Shaheen is a born flier high and above the rest, to dive and strike is its favourite sport.
By S. M. Hali
In an era of sophistication and state-of-the-art technology, Indian Air Force (IAF), which enjoyed an edge over its adversary, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in numbers as well as hi-tech aircraft is gradually losing its advantage. Shiv Aroor & Durga Nandini, in their Op-Ed in India Today, titled: ‘IAF losing edge over PAF’ admit the bitter fact. Quoting Headlines Today, they present the disturbing proof that is causing sleepless nights to Indian defence planners. The duo state that recent presentation by the defence intelligence establishment paints a morbid picture of how the numbers and capability advantage that the Indian Air Force has always found comfort in is rapidly slipping away. Headlines Today has accessed the recent presentation made to the Ministry of Defence. The document makes singularly ominous projections. The most glaring warning is about combat force ratio. The presentation says that the ratio of 1:1.7 is likely to progressively dip to 1:1.2 by the end of 2012. It describes this as a "historic low". It also says that the traditional hi-tech advantage is almost equal now with 9.5:11 squadron ratio.
These statistic should not have come as a surprise as subsequent PAF commands have been burning the midnight oil to fight embargoes, restrictions, bans and sanctions to keep the teeth of the PAF’s fighting force sharpened and its claws honed and its appetite for the kill whetted. The sanctions and embargoes proved to be a blessing in disguise, since they urged the PAF leadership to rely upon indigenization. With the help of its traditional ally and all weather friend China, PAF jointly produced the JF-17 Thunder, a multi-role fighter aircraft, which made its debut at the Farnborough International Airshow, one of the world’s most prestigious aviation global events. Last year’s PAF exercise Highmark and Army Exercise, Azm-e-Nau III, saw the JF-17 Thunder in action, displaying its multi-role characteristics with precision and accuracy at firepower displays much to the awe of the audience comprising foreign defence attachés, defence personnel, media and parliamentarians. The JF-17 Thunder is a multi-role combat aircraft that has the potential to be the mainstay of any modern air force. The JF-17 was developed primarily to meet the requirements of the PAF for a low cost, medium technology and multi-role combat aircraft as a cost-effective replacement for its ageing mixed fleet of Nanchang A-5, Chengdu F-7P/PG and Dassault Mirage III/V fighters. And also to have export potential to the air forces of other developing countries, as an affordable alternative to hi-tech but expensive Western fighters.
The story of PAF’s prowess does not end here; it has invested wisely in the acquisition of Force Multipliers like four IL-78 from Ukraine and early warning systems like Saab 2000 from Sweden and ZDK-03 from China, which have enabled the PAF to achieve a quantum jump in reducing the gap with India over technology and firepower. The IAF's UAV advantage is also diminishing rapidly, as Pakistan is acquiring 25 European UAVs, with more in the pipeline and coproduction of the Italian Falco at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra.
A major setback to the IAF has been the despondent performance of its Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which was responsible for the development of its Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas. Already fifteen years behind schedule, the LCA is obsolete even before its induction due to the incompetence of DRDO, which Indian media sarcastically refers to as Dodo. Sleaze, graft, corruption and kickbacks have also taken a toll of Indian defence planning and its dilly dallying regarding the choice of weapon systems have delayed the selection of appropriate platforms for the IAF. This factor has not only allowed the PAF to catch up with IAF, but given its superior training and better maintenance capabilities; it has provided the PAF the necessary edge in achieving the cutting edge of technology and readiness. IAF participated in the prestigious Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada USA. Colonel Terence Fornoff, a renowned F-15 pilot, in a debrief of the exercise was highly critical of the performance of the IAF Su-30 MKIs and their pilots, stating that the IAF received a licking in 1v1 and how the F-15 defeated the Su-30 MKI’s vectored thrust. The video clip of the debrief is available HERE.
Pakistan Air Force has also cut its teeth in the challenging anti-terrorism operations and provide the Pakistan Army invaluable support in its combat against the miscreants. No wonder that the PAF has come up to the Quaid’s expectations of being second to none.