By M. M. Usman
Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Indian Air Force (IAF) are the two regional forces frequently at war and engaged in a never ending arms race. History has proved PAF to be superior whenever the two forces were involved in air combat. This was primarily attributed to sound professionalism and training of PAF crew, great serviceability and upkeep of war reserves and a slight technological edge of PAF over IAF. IAF analysts concluded that PAF’s possession of air to air missiles and a single operational squadron of supersonic mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) fighters and their absence with the IAF provided PAF pilots with a tremendous advantage and were demoralizing for the IAF aircrew. IAF’s numerical superiority was effectively neutralized and proved of little avail in the conflict.
Given the importance of air power in modern warfare, a crucial factor to analyze the outcome of any conflict between Pakistan and India becomes analyzing the viability of each air force. Both the forces realized this fact learning from various conflicts and strived since then to achieve technological edge over the other. PAF suffered a lot in this regard in past two decades as Pakistan was one of the most sanctioned countries in the world and sanctions were focused mainly on military hardware. As a result of sanctions, PAF resorted to explore black market spares for existing fleet at lower prices and made a turn towards Chinese emerging technology. A fair number of Mirage airframes and engines were purchased from nations that had mothballed and retired them, at a throwaway price. Many of these were refurbished and made fully serviceable, some through indigenous effort and some through foreign contractors. Moreover, PAF inducted a huge number of F-7P and F-7PG aircrafts from China spending comparatively less revenue and modified them for air defense role. The joint venture of China and Pakistan also came into existence in the form of JF-17 aircraft which matched the capabilities of any modern jet at a fraction of price. This happened primarily because of sanctions that PAF has a mixture of war assets and technologies difficult for the enemy to jam and intercept. I would comment that PAF always kept a minimum deterrence level with IAF smartly and efficiently spending a very fraction of money that IAF did.
The capability of air forces at the dawn of 2011 is beyond the number and quality of jet fighters. Electronic Warfare capabilities form an important element of modern warfare. Based on this proven fact, capability of any air force is measured by the technology of ground based sensors, network centric operations capability, strength of Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems, Avionics suite on the airborne platforms, security of communication and information, sophisticated weapons with accurate delivery mechanisms and Multirole capabilities of jet fighters. These indicators enable prompt decisions from higher echelons in war scenario and thus inflicting heavy strikes in the enemy territory without being noticed and intercepted by enemy radars. The rule of the modern air combat is simple: None of your aircraft gets noticed by enemy radars and none of enemy’s aircraft gets blanked from your radars. Both IAF and PAF have been working hard in last few years to achieve maximum technological edge in terms of electronic and network centric warfare. In subsequent paragraphs, I will analyze and compare both air forces based on various indicators and capabilities specified above.
Pakistan Air Force has a great history to cherish when it comes to air combat. This was not because of the number of combat aircrafts but the sound professionalism of its crew. PAF today carries approximately 450 combat aircrafts on its fleet of different variants.
The most capable fighter in PAF service remains F-16 Fighting Falcon. 40 of the F-16 Block 15 models were delivered to PAF from 1983 to 1987. Deliveries of another 28 F-16s were stopped after the 1990 arms embargo imposed on Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment but 14 of these were later delivered during 2005-2008. The present F-16 fleet is being upgraded with MLU (Mid-Life Update) modification kits and Falcon Star Structural Service Life Enhancement kits by Turkish Aerospace Industries. The MLU package will include new APG-69 radars, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems along with new communications, targeting, data link and electronic warfare systems. This upgrade will enhance the capabilities of more than a decade old fleet of F-16s which would help reduce the yawning technological gap with the IAF.
In 2006, 12 F-16C and 6 F-16D Block 52+ models were ordered with a further 18 aircraft optional. 14 of the optional fighters were ordered in 2010. The first batch of 3 F-16C/D fighters landed at PAF Base Shahbaz, Jacacobad, on 26 June, 2010. An addition of 28 F-16s with latest avionics suite would make it a very potent weapon against any IAF aircraft and boost PAF’s conventional deterrence. And this enhancement of PAF’s deterrence will be achieved at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new weapon system of a similar class like the French Mirage 2000-5s. The 28 F-16s are priced at less than three million dollars a piece in the international market. Their mid life upgrade would cost about seven and a half millions per piece making their unit cost to be about ten million dollars. A comparable plane from Europe would cost at least five times as much, besides taking a much longer period for full assimilation.
The JF-17 Thunder, a new fighter jointly developed by China and Pakistan, is currently being inducted by the PAF and it is expected to gradually replace all Dassault Mirage III/5, Nanchang A-5 and Chengdu F-7 aircrafts by 2015. A total of 250-300 aircrafts are planned to be built, with later aircrafts featuring improved airframes, avionics and engines. Currently 14 aircrafts are in service and the first JF-17 squadron is officially made operational. The first Pakistani-built JF-17, manufactured at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, was rolled out and handed over to the PAF on 23 November 2009. The Thunder may be classified as a ‘Medium Tech’ plane when compared to USAF’s F-22 and French Rafale, but in the India – Pakistan scenario especially in the air defence role it should serve the nation well for at least two decades. Its advanced AI radar, avionics, defensive suites and BVR capability would make it a very potent aircraft against any IAF fighter.
The upgrade of old F-16s, induction of new Block 52 models and locally developed JF-17 multi role combat planes provide PAF with BVR capability thus ending exclusive IAF BVR edge over PAF. PAF is also planning to add a few number of American and Chinese BVRs to its inventory with capabilities matching to its adversary having maximum target range of 40 Km. The great avionics suite coupled with BVR capability will surely drive nuts to IAF pilots in air combat.
The other air defence fighter in PAF fleet is the Chengdu F-7, of which two variants are in service; 120 F-7P and 60 F-7PG. An upgraded variant of the F-7M, F-7P incorporates many PAF-specific modifications such as Martin-Baker ejection seat, two extra weapon stations for a total of 5, an extra 30 mm cannon and an Italian-designed FIAR Grifo 7 multi-mode radar. F-7P was inducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, intended to supplement a fleet of more advanced F-16 fighters. The Grifo 7 radar was later upgraded to the Grifo 7 mk.II version. The F-7PG variant incorporates a “cranked delta” wing which improves take-off, landing and turning performance considerably, as well as extra space in the nose to accommodate the much improved Grifo 7PG radar. F-7 replaced around 250 Shenyang F-6 fighters which were the PAF’s workhorse throughout the 1970s and 1980s. F-7 is also used to perform limited strike duties.
The second most numerous type is the French-designed Dassault Mirage III and Dassault Mirage 5, which differ mainly in nose shape and avionics fit. Mirage III fighters are geared towards performing multiple mission types, including interception and strike, whereas Mirage 5 fighters are more focused towards strike missions. Around 150 Mirage fighters are in service, many of which are second-hand examples procured from other countries, making the PAF the largest operator of the type in the world. In the 1990s and early 2000s, 33 Mirage III and 34 Mirage 5 fighters were upgraded under Project ROSE (Retrofit of Strike Element) with modern avionics, significantly improving their capabilities. Mirage III ROSE fighters are configured for multiple mission types such as air superiority and strike, whereas Mirage 5 ROSE fighters specialize in the day/night strike role. Through painstaking research and staff work PAF succeeded in reequipping a substantial portion of its Mirage fleet with AI radar whose performance eclipsed that of the F-16 radar. Modified to carry the all aspect heat-seeking air to air missiles, excellent AI radar, addition of defensive electronic suites and the speed to match the adversary, the PAF Mirages have been converted into potent air defence platforms.
The Nanchang A-5C (or A-5III) is a Chinese-designed light bomber. Inducted in 1982 to help defend against a possible attack from the Soviet Union, it replaced the last of the PAF’s B-57 Canberra bombers and around 100 were procured in total for a reported flyaway cost of USD$1 million each. Numbers were reduced later and around 42 remain in service. Retirement of the type was initially planned in the late 1990s and shortfall in capabilities was to be met by upgraded Mirage 5 fighters modified under Project ROSE, but the aircraft’s excellent flight safety record ensured it stayed operational.
PAF is planning to induct a number of the Chinese Chengdu FC-20, an advanced PAF-specific variant of the Chengdu J-10. 36 fighters equipping two FC-20 squadrons are expected to be delivered by 2015 and, according to some reports, the FC-20 fleet may eventually be increased to 150 fighters.
Because of a limited number of combat aircrafts, PAF crew has been sweating hard day and night for keeping the fleet at maximum level of operational readiness. Together, all branches of PAF are delivering unprecedented serviceability rates of around 85 percent and efficient management of all resources. The aggressive spirit and readiness status of the PAF was one of the principal factors amongst many others that eventually made India blink first and withdraw without any preconditions before any encounter.
IAF operates approximately 471 fighters and 269 bombers of British, Russian and French origin. Russian aircrafts dominate IAF inventory which have not proved worthwhile for India in past air battles. IAF has always kept numerical superiority over PAF and today IAF has a technological edge over PAF as well. This is attributable mainly to a decade of sanctions imposed on Pakistan. PAF, being aware of this fact, is not far away from minimizing this technological gap and will be a much superior air force by 2015 in terms of technology.
The primary air superiority fighter flown by IAF is Sukhoi Su-30 MKI. The Sukhoi Su-30MKI is a multirole combat aircraft jointly developed by Russia’s Sukhoi Corporation and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force (IAF). A variant of the Sukhoi Su-30, it is an all-weather capable, heavy class, long-range air superiority fighter which can also act as a strike fighter aircraft. The aircraft features state of the art avionics developed by Russia, India and Israel which includes display, navigation, targeting and electronic warfare systems. Other key avionics used in the aircraft were sourced from France and South Africa. Sukhoi Su-30 MKI is highly maneuverable and it has the capability to carry all aspect medium and long range laser guided, radar guided, TV guided and infrared homing seeker air to air missiles on 12 hard points. Anti-Ship missiles, Cruise missiles and Cluster bombs can also be hung on few of its hard points. This single aircraft fulfills all IAF needs for attaining air superiority over PAF.
The Mikoyan MiG-29 is the IAF’s dedicated air superiority fighter and forms the second line of defence for the IAF after the Sukhoi Su-30MKI. The IAF operates 69 MiG-29s, all of which are currently being upgraded to the MiG-29SMT standard with state of the art avionics, upgraded radar and air-to-air refueling to increase endurance. According to Indian sources, two MiG-29s from the IAF’s No. 47 squadron (Black Archers) gained missile lock on two F-16s of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) which were patrolling close to the border to prevent any incursions by Indian aircraft, but did not engage them because no official declaration of war had been issued. The Indian MiG-29s were armed with beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles whereas the Pakistani F-16s were not.
The Dassault Mirage 2000 is a French multirole, single-engine fourth-generation jet fighter manufactured by Dassault Aviation. The IAF currently operates 51 Mirage 2000Hs. India has assigned the nuclear strike role to its Mirage 2000 squadrons in service with the Indian Air Force since 1985. In 1999 when the Kargil conflict broke out, the Mirage 2000 performed remarkably well during the whole conflict in the high Himalayas, even though the Mirages supplied to India had limited air interdiction capability and had to be heavily modified to drop laser-guided bombs as well as conventional unguided bombs. Two Mirage squadrons flew a total of 515 sorties, and in 240 strike missions dropped 55,000 kg (120,000 lb) of ordnance. Easy maintenance and a very high sortie rate made the Mirage 2000 one of the most efficient fighters of the Indian Air Force in the conflict.
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. In 1961, the Indian Air Force (IAF) opted to purchase the MiG-21 over several other Western competitors because the Soviet Union offered India full transfer of technology and rights for local assembly. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 serves as an Interceptor aircraft in the IAF. The IAF currently operates about 200 MiG-21s, 121 of which have been upgraded to MiG-21 Bison standard. While the MiG-21 Bison is likely to be in service till 2017, the remaining aircraft are expected to be phased out by 2013. The MiG-21s are planned to be replaced by the indigenously built HAL Tejas.
The HAL Tejas is a lightweight multirole jet fighter developed by India. It is a tailless, compound delta wing design powered by a single engine. It came from the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme, which was started in the 1980s to replace India’s ageing MiG-21 fighters. This aircraft features modern state of the art avionics including Night Vision Goggles (NVG) compatible glass cockpit, Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) and state of the art radar. The aircraft contains secure communication equipment and data links. This aircraft will perform as good as PAF indigenously developed JF-17 thunder aircraft in air combat.
The Mikoyan MiG-27 is a variable-geometry ground-attack aircraft, originally built by the Mikoyan design bureau in the Soviet Union and later license-produced in India by Hindustan Aeronautics. On 27 May 1999, during the Kargil War, one Indian MiG-27 was lost together with a MiG-21 while supporting Indian ground offensive in Kashmir region. Both pilots ejected and one of them, Flight Lieutenant K.Nachiketa was later captured by Pakistani forces and the other one Sqn. Ldr.Ajay Ahuja is believed to have ejected safely, but was subsequently killed by the Pakistanis. Since 2001, the Indian Air Force lost 13 MiG-27s in different crashes.
The SEPECAT Jaguar is an Anglo-French jet ground attack aircraft, originally used in the close air support and nuclear strike role by the Indian Air Force. Indian Jaguars were used to carry out reconnaissance missions in support of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990. They later played an active role in the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan, dropping both unguided and laser-guided bombs, the IAF defining its role as a “deep penetrating strike aircraft”. The Jaguar remains an important element of the Indian military as, along with the Mirage 2000, the Jaguar is viewed as one of the few aircraft currently capable of performing the nuclear strike role with reasonable chances of success. The Jaguar was also used in small numbers for the anti-ship role, equipped with the Sea Eagle missile.
Despite numerical superiority, MIG aircrafts have a big crash rate in IAF. IAF analysts have attributed increasing rate of MIG crashes to poor maintenance practices and low level of professionalism in IAF pilots. MIG aircrafts are inferior in quality to American counterparts and thus very difficult to maintain. This consequently decreases the serviceability rate and influences the operational readiness of IAF. Moreover, Russian jet engines have been a major source of problem in IAF MIG aircrafts which have been nicknamed “Flying Coffins”. IAF maintenance crews are not as diligent, their mainly Russian/Soviet technology is generally less reliable and less effective than advertised, and a large part of their fleet of MiG-21s and MiG-27s are outdated. PAF aircraft are either of Western stock or Chinese and are far more maintenance friendly. Pakistan has also been upgrading their aircraft massively and has incorporated a complex combination of technology from across the globe – from China to Brazil, from Europe to the US. IAF aircraft are mainly of Soviet/Russian origin and are not designed for easy maintenance. The Soviets designed aircraft for mass production and on the view that combat aircraft would have short lives in a full scale conflict. As such, ease of maintenance was the last item on their mind. Even the latest Indian acquisition of Russian aircraft, the Su-30 MKI is known for being highly maintenance intensive and extremely fragile. Modifications to the Flankers have made them even more difficult to maintain – and example being that IAF sometimes faces tire shortages because the increased tonnage of the Indian FLANKERs make their tires burn out very rapidly.
A big technological gap was created once IAF claimed to have Beyond Visual Range (BVR) capability. BVR missile firing capability provides the first shot opportunity to any Air force, especially against a non BVR capable adversary. Indian AF has been practicing BVR missile launches since last two decades and now IAF is learning advance tactics with foreign Air forces in order to effectively employ its BVR missiles. Today IAF has a big inventory of Russian origin BVR missiles and BVR launching capability on majority of aircrafts in IAF fleet. The truth behind the scene was revealed during a BVR missile firing camp conducted by IAF when all fired BVRs from various platforms missed their targets. Failure of missiles to successfully engage the targets really undermines Russian claim of “Fire and Forget” of their missiles performance.
On the other hand, due to various unavoidable reasons PAF was denied this capability and thus was forced to continue relying on the short range IR missiles. Today after a decade of BVR technological gap, PAF has got the capability of launching BVRs on F-16s and JF-17s. PAF gained BVR capability after signing a biggest ever single export order deal with U.S in the history of AIM-120 AMRAAM programme. The missiles will be carried by the PAFs newly ordered F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft and its existing F-16A/B Block 15s, which will acquire AMRAAM compatibility as part of a mid-life upgrade. Pakistan is also expected to acquire the Chinese-developed SD-10 (PL-12) AAM with its JF-17 Thunder lightweight fighters. SD-10s would also be part of any potential Chengdu J-10 order.
Air Defense Capabilities
In any future conflict, a strong air defense becomes absolutely essential for both PAF and IAF. Acquisition of fresh radar sensors, their automation, security of command and control systems, a larger and varied inventory of surface to air missiles and more cohesive inter-service co-ordination are some of the areas that figure high in the priority list of both the forces. The air defense set up has following components – namely – armed interceptors, surface to air missiles, ground based sensor network and aircraft mounted radar platforms.
PAF has invested efficiently in this area by procuring a wide range of American and Chinese ground based modern radars. These radars have been deployed at optimum locations and elevated platforms to look deep inside enemy territory. Moreover, this variety of radars means variation of technology and thus making it difficult for the enemy to apply counter measures for jamming and interception. These radars have integrated Electronic Counter Counter Measures to block any high power jamming transmissions from the enemy platforms.
The limitation of land based radars of not being able to look beyond a limited distance at low level due to curvature of the earth has given way to the high speed low level intruders to remain un detected. Therefore, there was a requirement to attain a capability of aircraft mounted radar platforms with state of the art technology. This capability named AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control System) was pursued largely by PAF in few recent years. Despite the up gradation of existing three DA-20 mounted state of the art platforms, PAF has added four SAAB-2000 (Swedish) and four ZDK-03 (Chinese) airborne early warning and control system aircrafts to its inventory. These aircrafts are capable of providing round the clock defense to Pakistan’s aerial frontiers. These systems employ various Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), Communication Intelligence (COMINT) and Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) features to prevent against jamming by high power transmissions from hostile elements. These platforms contain multifunctional displays with state of the art technology having target detection range of approximately 450 Kilometers. The use of these aircrafts has been envisaged in multiple support roles of air defense operations, strike guidance, escorts, army and naval support missions. These systems have integrated IFF capability and they along with other ground based equipment have a communication and radar jamming capability. PAF has procured these systems at a fraction of price once compared to very costly American based systems.
PAF operates numerous combat aircrafts for air defense operations. Till 1990, F-16s were the front line air defence interceptors with the PAF: the Mirage and F-7s were less effective. After their successful modifications, IAF now has to contend with equally, and in some cases more potent interceptors. PAF had managed, at a fraction of price, to maintain a credible deterrence despite overwhelming odds.
Surface to air weaponry is an important element of air defence of any air force. It is an integrated part of huge air defence network which includes ground and air based radars and combat aircrafts. PAF contains a big variety of surface to air missiles capable to target any modern jet fighter. The variety of surface to air missiles includes Crotale 4000, Spada 2000, HQ-2, HQ-9, RBS 70, Anza, Mistral and Hatf. These missiles can be launched from various portable platforms and can intercept enemy missiles and aircrafts at the range of approximately 30 Kms.
India is in the middle of a massive modernization effort in its air defense infrastructure. Since the year 2004 India has started integrating military and civilian assets, chiefly airfields and radars, for better air defense surveillance. India has also integrated software technologies and imported hardware into the air defense surveillance mechanism. Russian, French and American hardware and software are helping India a lot. India has to watch China on the North, Pakistan on the West and Bangladesh in the East. In addition, Sri Lanka is also a hot pot of problems. The gaps are in the areas of air surveillance detection and operational readiness. In the age of nuclear-armed Pakistan and China, a delay of a few seconds can be devastating. IAF is planning to buy sophisticated air defense equipment to reduce operational gap between detection of adversary and consequent action by interceptors.
India, with its vast airspace, maintains an advanced Air Defence Ground Environment System. This system, along with the civilian Air Traffic Control, is responsible for the detection, identification and, if necessary, the interception of aircraft in Indian airspace. The Air Defence network is also in the process of being upgraded to cater for ballistic missile threats.
The radar picket line of India, which lies about 150km behind the border, consists of a number of radar clusters. These comprise three radar stations separated at a distance of the sum of their radii. The equipment issued to these clusters generally comprises one license-made Soviet ST-68/U and two P-18/-19 radars. These are then flanked by two P-12/-15 radars. The ST-68/U acts as the Control and Reporting Centre (CRC). This may have changed somewhat as the ST-68U, which was plagued with some nagging development problems, has largely replaced older Soviet-made equipment. Moreover, India has been license producing the French designed TRS-2215D 3-D surveillance radar for a number of years and has derived indigenously built radar – PSM-33 Mk.2 from it. These have probably supplanted most of the older Soviet-bloc equipment. It should be pointed out, that these radars are all long-range surveillance types with ranges in excess of 300km and good performance against targets flying at all altitudes – even those employing electronic countermeasures (ECM). These radar pickets are responsible for giving accurate information on the intruding force to the Air Defence Control Centers (ADCC) located behind the radar picket line. The picket line and the ADCC are separated by a first layer of air defence weapons which are the first to engage the intruders.
The backbone of the Indian Air Defence Ground Environment system is the THD-1955 3-D long-range surveillance radar. This radar, originally of French design, has been license produced in India for a number of years. This radar, though somewhat elderly, still has sterling performance characteristics and is capable of maximum detection ranges of up to 1000 km, though in peacetime the Indian Air Force usually limits its power to a 400km detection range.
India’s air defenses currently rely on a mix of MiG-21/-23/-29 and Mirage 2000 interceptors and thirty-eight squadrons of surface-to-air missiles. The SAM units comprise 30 squadrons of SA-3b Pechoras and 8 squadrons of SA-8b OSA-AKM systems and are deployed to protect key air bases as well as some major military/industrial centers. In addition, a large number of L-40/70 radar directed 40mm anti-aircraft guns and man-portable Igla-1M SAMs are deployed to provide a ‘last-ditch’ tier of ‘hard-kill’ defenses. It should be pointed out, however, that this system is geared up to the defence of point targets and not for overall area defence. It also lacks a viable capability against ballistic missiles. With this in mind, the Indian Air Force has begun a massive modernization of its strategic air defenses.
The first signs that India was modernizing its air defenses came when a massive order was placed for Sukhoi Su-30 combat aircraft. These aircraft are primarily long range interceptors; capable of intercepting targets at ranges exceeding 120km. India’s interceptors are equipped with a mix of French and Russian air-to-air missiles. Owing to the large number of these aircraft at the disposal of the IAF, it is impossible for their air defence potential to be ignored.
To counter the dual nuclear threat from China and Pakistan, India plans to make a comprehensive ballistic missile defence system one of its major defence priorities. India’s first efforts in this field can be seen in the much delayed Akash SAM. This medium range SAM will provide a limited ATBM capability to India. Moreover, India has announced plans to develop a two-tier ballistic missile defence system to deal with incoming ballistic missiles. The system is to use satellites for communications and a unique two layered defensive line using surface-to-air missile for any incoming ballistic missile attack. India has also been enhancing its ballistic missile detection capabilities by purchasing two Israeli Green Pine radars and a large number of Aerostat radars.
Indian Air Force has been pursuing a programme for the acquisition of Airborne Early Warning & Control System (AWACS) capability for over twenty years. This quest finally ended when a contract worth 1 billion US$ was signed for supply of three Israeli built “Phalcon” radar systems for mounting on IAF’s IL-76 aircraft, in August, 2003. Phalcon developed by Israeli Aerospace Industries is known to be the latest and most sophisticated AWACS of the world. However, mounting Phalcon system on IL-76 aircraft was not very wise because IL-76 is not very agile and does not contain any weapon for self defense.
Another Electronic Warfare platform held with IAF is Boeing – 737 which is equipped with Israeli system and integrated with latest state of the art powerful radio jamming system. IAF has also inducted Gulf Stream III as Stand off/Escort Jammer which is fitted with Italian EW suit. Above all, IAF has integrated Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) capability to all of its combat fighters.
As India urges to deploy a sound ballistic missile defense program, most of its ground based sensors are ageing and getting old. The available and installed ground based sensors actually are insufficient to cover Indian borders from south. Ballistic missile defense programme would surely give IAF a technological edge over PAF in preventing any nuclear ballistic missile strike. PAF must take a serious note of this and maintain some deterrence level with IAF in ballistic missile defense. PAF has got an upper edge in terms of area coverage provided by ground based sensors. They are of varying nature, much sophisticated and cover length and width of the country. Pakistan operates a bewildering variety of radars from varying sources. The most modern units are TPS-77 3-D long range radars. These are supplemented by some older American, Chinese and British long range radars. PAF air defense network is very comprehensive and well integrated once compared with IAF air defense network. Pakistan’s Air Defence Command was formed over a decade before India’s. It exercises control, surveillance and coordination over all Pakistani airspace. The ADC Headquarters is based in bunkers 5 to 10 meters below ground and has four rows of consoles with 20-25 men operating them. All units – aircraft, airbases and AAA units – are represented on screens. In fact, the ADC HQ set-up is regarded as being one of the most modern in existence.
Moreover, IAF AWACS platforms are not sufficient to maintain a round-the-clock watch over Pakistan airspace and other borders. India has a big border and needs a handful of airborne radar platforms to keep and eye on all the border areas round the clock. IAF AWACS technology is not very comprehensive and effective once compared to PAF AWACS technology.
PAF has worked extensively for improvements in C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) structures and a revamped, modernized air defense and communication network. Working on the principle of network centric warfare, communication between all the radar sensors installed across Pakistan is shared at a central location which makes it swift for the higher echelons to make quick decisions. The information sharing between ground based sensors, airborne radar platforms and red hot air defense alert combat fighters is very secure, encrypted and fast. The information sharing between unmanned aerial vehicles and ground based decision making agencies is based on real time data link. In few recent years PAF has been able to develop a strong optical fiber network between different bases and centers. Moreover, the radio communication between the air and ground crew is encrypted and secure.
Indian Air Force has invested heavily in its quest to achieve network centric capability. The biggest milestone accomplished in this regard was the launch of Air Force Net (AFNET) with state of the art communications infrastructure having the potential for network centric operations. The deployments of AFNET and other systems have put the IAF in the forefront of Network Centric Warfare (NCW) enabled nations. This quantum leap in the field of communication & information technology will help IAF field units to train and develop tactics, techniques and procedures to realize the full benefits of network-enabled capabilities. AFNET integrates information sharing between Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircrafts, space based assets, combat fighters operating in AD role, air defense sensors, air defense weapons and command and control authorities incorporating real time data links, optical fiber links, encrypted radio links and satellite communication network.
Indian Air Force leads the arena of network centric warfare as India has invested so much in its space programme. India has many satellites in orbit which are also being used for military reconnaissance and network centric warfare. India will surely achieve a total space control over Pakistan if the situation demands. Indian satellites will also assist in many of the operations of Indian military against Pakistan. Pakistan needs to gear up its space programme for assistance in military operations and network centric warfare capabilities. It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan has a leased satellite, PAKSAT-1, in the 38 degree East longitude geostationary orbit. The government of Pakistan has granted approval for the replacement of PAKSAT-1 by a new communication satellite PAKSAT 1R by 2011.
PAF has invested heavily to build a very strong command and control structure for its air defense network. Today PAF C4I structures are very well integrated and comprehensive once compared to IAF. The data from all PAF air defense sensors is collected and transmitted through secure and fast communication lines to one central location. This integrated approach helps in swift decision making and reduces the gap between detection of enemy aircrafts and action by friendly interceptors. IAF has got a very modern C4I network infrastructure but it is not integrated. In my opinion, IAF will be able to develop a very comprehensive, satellite based command and control infrastructure in near future supported by state of the art air defense network. This kind of setup will make it nearly impossible for any foe to penetrate in IAF aerial territory.
The C-130 Hercules has been the PAF’s primary tactical transport aircraft since its induction in the early 1960s. Currently around 5 C-130B and 7 C-130E models are in service, upgraded with Allison T56-A-15 turboprops and extended fatigue lives by Lockheed-Georgia Company. C-130 Hercules aircrafts have been modified for Reconnaissance roles assisting PAF Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) with real time data links to transmit information.
The C-130 is supplemented by 4 CASA CN-235 STOL transport aircrafts. Heavy-lift transports comprise 3 Boeing 707s transferred from Pakistan International Airlines since 1986. The other transport aircrafts include Airbus A310, Cessna Citation V, Gulf Stream IV, Embraer Phenom, CASA and Harbin Y-12.
In December 2009 the PAF received its first of four IL-78 aircraft which is capable of aerial refueling as well as transporting cargo. Aerial refueling capability was first demonstrated during the High Mark 2010 exercise on 6 April, 2010 when two of the PAF’s Mirage III fighters were simultaneously refueled in the air by the IL-78. Aerial refueling capability will enable Pakistan to strike deep inside the enemy territory and increase the endurance of its fleet of jet fighters. IL-78 aircraft is equipped with three-point Russian UPAZ refueling equipment. Fuel tanks are fitted in cargo hold for aerial refueling role which can be removed for transport role.
PAF includes a good variety of Helicopters armed with state of the art avionics for Search and Rescue (SAR) role. These helicopters include Russian Mi-17 and locally produced Alouette III helicopters.
Acquisition of drone capability ranks higher in the priority list of Pakistani Government. Each and every individual in Pakistan is aware of the word “Drone”. PAF has been working since last 3 years to gain this capability indigenously and from international suppliers. PAF has successfully added locally manufactured SATUMA Jasoos II and Italian made SELEX Galileo Falco Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to its inventory. A small scale assembling facility for Falco UAV has also been established at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Kamra. The primary role of these vehicles is Tactical Reconnaissance, Training and Surveillance. A huge effort is being made to develop or purchase strike capable drone aircrafts. Burraq is the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle under development by PAF and NESCOM which will be armed with Laser Guided Missiles and Laser Designator.
Indian Air Force uses IL-78 aircrafts for aerial refueling which allows IAF fighters to remain airborne for longer periods, hence enhancing their effective range. Aerial refueling also allows aircrafts to take-off with greater payload (by carrying less fuel during take-off). The IAF currently operates 6 Ilyushin IL-78MKIs for aerial refueling roles.
Transport aircraft are typically used to deliver troops, weapons, supplies and other military equipment to the IAF field of operations. The IAF currently operates different types of transport aircrafts for different roles. The major transport aircraft in IAF fleet remains IL-76 which is used for strategic or heavy lift operations in military transport roles. Ilyushin IL-76 aircrafts are planned to be replaced by mighty C-17 Globemaster aircrafts. IAF operates Antonov An-32 in bombing roles and Para-dropping operations. Indian Air Force has also inducted one C130J Super Hercules transport aircraft from USA recently.
IAF maintains a fleet of helicopters to support ground troops by providing air cover and by transporting men and essential commodities across the battlefield. The primary helicopter in IAF use is HAL Dhruv which serves in transport and utility roles. HAL Chetak is another light utility helicopter used primarily for training, rescue and transport roles in the IAF. Other light and medium utility role helicopters flown by IAF include HAL Cheetah, Mi-8, Mi-17, Mi-26 and Mi-35 used in transport roles and search and rescue missions. IAF has ordered 80 Mi-17V-5s to replace and augment its existing fleet of Mi-8s and Mi-17s, with an order for 59 additional helicopters to follow soon.
IAF currently uses the IAI Searcher and IAI Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes. The IAI Harpy serves as an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) which is designed to attack radar systems. The IAF also operates the DRDO Lakshya which serves as realistic towed aerial sub-targets for live fire training.
Indian Air Force and Pakistan Air Force have shown great interest to boost their drone capability in recent past. New battle lines are being drawn for a spy drone versus spy drone face-off between India and Pakistan. Even as Islamabad continues to badger Washington to give it armed drones like `Predators’, New Delhi is quietly working towards bolstering its fleet of reconnaissance and `killer’ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). While India is currently way ahead of Pakistan in the drone race, armed UAVs in the hands of Pakistan could change the ballgame altogether.
Training and Exercises
Superior weaponry by itself cannot amount for much without a high standard of training. PAF has always laid great emphasis on this aspect and to a large extent PAF’s excellent track record despite severe limitations can be explained because of this approach. With the increasing sophistication of modern fleet of combat planes, sensors and weapon systems, advanced training aids and modern training techniques have become essential. A substantial investment has been made and further planned in this field in the shape of simulators, some that have been inducted and a number of them are in the process of being procured. Sensors that help in realistic air combat training are included in the prioritized list. The standard of training maintained in the PAF is recognized all over the world. It is this trustworthy repute that today the Pakistan Air Force has the credit of providing initial and specialized training to the personnel of over thirty allied countries.
PAF operates numerous aircrafts for primary, basic, intermediate fighter conversion and operational training. These aircrafts include locally assembled MFI-17 Mushshak and MFI-395 Super Mushshak, Chinese made K-8, FT-5 and FT-6 and American made T-37. Huge effort and investment has been made to procure and install aircraft simulators and emergency simulation systems for efficient on ground training of pilots for handling complex situations and emergencies in air. Training of ground crew and maintenance personnel has also been revitalized in few recent years through national and international technical training programs.
PAF conducts various national level exercises to assay its professional skills and capabilities. These exercises involve various practices including air to land targeting with missiles and bombs on firing ranges. High Mark exercises were conducted in 2010 with participation of drone planes and JF-17 Thunder aircrafts. The exercises also involved army and naval contingents to show an integrated approach to deal with any eventuality in case of war. PAF conducted Saffron Bandit exercise to train the aviation force against extremism.
PAF also participates in various international exercises with allied countries. PAF F-16s frequently participate in combined exercise of Pakistan ad Turkey code named “Anatolian Eagle”. PAF also conducts a joint air power employment exercise with Royal Saudi Air Force in which air operations are being executed in near realistic environment. Recently PAF F-16s traveled across Atlantic to participate in one of the most reputed international exercises named “Red Flag”. These exercises give PAF pilots and technicians international exposure and hone their combat skills.
Indian Air Force operates a combination of aircrafts for pilot training. The HAL HPT-32 Deepak is IAF’s basic flight training aircraft for cadets. The HPT-32 was grounded in July 2009 following a crash that killed two senior flight instructors, but was revived in May 2010 and is to be fitted with a parachute recovery system (PRS) to enhance survivability during an emergency in the air and to bring the trainer down safely. The HPT-32 is to be phased out soon. HAL HJT-16 Kiran mk.I is used for intermediate flight training of cadets, while the HJT-16 Kiran mk.II provides advanced flight and weapons training. Kiran will be replaced by the HAL HJT-36 Sitara. The BAE Hawk Mk 132 serves as an advanced jet trainer in the IAF and is progressively replacing the Kiran Mk.II.
IAF practices its fire power and combat skills in various international exercises with many countries across the globe. These exercises give IAF pilots an excellent chance to demonstrate their air combat skills and learn a lot more from other pilots. Exercise “Cope India” is carried out regularly with USAF pilots which gives IAF pilots a great chance to assess and modify their combat skills. IAF also participates in “Red Flag” which is an international experience with participation of many air forces in the world. IAF pilots also get varying terrain experiences from mountains to deserts in different international exercises with Oman, UK, Israel, South Africa and France. Showcasing its precision strike capabilities during day and night, Indian Air Force carried out a massive fire power blitzkrieg using its frontline aircraft such as SU-30 MKI, Mirage-2000, MIG 27 and MIG 29, at the Pokhran ranges in Rajasthan. Indian Air Force (IAF) aircrafts also carried out a local fire power demonstration blasting away targets by day, dusk and night in exercise, “Vayu Shakti-2010”, at Pokharan in Gujarat state.
The Indians deserve credit for developing the tactics and training programs required to fully employ their advanced aircraft. IAF carried out various international and local exercises over varying terrains to provide valuable training to its pilots in few recent years. Today IAF pilots are very well trained for any kind of air combat against any possible threats.
“Great pilots are made not born…A man may possess good eyesight, sensitive hands and perfect coordination, but the end product is only fashioned by steady coaching, much practice and experience.
– Air Vice Marshal J.E. Johnson, RAF
To begin a comparison of the two countries’ fighter pilots’ capabilities is not an easy task. While it is quite common for a defence analyst to compare air forces based on the quantity and quality of weapons systems, it is very rare to find an objective study of pilot capabilities. In fact, most analyses quantify combat capability as a product of numerous factors, such as aircraft, logistics, maintenance, munitions, etc. But the human factor (pilot ability, training, and tactics) is rarely included because its measurement is very subjective and its impact on the equation so little understood. Few will argue, however, that differences in pilot capability do exist, and some aspects of the human factor should be included in the equation if we are to achieve accurate comparisons in combat capability.
There seems to be a general consensus of opinion today that in a comparison of strength between the Indian and Pakistani air forces, the Indian advantage in numbers is counterbalanced by the Pakistani advantage in personnel, training, and tactics. Since India has been successful in narrowing the technology gap, which Pakistan possessed over India for three decades from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, some Pakistani defence policymakers have put even more emphasis on the perceived Pakistani advantage in personnel. In fact, some would argue that the Pakistani fighter pilot, his training, and his tactics are so superior that even though the Indians have now caught up in technology, the Pakistan Air Force still has an overall edge in combat capability as long as the quantitative edge does not proceed above 3:1.
India and Pakistan are the two peace loving nations who had numerous armed conflicts, border skirmishes and military standoffs against each other. The arms fanaticism from both nations is evident from the allocated amount of defense budget every year. In my opinion, possibilities of a full scale armed conflict between India and Pakistan are very meager. Any such eventuality will bring both countries at the brink of a nuclear war. IAF and PAF can sustain conventional war for duration of a few weeks owing to limited logistic reserves and spares. None of the air forces would be able to achieve a complete air supremacy over the other. Indian Air Force has always enjoyed numerical superiority over Pakistan Air Force since independence. IAF has also maintained a clear technological edge over PAF since last two decades primarily because of military sanctions imposed on Pakistan. PAF has been able to narrow down the technological gap in few recent years while keeping the minimum level of deterrence with IAF smartly and efficiently. IAF’s superiority in technology and number is effectively counter balanced by sound professionalism and diligence of PAF crew. It is manifestation of great will and valor of PAF air crew that it is ready to stand firm against a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) capable adversary. Today PAF is on the edge of finishing the yawning technological gap by inducting modern state of the art weaponry to its fleet. IAF has provided extensive training to its pilots to effectively employ BVRs by participating in various international exercises. It is the right time for PAF to understand the likely changes of the future combat scenario and develop tactics which can ensure effective utilization of PAF BVR capability. India has got a well established space program assisting in military operations. Pakistan needs to boost up its space research and development and its role in network centric warfare. Efficient ballistic missile defense program is another area to ponder by Pakistani government.
IAF on the other hand needs to completely revitalize its air defense sensor network to close any possible gaps for the intruders. IAF air defense command and control system is also required to be centralized and integrated. The quantity of Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircrafts held in the inventory of IAF are not enough for providing round the clock defense of aerial frontiers. Indian Air Force needs to induct a few more such aircrafts in its fleet to provide round the clock vigil across all frontiers.
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