Pakistan Air Force | A Proud History
Every Man A Tiger
Pakistan has one of the best, most combat ready airforces in the world. They have to; their neighbour to the east is huge, and the two nations, have a long history of hostilities. For Indian war planners, the Pakistan air Force is their worst fear. Pakistani pilots are respected throughout the world, especially the Islamic world, beause they know how to fly and fight.
On one or two occasions, I had the oppertunity to talk with Pakistani instructor pilots, who had served in Iraq. These discussions, didn’t give me great cause to worry. The Russian domination of training prevented the Pakistanis from having any real influence on the Iraqi aircrew training program.
Still, there had to be a few Iraqi pilots, who had observed and listened to their mentors from France and Pakistan and the useless guidence of their inept leaders. It was those few, I was concerned about – the ones with great situational awareness and good eyesight, who had figured out how to effectively use their aircrafts and its weapons to defend their nation.”
(General Chuck Horner (retd) and Tom Clancey. General Chuck commanded the US and allied air assets during Desert shield and desert storm, and was responsible for the design and execution of one of the most devestating air campaigns in the history. He also served as Commander 9th Air Force, Commander US Central Command Air Forces, and Commander in chief, SpaceCom. Book: Every Man A Tiger).
PAF – Quality If Not Quantity
“Another way in which the PAF satisfies this requirement is in the pursuit of excellence with regard to its combat echelons. Paradoxically, though, that pursuit is by its very nature an expensive procedure and there is a high wastage rate as pilots progress through the training system, with individuals being weeded out all the way along the line. The end result is felt to be well worth the expense involved, however, and personal observations have certainly convinced the author that the average PAF pilot is almost certainly possessed of superior skills when compared with, say, an average American pilot. As to those , who are rated above average, they compare favourably to the very best in a host of western air arms. Standard of accuracy appear comparable to those of the west and may surpass them, one F-6 pilot of No. 15 Squadron having recently put 20 out of 25 shells through a banner in four successive passes. The author can vouch for this having inspected the banner at Kamra and even more remarkably, the pilot responsible for this impressive shooting was a ‘first tourist’.”
(Lindsay Peacock. Journal: Air International, Vol 41. No 5)
“When we arrived in Pakistan in 1971, the political situation between the Pakistanis and Indians was really tense over Bangladesh, or East Pakistan, as it was known in those days, and Russia was backing India with tremendous amounts of new airplanes and tanks. The U.S. and China were backing the Pakistanis. My job was military advisor to the Pakistani air force, headed by Air Marshal Rahim Khan, who had been trained in Britain by the Royal Air Force, and was the first Pakistani pilot to exceed the speed of sound. He took me around to their different fighter groups and I met their pilots, who knew me and were really pleased that I was there. They had about five hundred airplanes, more than half of them Sabres and 104 Starfighters, a few B-57 bombers, and about a hundred Chinese MiG-19s. They were really good, aggressive dogfighters and proficient in gunnery and air combat tactics. I was damned impressed. Those guys just lived and breathed flying.
The Pakistanis whipped their [Indians’] asses in the sky, but it was the other way around in the ground war. The air war lasted two weeks and the Pakistanis scored a three-to-one kill ratio, knocking out 102 Russian-made Indian jets and losing thirty-four airplanes of their own. I’m certain about the figures because I went out several times a day in a chopper and counted the wrecks below. I counted wrecks on Pakistani soil, documented them by serial number, identified the components such as engines, rocket pods, and new equipment on newer planes like the Soviet SU-7 fighter-bomber and the MiG-21 J, their latest supersonic fighter. The Pakistani army would cart off these items for me, and when the war ended, it took two big American Air Force cargo lifters to carry all those parts back to the States for analysis by our intelligence division.
I didn’t get involved in the actual combat because that would’ve been too touchy, but I did fly around and pick up shot-down Indian pilots and take them back to prisoner-of-war camps for questioning. I interviewed them about the equipment they had been flying and the tactics their Soviet advisers taught them to use. I wore a uniform or flying suit all the time, and it was amusing when those Indians saw my name tag and asked, “Are you the Yeager who broke the sound barrier?” They couldn’t believe I was in Pakistan or understand what I was doing there. I told them, “I’m the American Defense Rep here. That’s what I’m doing.” The PAF remains the only foreign air force in the world to have received Chuck Yeager’s admiration – a recommendation which the PAF is proud of. (Source: PIADS)
(General (Retd.) Chuck Yeager (USAF) , Book: Yeager, the Autobiography).
THE 1965 INDO- PAKISTAN WAR
“The Partition of 1947 signalled the end of the British Empire in India, and the establishment of two independent states, India and Pakistan. They took opposite sides over Kashmir’s struggle for independence in 1947-49, and although open war was averted, India lost 6000 men in the conflict. India annexed Kashmir in January 1957 and there followed a long period of tension with Pakistan. Armed clashes in the Rann of Kutch in western India during January 1965 and Pakistan’s recruitment of a ‘Free Kashmir’ guerrilla army finally erupted into open warfare in August 1965.
The ground forces of the two countries appeared to be evenly matched, and their respective offensives (although involving approximately 6000 casualties on each side) were indecisive. The Pakistan Air Force, however, emerged with great credit from its conflict with the Indian Air Force, destroying 22 IAF aircraft in air-to-air combat for the loss of only eight of its own – a remarkable achievement considering that the PAF faced odds of nearly four to one. During the conflict India and Pakistan came under strong international pressure to end the war, and arms supplies to both sides were cut off by Britain and the US. A ceasefire imposed by the UN Security Council then reduced the conflict to a series of sporadic minor clashes, and the national leaders were persuaded to attend a peace conference at Tashkent in January 1966. Their decision to renounce the use of force finally ended the war.”
(Anthoney Robinson, former staff of the RAF Museum, Hendon and now a free lance Military aviation writer . Book: Elite Forces Of The World)
Combat Over The Indian Subcontinent
“In September 1965 a festering border dispute between India and Pakistan erupted into full scale war. The Indian possessed the larger air force numerically, composed maily of British and French types- Hawker Hunter, Folland Gnat and Dassault Mystere fighters, Dassault Ouragon fighter-bombers and English electric Camnberra bombers. The smaller but highly trained Pakistan air force was equipped in large part with F-86F Sabers, plus a few F-104 Starfighters. Fighting lasted little more than two weeks, but during that time, Pakistan gained a definite ascendancy in the air. It was the well proven Sabers that emerged with honors, being credited with all but five of the 36 victories claimed. The Indians claimed 73 victories – undoubtly a considerable overestimate – for an admitted loss of 35.”
(Christopher Sivores, Book: Air Aces)
Fiza’ya: Psyche Of The Pakistan Air Force.
“This is the first definitive account of a relatively small but fascinating air arm, the Pakistan Air Force. Hitherto either casually studied or written up in propaganda fashion, the PAF has needed a detailed analysis of how a developing country with limited resources can nonetheless produce a first class air force.
The Pakistan Fiza’ya (Pakistan Air Force) plays a role in the psyche of its nation unmatched by any air force in the world except that by the Israeli Air Force. The PAF’s motto, loosely translated from the Persian, is ‘Lord of All I Survey’. It calls itself “The Pride of the Nation’, and it is exactly that. Much smaller than India in geographical size and population, Pakistan sees itself as a beleaguered state between India to the East and the Soviet Union/Afghanistan to the West. Since it can never match numbers with India, much in the same way as Israel cannot match numbers with the Arabs, it has always emphasized quality, and projected itself as the Gallant Few against the eastern hordes of many. The mystique of the air warrior, the last jousting knight, the only surviving gladiator on the field of modem war, has been effectively utilized by Pakistan as its symbol of defiance against vastly larger enemies.
The PAF gets the best and the brightest of the country’s young men, and it is given clear preference in the matter of equipment. In 1981, for example, Pakistan paid $1.2 billion for 40 F-16s. By comparison, the entire first five year (1982-87) FMS package from the United States totalled $1.6 billion, of which $0.5 billion was used to cover the shortfalls in the F-16 funding. In other words, virtually half of all military equipment purchased from the US during this period went on one single purchase of fighter aircraft for the PAF.
Had the US been willing to supply an Airborne Warning and Control System to Pakistan in the second package (1987-92), along with additional F-16s again the PAF would have gotten half or more of the total sum. Because the nation spends so much of its precious resources on the PAF, it expects a great dealinreturn. In 1965 the PAF delivered; in 1971,overtaken by circumstances outside of its control, it did not. This took much of the glint, glamour and shine off the PAF. But in the next eighteen years, 1972-90, by dint of solid hard work the PAF did much to restore its prestige.”
(Pushpinder Singh, Ravi Rikhye, Peter Steinemann. Book: Fiza’ya: Psyche of the Pakistan Air Force.)
On Eagles’ Wings
“He was a formidable fellow and I was glad that he was Pakistani and not Egyptian”
(Israel Air Force chief Ezer Weizmen writing about PAF chief Nur Khan in his autobiography, On Eagles’ Wings).
Pakistan Air Force.
“One of Asia’s most competent air arms…”
(World Air Power Journal, Vol 6 Summer 1991)
“Overall the PAF are a highly professional air force and this is reflected in their high standards of instructions and flying training.”
(Steve Bond commenting about PAF’s flying training program. Journal: Air Forces Monthly, May 1990.)
An article in the May 1993 issue (pages 46-47) of Airforces Monthly, a reputable UK-based air defence magazine, written by a Russian aviation writer, Sergey Vekhov, for the first time in public, provided a first-hand account about the PAF’s pilots:
“As an air defence analyst, I am fully aware that the Pakistan Air Force ranks today as one of the best air forces in the world and that the PAF Combat Commanders’ School (CCS) in Sargodha has been ranked as the best GCI/pilot and fighter tactics and weapons school in the world”. As one senior US defence analyst commented to me in 1992, “it leaves Topgun (the US Naval Air Station in Miramar, California) far behind”.
Article in the May 1993 issue (pages 46-47 by Sergey Vekhov)
Jane’s International Defense (June 24, 1998)
The PAF, although outnumbered by IAF, has at least one qualitative edge over its rival: Pilot Training. The caliber of Pakistani instructors is acknowledged by numerous air forces, and US Navy pilots considered them to be highly ‘professionals’ during exercises flying off the USS Constellation (as co-pilots). The IAF is in an unfortunate position: it lacks an advanced training (and multi-role combat aircraft)
During 1965 war, India’s General Chaudri ordered his troops to march on Sialkot and Lahore – jauntily inviting his officers to join him for drinks that evening in lahore Gymkhana. He didn;t reckon on the Pakistani troops.
“The first Indian regiment that found itself face to face with Pakistanis didn’t get clobbered,” said a report in Washington DC, America. “They just turned and ran, leving all of their equipment, artillery supplies and even extra clothing and supplies behind”.
I have been a journalist now for twenty years, ‘reported American Broadcasting Corporation’s Roy Maloni, “and want to go on record that I have never seen a more confident and victoroius group of soldiers than those fighting for Pakistan, right now.
“India is claiming all-out victory. I have not been able to find any trace of it. All I can see are troops, tanks and other war material rolling in a steady towards the front … These muslims of Pakistan are natural fighters and they ask for no quarter and they give none. In any war, such as the one going on between India and Pakistan right now, the propoganda claims on either side are likely to be startling. But if I have to take bet today, my money would be on the Pakistan side.”
The London Daily Mirror reported: “There is a smell of death in the burning Pakistan sun. For it was here that India’s attacking forces came to a dead stop.
“During the night they threw in every reinforcement they could find. But wave after wave of attacks were repulsed by the Pakistani troops.”
“India”, said the London Daily Times, “is being soundly beaten by a nation which is outnumbered by four and a half to one in population and three to one in size of armed forces.”
In Times reporter Louis Karrar wrote: “Who can defeat a nation which knows how to play hide and seek with death“.
“… I will never forget the smile full of nerve the conducting army officers gave me. this smile told me how fearless and brave are the Pakistani young men.
“Playing with fire to these men — from the jawan to the general Officer Commanding — was like children playing with marbles in the streets.
“I asked the GOC, how is it that despite a small number you are overpowering the Indians?
He looked at me, smiled and said: “if courage, bravery and patriotism were purchaseable commodities, then India have got them along with American aid.”
“Pakistan has been able to gain complete command of the air by literally knocking the Indian planes out of the skies, if they had not already run away.”
“Indian pilots are inferior to Pakistan’s pilots and Indian officers’ leadership has been generally deplorable. India is being soundly beaten by a nation which is outnumbered by a four and a half to one in population and three to one three to one in size of armed forces.”
Sunday Times, London, September 19, 1965.
“Pakistan’s success in the air means that she has been able to redeploy her relatively small army — professionally among the best in Asia — with impunity, plugging gaps in the long front in the face of each Indian thrust.”
“By all accounts the courage displayed by the Pakistan Air Force pilots is reminiscent of the bravery of the few young and dedicated pilots who saved this country from Nazi invaders in the critical Battle of Britain during the last war.”
Patrick Seale, The Observer, London, September 12, 1965.
“India is claiming all out victory. I have not been able to find any trace of it. All I can see are troops, tanks and other war material rolling in a steady stream towards the front.”
“If the Indian Air Force is so victorious, why has it not tried to halt this flow?. The answer is that it has been knocked from the skies by Pakistani planes.”
“Pakistan claims to have destroyed something like 1/3rd the Indian Air Force, and foreign observers, who are in a position to know say that Pakistani pilots have claimed even higher kills than this; but the Pakistani Air Force are being scrupulously honest in evaluating these claims. They are crediting Pakistan Air Force only those killings that can be checked from other sources.”
Roy Meloni, American Broadcasting Corporation, September 15, 1965.
“One thing I am convinced of is that Pakistan morally and even physically won the air battle against immense odds.”
“Although the Air Force gladly gives most credit to the Army, this is perhaps over-generous. India with roughly five times greater air-power, expected an easy air-superiority. Her total failure to attain it may be seen retrospectively as a vital, possibly the most vital, of the whole conflict.”
“Nur Khan is an alert, incisive man of 41, who seems even less. For six years he was on secondment and responsible for running Pakistan’s civil air-line, which, in a country where ‘now’ means sometime and ‘sometime’ means never, is a model of efficiency. he talks without the jargon of a press relations officer. He does not quibble abobut figures. Immediately one has confidence in what he says.”
“His estimates, proffered diffidently but with as much photographic evidence as possible, speak for themselves. Indian and Pakistani losses, he thinks, are in something like the ration of ten to one.”
“Yet, the quality of equipment, Nur insists, is less important than flying ability and determination. The Indians have no sense of purpose. The Pakistanis were defending their own country and willingly taking greater risks. ‘The average bomber crews flew 15 to 20 sorties. My difficulty was restraining them, not pushing them on.‘ ”
“This is more than nationalistic pride. Talk to the pilots themselves and you get the same intense story.”
Peter Preston, The Guardian, London – September 24, 1965.
“One point particularly noted by military observers is that in their frist advances the Indians did not use air power effectively to support their troops. In contrast, the Pakistanis, with sophisticated timing, swooped in on Ambala airfield and destroyed some 25 Indian planes just after they had landed and were sitting on the ground out of fuel and powerless to escape (NOTE: PAF has not claimed any IAF aircraft during it’s attacks on Ambala due to non-availability of concrete evidence of damage in night bombing.)”
“By the end of the week, in fact, it was clear that the Pakistanis were more than holding their own.”
Everett G. Martin, General Editor, Newsweek, September 20, 1965.
“India’s barbarity is mounting in fury as the Indian army and Air Force, severely mauled, are showing signs of demoralisation. The huge losses suffered by the Indian Armed Forces during the last 12 days of fighting could not be kept from the Indian public and in retaliation, the Indian armed forces are indulging in the most barbaric methods.”
“The Chief of Indian Air Force could no longer ensure the safety of Indian air space. A well known Indian journalist, Mr Frank Moraes, in a talk from All-india radio, also admitted that IAF had suffered severe losses and it was no use hiding the fact and India should be prepared for more losses.”
Indonesian Herald, September 11, 1965.
Pakistani forces thrusting six miles deep into Indian territory the south-east of Lahore have checked the Indian offensive launched on September 6 against the capital of West Pakistan.
Pakistani infantry supported by armor and guns were today entrenched six miles east of the Indian border, and well beyond Indian town of Khem Karan, the capture of which last week forced Indian tanks and men to make a hasty retreat.
From Khem Karan, an ever-green village now deserted by its 15,000 people, a 40-mile road leads directly to Amritsar, holy capital of India’s restive Sikhs. And a Pakistani offensive along that road could threaten the rear of Indian forces still facing Lahore from East Punjab.
As I visited Khem Karan today with the first party of newsmen shown into India by Pakistani officers, evidence of the Indians’ hasty withdrawal lay everywhere in the flat dust blown fields.
Intact mortars and American made ammunition, much of which was still crated, for 81 and 120 mm mortars, shells for 90 mm tank guns, rifle cartridges in hundred, stacks of fuel in barrel, had been left behind.
India had sent against Lahore one armoured brigade and two infantry divisions. The initial thrust on September 6, carried the Indians two and a half miles deep into Pakistan from Khem Karan and the Pakistanis say they were outnumbered six to one.
The Pakistanis pushed the Indians back at the cost of bitter fighting. One Pakistani armoured unit ran into an Indian armoured regiment, the Ninth Royal Deccan Horse… and no shots were spared.
I saw two Indian Sherman tanks on the road to Khem Karan blown clean through, one in the rear and one in the front, each by a single Pakistani shell with the dead crew still inside.
Indian dead lay unburied in the fields. An Indian border post was riddled with bullets and shells. This is real war, even though Pakistani infantry are now resting at forward posts, with Indians on the defensive and the main action in the air.
Indian British made Canberras, Soviet made Mig-21s and French made Mysteres and Ouragons constantly swoop, strafe and bomb from a safe altitude, for Pakistani anti-aircraft units are very much on the alert. On the the road from Lahore charred trucks lay twisted wrecks, one of them still aflame. It is war run by cool professionals, with every gun and tank well protected by camouflage nets, every trench where it should be, perfect discipline and very high morale.
Almost every Pakistani officers says: “We are not interested in territorial gains, but we are very keen to give the Indians a hard lesson and we won’t stop short of that.”
AFP Corespondent, reporting on September 9, 1965
Man for man, unit for unit, Pakistan’s smaller Army is at a higher standard of training than the Indian Army. The present Indian intention was to scatter Pakistan’s smaller Army by making several other thrusts apart from the main fighting area in the Lahore sector. The intense air activity had prevented the mass movement of Indian troops by air.
BBC commentary By Charles Douglas Home, September 10, 1965
The Pakistan-India conflict, in the Pentagon’s early assessment, pits tighter discipline, a higher morale, better training, and some superior equipment among the Pakistanis against considerably larger Indian Land, Air and Sea Forces.
Washington sources see Pakistan aiming to humiliate Indian in a short conflict. They judge India as depending on its juggernaut to crush the Pakistanis under sheer military weight.
Armoured strength between the two forces is about equal but the Pakistani tanks are more modern.
Christian Science Monitor, September 10, 1965
Pakistan has a somewhat more homogeneous army with less ethnic and religious frictions. Its soldiers have a high reputation for will to fight; and in Mohammad Ayub Khan, the head of state and Sandhurst-trained professional soldier, the army has always had a sympathetic supporter.
The ‘New York Times’, September 10, 1965
“We fought for you last time,” several Pakistanis told me, referring to their wartime service under British command. “But this time it is our war and we shall fight it to the finish”
Joe McGrown Jr., Washington Post, September 10, 1965
Nehru wasn’t worried much about aggression when India took Goa. But Shastri has plenty to worry about now, because he is facing penal and disciplinary action by one of the toughest and best trained armies in the world, excellently led, highly organized and totally dedicated. For himself he has a motley, disorganized, low-morale force of four time as many men as Pakistan, but they can’t or won’t fight. They only beg.
The first Indian regiment that found itself face to face with the Pakistanis didn’t get clobbered. They just turned and ran, leaving all of their equipment, artillery supplies and even extra clothing and supplies behind.
The Pakistan military hardware, including tanks, planes, and ground-warfare equipment of every kind is far superior to that of Indians, and one long time expert of the Indian-Pakistan picture told me this afternoon that in his military opinion, there is little doubt but that the Pakistanis will lick the Indians in the long run, despite the fact that the Indian army outnumbers the Pakistan army four to one.
This expert said, however, that there is great disparity between the quality of the two armies, not to mention the disparity in equipment. The Indian soldier is soft while the Pakistan soldier is tough and determined. The Indian leadership is vacillating and uncertain, while the Pakistan leadership is well trained, highly talented and decisive.
The Indian air force is somewhat larger than the Pakistan Air Force in numbers of planes, but there is no organizational pattern to the way they have been acquired or to what is on hand. It is a weird conglomeration of all sorts and conditions of aircraft from a variety of countries, even including France and the maintenance problem is staggering, even if adequate maintenance personnel were available. It means a vast stocking of replacement parts, because the different for virtually ever type of plane they have, while the Pakistan Air Force has been intelligent enough to standardize to a very high degree, and thus reduce their maintenance problem to a minimum. And this is vitally important as any war proceeds beyond the very first stages.
Furthermore, it began to develop today that the Indian claims of having shot down large numbers of Pakistan Air Force planes in the first days of conflict were highly exaggerated, and that the Pakistan losses have been virtually nil in this line.
The Indian claims, frankly, were highly suspicious from the beginning because they are notably poor airmen and their equipment is antiquated and not at all a match for the modern jet equipment of the Pakistan Air Force. It just didn’t hold water to anyone who knew the details of the Indian air inventory as against the Pakistan air inventory, that any such victories could have been achieved by the Indians.
‘Top of the News’, Washington, September 6-10, 1965
“For the PAF, the 1965 war was as climatic as the Israeli victory over the Arabs in 1967. A further similarity was that Indian air power had an approximately 5:1 numerical superiority at the start of the conflict. Unlike the Middle East conflict, the Pakistani air victory was achieved to a large degree by air-to-air combat rather than on ground. But it was as absolute as that attained by Israel.
USA – Aviation Week & Space Technology – December 1968 issue.
“Pakistan’s air force gained a remarkable victory over India in this brief 22 day war exploiting its opponents weaknesses in exemplary style – Deeply shaken by reverse, India began an extensive modernisation and training program, meanwhile covering its defeat with effective propaganda smoke screen.”
Encyclopaedia of Aircraft printed in several countries by Orbis Publications – Volume 5
Alam’s Speed Shooting Classics – One of the great aces of the jet age.
Columnist Air Cdre M Kaiser Tufail has conducted a detailed research of MM Alam’s 1965 feats. Read it here