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Interview S/L Sameen Mazhar

S/L Sameen Mazhar joined the Pakistani Air Force (Pakistan Fiza'ya) in October 1980, and after four years of rigorous training and academics at the PAF College at Sargodha, he was awarded a bachelors degree in Aerosciences. He then went to the Air Force Academy at Risalpur for flying training. After 1 1/2 year of flying training, including primary and basic jet flying on T-37 a/c, he was awarded his "wings" and was commissioned as a "pilot officer" in the G D(P) (general duty pilot) branch of the PAF in 1985. In Pakistan, this is quite an achievement, since the attrition rate during various tests and phases was almost 50%. Only half of the cadets could make it to the pilot officer rank during these five years. S/L Mazhar did his fighter conversion on the Mig-17, and, thanks to his excellent flying skills was directly sent to the Mirage OCU (normally, after fighter conversion, all PAF pilots are sent to the F-6 (Sheniyang-built MiG-19, aka J-6) OCU or the F-7P (Sheniyang-built MiG-21, aka J-7). After successfully completing Mirage conversion, he was posted to Nr. 8 Tactical Attack sqn equipped with the Mirage V PA3. There he specialized in the Air to Sea role. From there he was posted to Nr. 11 OCU for conversion on the viper in 1990 after which he was assigned to Nr. 9 Multi role sqn. S/L Mazhar also flew the F-16 in the prestegious "Combat Commanders" School of the PAF, where he took an advanced course similar to USN Fighter Weapons School (Topgun). (349 Note: To give you an idea of the stringent criteria and high standard of training in the PAF, only 1% of the initial intake makes it to fighter pilot in the squadrons of the PAF.)

349: How long have you flown the Viper and how many hours do you have on the F-16 ?

S/L. Mazhar: I have been flying the viper since 1990. But there was a break of 2 1/2 years in between when I did a tenure as a Flight Instructor in PAF Academy. Due to some restrictions, we do not fly as much as USAF or Turkish AF pilots do, therefore I only have about 500 Hrs on the F-16.

349: How would you compare the F-16 to the other aircraft types you flew ?

S/L. Mazhar: Well, in a nutshell, Mig is potent but lacks sophistication, but mind you if a good pilot is sitting in a Mig, it takes a while to get him in your HUD. Mirage comes no where close to the Viper in air combat, but for its role, surface attack, its a beautiful platform.

349: What is the principal role of the F-16 in the PAF ?

S/L. Mazhar: Although the principal role of Pakistani F-16 is Air Defence, it is utilized as a true multi role aircraft in our Air Force. We are extensively using the F-16 in various roles like strike, deep interdiction, escort etc.

349: Is there a difference in the roles of the three sqns ? Which squadron did you enjoy most serving with ?

S/L. Mazhar: Yes. Apart from the operational flying, Nr. 11 OCU has to fulfill the task of being the sole F-16 conversion unit for the PAF. CCS is purely an advanced tactics school for section leaders during their mid career. I enjoyed all the three assignments as I was flying the F-16.

349: What are the consequences of pakistan's geographical location for the Pakistani Air Force, and for the Pakistan F-16s in particular ?

S/L. Mazhar: I don't want to go in detail in this matter but due to obvious reasons of Russian invasion / unrest in Afghanistan in the west, and India's vision of becoming a mini superpower in the south east Asia, on our east, PAF has to keep a vigilant eye all along its border to defend the sovereignty of its country. The F-16s are the only a/c equipped with the latest avionics suite which can effectively fulfill this task therefore it puts them under tremendous pressure as far as the responsibility is concerned.

349: The PAF is one of the few airforces whose F-16s saw actual combat. How does this affect the Pakistani AF and its F-16 pilots ? What were the circumstances of those engagements ?

S/L. Mazhar: Pretty long question !!!!!!! It has made a pakistani pilot more wise I would say, and Air Force on the whole, as far as the employment of the F-16 is concerned. We have devised new tactics and educated our non AI equipped a/c pilots how to handle a situation if they are pitched against an AI equipped threat. In the beginning the Russians and the Afghanis were really flying like bafoons, but later they also learnt how to employ their a/c. They used split level tactics and played with numbers (typical Russian doctrine), in the end, to increase the task of the viper pilots. At time a single viper had to play with six to eight adversaries and mind you this is no exaggeration !!!!!!!!

349: What is life in a PAF F-16 sqn like ? Do you think the sqn life in the PAF is different from sqn life in other airforces ?

S/L. Mazhar: Life in a PAF F-16 sqn is quite tough; to be very frank. Due to the diversity of the role, the pilots are trained in almost all the roles. We do not have pilots specialised in only one role. You can very comfortably call them multi role pilots !!!!! This calls for full time dedication and hard work on the part of the pilots to maintain standards alongwith normal flying and 24 hours air defence alert duties. We really mean bussiness here in the F-16 sqns.

349: What flight profiles (air-air; air-ground,...) do you enjoy most and why ?

S/L. Mazhar: My favourite is the ESCORT role. It is a true blend of surface attack and air-air at low level. I think it's the ultimate you can derive out of a viper, though it demands a lot of training, there's no match pivoting a viper at 250 feet AGL, keeping an eye on the radar scope, watching your tail and shoot as well !

349: Do you have particularly fond memories of a specific deployment or exercise ?

S/L. Mazhar: HIGHMARK 93 - one of the major exercises PAF conducts. I had twenty five "confirmed" kills in air during a twelve day period, the highest for any pilot in any exercise of the PAF.

349: Thanks for the interview!

- S/L Mazhar was interviewed online by Stefaan Vanhastel -