bases. Instead of going any where else the B57s should have been concentrated only on Jaisalmir. Starting with a 4 B57 dusk strike, continuing with half hourly raids through the night and following up with a 4 ship B57 dawn strike. Some 20 or 30 B57 missions could have been flown daily, until the Hunter force had been destroyed. The F104s were sent to Utarlai, Jamnagar and even ordered to Jodhpur, but if its attacks were concentrated against Jaisalmir, this would result in significant help to the Army. The Indian version: 'The Battle for Longewal, fought in the deserts of the Indian state of Rajastan, merits inclusion in any account of the 1971 India-Pakistan war because of the sheer audacity of the Pakistani generals who had planned it. Had it succeeded, India would have lost thousands of kilometers of a vast expanse of desert. But there is a fine line between the daring and the foolhardy. Did Pakistani general cross that dividing line?

Air support was not provided in the Zafarwal sector, this defies explanation, was the C-in-C PAF drunk?

The only place where the PAF acquitted itself well was in East Pakistan, both in '65 and in '71. In '65, it struck Kalikunda twice, Bhagdogra, Hasimara and Agartala. In 71 the Dacca air base, handicapped by not having a wireless observer unit or a main radar (evacuated to West Pakistan) gave an excellent account for itself. It lost only four aircraft in air combat, including the present Chief of Air Staff who became a prisoner of war. The IAF was severely punished in its day attacks and despite, the Indian preponderance of 10 or 20 to 1, they stopped day raids and concentrated their air effort to night high altitude bombing. No aircraft was damaged by these attacks, 12 or 13 aircraft remained when runway repair was given up and the pilots were evacuated, according to plan.

It will be pertinent to note that India operates Pathankot and Amritsar, both within gun range from Pakistan! Other facts are that only four senior officers took part in operations in '65, Nur Khan, Hall, Zahid Butt and Khaqan Abassi, of these pilots only Nur Khan was from fighter command. In 1971, no senior officer Group Captain or above got airborne.

Why did all this happen? Because the role of the Air Force was not clearly defined and the PAF defined its own role. If you look at the percentage effort spent on air defence, 55 and 57%, in '65 and '71 (the effort to protect air bases), and if we subtract bomber, transport and recce effort, then the resultant effect is that the PAF spent up to 70% of the available air effort to protect itself! Military action is an uncontrolled experiment, facts are often distorted, line shooting, deceiving with false appearances and covering up are common place. The Air Force is no exception, have disasters become an enduring feature of the Air Force? Where do we go from here?

Article 243 of the constitution states:

The Federal Government shall have control and command of the armed forces.

(1A)Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provision, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces shall vest in the President.

Article 245 states:

(1) The armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, --.

The constitution thus places equal responsibility on all three services, and since the service chiefs are of equivalent ranks, there is no subordinate position! Despite the fact that the Air Force is small and its primary task is to support the Army and Navy. The Air Force, the sword arm of the services has not delivered, and like all good government institutions, it is a bureaucracy, and therefore, has every reluctance to change!

In order to fully understand the damaging effects of an independent air arm has had on Pakistan, it is necessary to explore modern management theories, the misconceptions and the biases of those who proposed the organizations and relationships amongst the forces, however, the position is that the PAF has a subordinate role since its primary responsibility is to support the Army and Navy, therefore, would it not be reasonable for the end users, the Army and Navy to decide the method, quantum, etc of support from the Air Force? Would it not be reasonable to place the Air Force under command of the Army and Navy? Here the only conflict is that of doctrine. What determines doctrine? Does equipment do it, or is equipment born of tactical doctrines. With the development of the Ghauri, and the diminished strategic role of the F 16, would it be used for tactical ground support? To do this, would we have to rewrite history and amend the constitution?