An Air Force second to none

There is no doubt that a country without a strong Air Force is at the mercy of any aggressor. Paki­stan must build up her air force as quickly as possible. It must be an efficient air force second to none,” said M A Jinnah, in April 1948.

27th Feb marks the anniversa­ry of Pakistan Air Force’s befitting response to Indian folly of violat­ing Pakistan’s airspace. Following Quaid’s direction, the force which had started with very meagre re­sources, nonexistent training fa­cilities and handful of men, very quickly matured to shoulder its re­sponsibilities. It has continuously been improving with acquisition of new technologies, developing indigenous capabilities, revamp­ing training systems etc. 

It faced its first challenge in 1947-48 Kashmir war. Despite its limited resources, PAF provid­ed much needed logistic support through air drops of supplies to the troops deployed in the north­ern areas. To avoid IAF intercep­tors, initially the transport aircraft flew through the valleys and lat­er resorted to night missions. He­roic act of Flying Officer Mukhtar Dogar defying an Indian Tempest fighter and escaping through his skilful manoeuvring defined the standards of bravery and profes­sionalism for the future PAF gen­erations. 

In 1958, still in its infancy, the PAF set a world record by per­forming formation aerobatics with 16 Sabre aircraft in diamond for­mation. On 10th April 1959, while Pakistan was celebrating Eid, In­dian Air Force (IAF) Canberra air­craft intruded for aerial recon­naissance mission. PAF air defence system detected the intrusion and scrambled two F-86 fighters. The Canberra was flying above 50,000 feet, much above the operation­al ceiling of F-86. Despite this dis­advantage, Flight Lieutenant Yunis shot down the Canberra, marking first PAF kill. IAF pilots Sqn Ldr J C Sengupta, and Flt Lt S N Rampal ejected and were captured by Pa­kistani authorities. They were lat­er repatriated, a tradition which Pakistan keeps repeating. 

The 1965 war was preceded by Indian intrusions in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). In the very first encounter, Squad­ron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqi and Flt Lt Imtiaz Bhatti shot down two Vampires each, eliminating the entire formation. This forced IAF to withdraw 130 Vampires and about 50 Oregons from front line service, dramatically reducing the number gap between the two air forces. In another encounter, Flt Lt Yousaf Ali Khan alone en­gaged six Gnats and successful­ly brought his F-86 back for land­ing. Meanwhile Flt Lt Hakimm Ullah using scare of his superson­ic F-104 forced Sqn Ldr Sikand to land his Gnat at Pasroor. The Gnat is on display in PAF museum. 

On 6th Sept, when Indian army moved for an attack on Lahore, PAF blunted the attack by caus­ing heavy damage to Indian ar­mour. To keep IAF out of action, the same evening PAF attacked IAF airfields at Pathankot, Hal­wara and Adampur. Attack on Pathankot resulted in destruction of 10 aircraft on ground, while the other two strikes were not as successful. On 7th Sept, Sqn Ldr M M Alam shot down 5 Hunter aircraft, four in less than 30 sec­onds, setting a world record. Dur­ing the war, PAF claimed destroy­ing 109 IAF aircraft while losing only 19 aircraft. 

During the 1971 Pakistan-In­dia war, on the eastern front, No 14 Squadron equipped with F-86 aircraft faced 12 IAF squadrons. Despite heavy odds and being heavily outnumbered, the Squad­ron continued its operations till end of the war. Recognising their valour, five pilots of the Squad­ron were awarded Sitara-e-Ju­rrat. On the western front, PAF while continuing its operations was able to keep its attrition low to remain viable for the Pak Ar­my’s counter offensive. 

PAF pilots on secondment to various Arab countries for train­ing of their air forces also partici­pated in the Arab-Israel wars and shot down numerous aircraft in­cluding Mirage, Mystere and Vau­turs without losing even a single plane. 

During 1980s and 1990s PAF played an instrumental role in keeping a check on the many times larger Soviet Air Force. Dur­ing these operations, PAF record­ed over 13000 flight hours and shot down eight enemy aircraft without suffering any loss. In the 2001-2002 India Pakistan stand­off, PAF made history by shooting down an Indian UAV with an air-to-air missile. 

As a result of US and coalition op­erations in Afghanistan after 9/11, many terrorists crossed over into Pakistan. In the counter terrorism operations, Pakistan’s land forces initially faced difficulties against the terrorists who were occupy­ing strategic locations in the hilly terrain. PAF’s participation in the operations helped increase effec­tiveness of the counter terrorist operations and reduced attrition of the ground forces. Most nota­ble aspect of PAF’s counter terror­ist operations was zero collateral damage.

In February 2019, after the stage managed Pulwama incident, when IAF undertook a failed surgical night strike inside Pakistani ter­ritory, PAF responded in less than 24 hour during broad day light. In addition to attacking across the Line of Control, PAF also downed two IAF aircraft and captured one pilot. Similarly, in January 2024, PAF was quick to respond to Ira­nian air space violation in Ba­lochistan province. 

PAF’s history suggests that each generation of its personnel and leadership, despite many difficul­ties, has always outperformed its adversaries and come up to na­tion’s expectations. It has proven itself to be truly an “air force sec­ond to none”. Continuing with its traditions and higher standards of professionalism will surely bring more glories to the service and en­sure national security. 


–The author is a retired Air Marshal of the PAF who served as Pakistan’s Air Advi­sor at New Delhi from 2002-06. He can be reached at ash­

Air Marshal (r) Muhammad Ashfaque Arain

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