In the crucible of the 1965 war, the Pakistan Air Force emerged triumphant, almost untouched by the seventeen-day conflict. Throughout the war, the PAF demonstrated unwavering courage and resolve, forming an impenetrable shield over the country’s airspace. This achievement can be attributed primarily to the visionary leadership of Air Marshal Asghar Khan, the former Chief of the Air Staff, and the dynamic and aggressive leadership of Air Marshal Nur Khan. This article will shed light on the essential aspects of their leadership.
1. PREPARATION FOR WAR:
The success in any war is not a sudden occurrence but the result of meticulous peacetime preparations. Air Marshal Asghar Khan, as the first Pakistani Chief of the Air Staff, had meticulously built the PAF into a technically proficient and operationally capable air force. His intelligent inductions and maintenance practices, along with his focus on developing dedicated professionals, laid a strong foundation for the PAF to face any adversary.
2. VISIONARY LEADERSHIP OF AIR MARSHAL NUR KHAN:
When Air Marshal Nur Khan took command of the PAF in July 1965 at the age of 42, he found it already at the highest state of operational readiness. His dynamic leadership allowed him to harness this readiness effectively.
3. ANTICIPATING THE WAR:
Air Marshal Nur Khan’s foresight played a crucial role in anticipating the impending conflict. He promptly ordered a ‘Red Alert’ on September 1st, preparing the PAF for imminent war. Importantly, the PAF was the only arm of the Pakistan Armed Forces that was fully prepared.
4. STRATEGY AGAINST NUMERICAL INFERIORITY:
Recognizing that the PAF couldn’t match the Indian Air Force (IAF) in terms of numbers, Air Marshal Nur Khan strategically mobilized all available resources. Mission planning was selective, aligning with the evolving land battle to avoid wastage of limited resources.
5. INSPIRATIONAL LEADERSHIP AND OFFENSIVE STRATEGY:
Air Marshal Nur Khan’s inspirational leadership laid the groundwork for aggressive tactics and boosted PAF morale. As the war erupted, he adopted an offensive strategy, targeting the IAF on the ground through air strikes, while also preparing to defend PAF air bases if necessary. This approach allowed the PAF to exploit its technical superiority, notably the F-104 and Sidewinder-armed F-86s.
6. INNOVATIVE USE OF ASSETS:
The PAF employed its assets innovatively and professionally. A single squadron of PAF F-104s maintained air superiority throughout the conflict, with F-86 Sabres inflicting significant losses on IAF Hunters, Gnats, and Mysteres.
7. LEADING BY EXAMPLE:
Air Marshal Nur Khan led by example, flying operational missions that boosted the morale of his officers and men. He even led PAF to achieve parity with the three times larger Indian Air Force on the very first day of the 1965 war, a testament to his dynamic leadership.
8. UNWAVERING DETERMINATION AND SACRIFICE:
PAF pilots, inspired by their leader, exhibited unwavering determination driven by their religious and national fervor. They displayed remarkable courage over enemy targets and selflessly cared for their comrades in peril, making sacrifices without seeking much in return.
9. EFFECTIVE EMPLOYMENT OF BOMBERS:
The PAF’s leadership effectively utilized its bomber fleet, conducting night bombing operations against numerous Indian airfields, causing substantial damage.
10. UNCONVENTIONAL USE OF C-130 FLEET:
The PAF’s leaders also demonstrated innovation by employing their C-130 fleet for night bombing. The rapid adoption of this idea, along with necessary modifications, showcased the ingenuity of PAF pilots and engineers.
In retrospect, it’s clear that without the leadership of Air Marshal Nur Khan, Pakistan might have faced a different fate. Even Air Marshal Raghavendran of the IAF acknowledged Nur Khan’s exceptional leadership and professionalism, which left an indelible mark on the PAF’shistory.
AIR VICE MARSHAL (RETD) AFTAB HUSSAIN
— The writer is recipient of Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Military) and Director Sundas Foundation.