DEFENCE NOTES
PAF and the three wars
Columnist SOBIA NISAR goes over the three wars fought by the PAF.

The Father of the Nation rightly remarked on 13 April 1948, while addressing a small band of enthusiastic airmen at the fledging nation’s Air Force Flying School:

A country without a strong Air Force is at the mercy of any aggressor; Pakistan must build up her airforce as quickly as possible. It must be an efficient air force, second to none.

The table below gives an idea of the number of aircraft allotted to Pakistan and the number initially given.:

Aircraft RIAF Total Holding Allotted to India Delivered to Pakistan
Dakota 78 46 4
Tempest 158 123 16
Harvard 118 89 -
Tiger Moth 78 62 7
Auster 28 18 -

The Founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was very well aware of the great importance of the Air Force for the defence of the country. He, therefore, wanted  a strong Air Force to be built up, which was to be second to none. This was done against great odds at the time of partition of the sub-continent, when the Pakistan Air Force came into being  on 14 August 1947 along with the Army and the Navy. The PAF after undergoing immense struggle and sacrifice  with a small number of personnel, possessing  an insufficient equipment  emerged into a powerful component of the country’s defence  into a brief period of 10 years. At the time of partition, India  deprived Pakistan of her due share of aircraft and equipment.

Limited War of 1947.  These aircraft were quickly organized into two squadrons (No.5 and No.9). While the Air Force was being organized, the armed struggle in Kashmir started  in December 1947. In 1947 and 1948 the IAF provided direct support to the Indian Army, bombed Murree, attacked the Kohala Bridge several times and an unarmed PAF  transport. The PAF role in Kashmir was transport support there was an urgent need  to drop air supplies for the civilian population of Gilgit and other areas of Gilgit. This was  arranged on a priority basis by the two Dakota aircraft, later another two were added. In 1948, two four engine Halifax bombers were also acquired for airdrops. During 12 months of emergency airdrop operations the PAF did not lose a single aircraft. 437 sorties had been flown and over a million lbs of supplies dropped at Bunji, Sikardu, Gilgit and Chilas. Despite the IAF fighter activity, the PAF  continued air transport operations but limited them to moonlit nights. Our fighters remained employed on “watch  and ward” in the NWFP. An unarmed Fury while engaged in leaflet dropping over a hostile area, was fired upon with a light machine gun. The aircraft sustained some damage but the pilot landed safely at Miranshah, where he quickly took another Fury, this one bristling with weapons and went back to even the score in another sequence — Exemplary action — the RPAF — flew 139 sorties in which 72 bombs, 108 rockets and 4,600 rounds of 20mm ammunition were expanded. The 500-lb high explosive bombs proved useful against mountain hideouts and mudhouses. This employment was termed as heaven on earth. The PAF was  a circus outfit and it performed many air displays, always very good ones. During the 1948 Kashmir war, the strength of Pakistan Air Force as compared to the Indian Air Force was as under:

Aircraft India Pakistan
Tempest 68 16
Dakota 30 8
Harvard 60 20
Tiger Moth 40 10
Vampire 6 _
Liberator 4 _
Spitfire 13 _

The Air Force role was defined rightly by the Air Vice-Marshal R.L.R Atcherley when he took over the command of the PAF. He said: The sole preoccupation of every individual in this Air Force, no matter in what sphere of activity he finds himself, is to keep our aircraft flying, ready to fight, equipped and trained for war, down to the last detail.

The Air Force was already going along a well-conceived plan. The target given for March 31, 1948 was for two fighter bomber squadrons of 16 aircraft, one transport squadron of five aircraft and one air observation post (AOP) flight of four aircraft. Gradually the Air Force expanded in the air and also made a progress in the ground facilities. In August 1951, three jet fighter aircraft were assimilated into No. 11 Squadron. With their induction, the young PAF entered into the jet age

Air Vice Marshal Atcherley was of the firm opinion  that the Pakistan Air Force should first take on the enemy Air Force, and then try to isolate the battlefield and after that give direct support to the ground  forces. By 1959/60 the PAF was fully trained and competent in the use of its aircraft. The first conflict between the IAF and the PAF took place on Eid day April 10, 1959, when an Indian Air Force Canberra (R.P) entered Pakistan’s airspace  flying at over 50,000 ft, well above our newly acquired  F-86 Sabre aircraft’s capability. But the Indian Canberra was shot down by the sustained effort of the enthusiastic Pakistan Air Force. In 1959, the last, all PAF exercise “JANUS” was held. Little or no training was conducted with the Army and Navy. The PAF did train with the USAF, RAF, Turkish and Iranian Air Forces who visited Pakistan regularly. Watch and ward  continued in Dir, Bajaur, Kalat and the downing of the IAF Photo Recce (PR) Canberra were added to the PAF’s battle honours.

A strong Air Force that was built up with the hard work and dedication of its officers and airmen helped to defend the country in the two major wars with India. Pakistan had a  much smaller Air Force, yet it was able to dominate the much larger Air Force of our adversary.

The 1965 War. When war broke up in 1965, the Pakistan Army was deployed against the Indians in the Rann of Kutch. To make matters worse, the Pakistani C-in-C was in Bangkok attending a SEATO meeting. In addition, we had three war plans, war against India, war against Afghanistan and the third war against both India and  Afghanistan. The alert phase was also — ’total’, either you were on peace or on full alert. The war plans had no provision for limited action. There was a great demand for security, since the previous Director Plans had been court-martialled, and some of the officers were summarily retired. At this crucial time,   the PAF was able to put  down the much larger Indian Air Force  on the defensive and  gained air superiority in four days. It inflicted heavy unacceptable casuallities on the Indian tanks, vehicles and troops. A newspaper wrote:

The performance of the PAF was excellent  as they gained complete victory in the air. The IAF was defeated in all spheres — man to man, machine to machine, mission to mission and sector to sector.

Towards the middle of August 1965, the Army sent an SOS that the Gibralter Force was in trouble and required immediate air drops of food and ammunition. It was decided that  a C130 carry out a night drop. The weather was terrible, rain, low clouds yet the mission flew and satisfactory results were achieved. Air Force Forward Headquarters were activated on 30th August. According to Asghar Khan: “It is true that the PAF’s primary role, in essence, is to assist the Army in every possible way to achieve its objectives. But in order to be able to do this the PAF must achieve a high degree of air superiority over the land battle areas, and it must be equipped to do this effectively. The Army seldom understood or recognized this precondition.”

The Air Force according to the war plan attacked the IAF forward bases on the opening day of the war in West Pakistan. Air action in East Pakistan was delayed to the second  day since  a dusk strike was anticipated. The plan included a single F104 conducting  a “recce” over Halwara, followed by F86s, attacking “guns only” Halwara, Adampur, Pathankot and the various forward radars in the north, with T33s in the South, followed by all available B57’s after sunset.

After attacking the Indians on the 6th, the Air Force expected retaliation by the IAF on the 7th. No effort was made to launch dawn strikes, instead the PAF requested  the Army to launch paratroopers against the IAF forward bases on the night 6/ 7th. Three companies of SSG were launched.

The decision to launch SSG Special Service Group was taken late on the 6th; they left without maps, proper briefing and worst of all with no planning or preparation! The results were disastrous, only a handful returned, most of them were captured or killed. Every PAF base in Pakistan experienced  Indian commando attacks and in their defence thousands of rounds of small arms ammunition was expended at imaginary commandos and the SSG were  summoned to save Sargodha.

The operational statistics for 1965 are as under:

Sorties

% Effort

Air Defence 1,303 55%
Army / Navy 647 27%
Day Strike 100  4%
Night Strike 165 7%
Photo / Recce 148 6%

To attack the close concentration  of enemy airfields in the north, and to remain out of reach of the Indian  fighter bombers; the bomber wing remained on the hop throughout the war. The pattern often repeated  was to set off from home base, strike inside Indian territory, recover  to another base  to rearm and refuel, and then to strike again before returning to base or to another safe airfield. This enabled them to  be prepared to attack  their targets night after night. By arriving over their targets  in a stream at intervals of about fifteen minutes, the B-57 certainly succeeded, disregarding even the actual damage they inflicted, in achieving  a major disruption of the overall IAF  effort, disabling their optimum attack capability the next morning. The effect on morale of the IAF  personnel was devastating. The effect of fatigue caused to them was most pronounced  on their air and ground crew while they were forced to keep shuttling in  and out of air raid shelters and trenches. This made the task of PAF fighter pilots that much easier to fight them in air the next morning.

Of its 22 B57s, which fought the war PAF lost three, only one due to enemy action. After the first strike on Jamnagar at 6pm, the bombing shuttle was maintained all night by single sorties. One such lone bomber flown by squadron leaders Shabbir Alam Siddiqui and Alam Qureshi, the navigator was doing its third mission  in less than 9 hours. As an overfatigued crew descended lower on the pinpoint its target, the bomber hit the ground and exploded. The second bomber was lost as a result  of enemy anti-aircraft fire on 14th September. The third B57, piloted by Flight Lieutenants MA Butt  and ASZ Khalid was lost in the early hours  of 17th September. While making an approach to land at Risalpur, the B57 encountered adverse weather in the shape of strong wind sheer coupled  with reduced flight visibility. Unable to maintain height, the aircraft crashed south of the runway, instantly killing  both pilot and navigator.

The PAF’s B57 campaign came to an end with a close support mission during the night of 22nd September by four B57s which dropped 28,000 lbs of bombs on enemy artillery and tank concentrations at Atari. Large enemy reinforcements had been seen that day moving towards Atari for a possible assault on the salient eastern bank of  the BRB canal. It was the task of the PAF to prevent these reinforcements from reaching their destination. The bombs from the B57s dropped in train  engulfed the enemy armour and other vehicles concealed under the trees and in the bushes. Very few survived to reach Atari. 

After the 1965 war, the B57 Squadrons trained hard to achieve even higher standards in the light of lessons learned in the war.

After the end of the 1965 war, the United States placed an embargo on our purchase of new equipment. New aircraft of Chinese (MIG-19) and French (Mirage) origin were inducted into the Air Force and quickly integrated.

The 1971 War. During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the Pakistan Air Force put up a gallant flight destroying and damaging over 150 Indian aircraft. The Indian Air Force which was at that time expanded to become the fifth largest Air Force in the world was prevented from gaining any form of superiority over Pakistan’s airspace, even after shifting the air element operating against East Pakistan to support operations against West Pakistan, when the Dhaka airstrip had been permanently put down of action. Perhaps this was the main reason why India did not pursue her land operations against West Pakistan after the fall of Dhaka, although the Indian desire was to finish both wings of Pakistan.

The B57 force of PAF gave its very best in 1971 war. Of the available strength of 16 B57s  at the outset of the war, 15 were launched the very first night as a follow up to the pre-emptive strike on the 3rd December. 12 IAF runways were targeted the first night and a total of 183 bombs were dropped. Although no immediate assessment of the damage was available, yet confirmation came much after the war  from a very unlikely source. Air Chief Marshall PC Lal, the Chief of IAF during the 1971 war, in his memoirs titled My Days with the IAF  provides full detail of the destruction caused by PAF, naming every IAF  airfield attacked.

The PAF’s night bombing campaign was continued with good effect throughout the war  and reflected great credit upon the courage and perseverance of the B57 crew, six of whom embraced Shahadat over enemy airfields.

A serious situation developed in the South when Indian ground forces penetrated along the Khokhrapar-Chor railway line upto Umerkot and Chachro and to Nagar Parkar itself. PAF was called upon to blunt its attack and prevent the enemy further advance in land. B57 from No 7 Squadron were also pressed into daring daylight raids to save Hyderabad from falling into enemy hands. F86s  and F104s provided top cover. The armed reconnaissance and interdiction mission achieved the destruction of enemy trains and this virtually choked the flow of supplies vital to the enemy advance. Emboldened by their success, the B57 crew followed their bombing attacks by several strafing runs on the freight wagons and stopped the enemy dead in his tracks forcing him to abandon his planned offensive.

The PAF provided air support to the Navy at Karachi, on a report from a PIA aircraft flying reconnaissance for the Navy, the morning CAP (combat air patrol) at Masroor was asked to investigate, the result was that the PNS Zulfiqar took 900 hits of point 5 inch ammo killing several officers and men, with many more injured.

The operating statistics of 1971 war  are as under:

Sorties

 % Effort

Air Defence 1,748 58%
Army/Navy support 951 32%
Day Strike 160 5%
Night Strike 130 4%
Photo/ Recce 38 1%

PAF, however, did recognize the services of its bomber crew in both the wars. As a tribute to PAF’s B57 crew who valiantly faced the highest loss rate of the war and persisted doggedly each night, and its navigators who, despite their rudimentary bomb  aiming devices and  the difficulty of map reading at low level on pitch dark nights, carried the war deep into the enemy’s heartland. The Government of Pakistan awarded 15 Sitara-e-Jurrats (6 posthumous) and 2 posthumous Tamgha-e-Jurrats to B57 pilots and navigators.  

Recommendations for the Future. India continues to enlarge her Armed Forces by purchasing and producing new equipment  possessing the latest technology available at home and abroad. This is most dangerous for us as India’s overall aim of destroying Pakistan as an independent entity remains. In this regional scenario, the Pakistan Air Force is getting a bit out of date, urgently requiring the induction of new aircraft. The Pakistani nation must know  that if we want a strong and viable defence, we should be prepared to pay for it. The requirements of the Air Force are urgent and genuine and must be catered for by those who are in power and for those who are in the government responsible for the nation’s defence and well-being. The Pakistani government and nation must locate and expose those elements home and abroad who make endless efforts to see that our defence capability is slowly eroded.

Historically, the PAF except for a very short period in 1965, performed well below the required. It is a relatively small force, the support that it can provide to the Army and Navy must be its main role. But unfortunately, the PAF has not  been provided with such assistance as necessarily required. Because the PAF role remains a debate. It should assist the Army and the Navy and not fight its own war. Whereas, the three services must fight the same war and not their own separate battles.

For the last few years there is a debate on buying  a very expensive weapons system for the Air Force because of the “Fighter Gap”. It is also being debated that whether this system to be used to defend the fighter establishment, defend Pakistan or just another gimmick for the kickbacks. According to a report, India had as many as 232 high tech aircraft as opposed to the 32 F16s of the Pakistan Air Force. Since the role of the PAF is a pivotal one, Pakistan must do something as the Air Force was losing  some seven to eight aircraft every year on account of  phasing out and partly because of attrition. According to Air Chief Marshall Pervaiz Mehdi Qureshi, “The growing  technological disparity between the Indian and Pakistan Air Forces has now assumed “acute proportions”. Referring to the addition of sophisticated aircraft to the IAF and the inability of the PAF to come up with a matching response, Air Marshall Mehdi Qureshi said: “If this widening technological disparity between India and Pakistan is not plugged or narrowed down within the next 36 to 48 months, it would pose a direct threat to national security”. Perhaps this could be called a ‘Fighter Gap’. As the “Fighter Gap” does not relate to technology and numerical disparity but to the organization, employment and training. Therefore, it should be seriously taken into consideration by the higher authorities.

The absolute necessity for the PAF is to concentrate mainly on the destruction of the enemy tanks and to cause damage to the enemy’s capabilities and to provide direct as well as indirect support to its  Armed  Forces.

The small Pakistan Air Force should be trained primarily for the support of the Pakistani Army, Navy and  it should be equipped to come up with this task with suitable aircraft. The Army/Air and the Navy/Air cooperation should be perfected, especially as regards to recce, the production of the airpower enhancement and the direct support of the Air Force conjunction with Artillery should be directed in the destruction of the enemy tanks. The direct tactical support of the Army attacks on enemy’s ammunition and supply convoys should be studied.

Historical factors reveal that  the Pakistan Army has shown concern and assistance in the development of  the Pakistan Air Force on the right line.

With the arrival of American equipment the PAF entered into an important phase in its development. It is often not appreciated that reasonably modern equipment is essential for all the three companies of the Armed Forces, but for the Air Force it is absolutely vital.

In the recent years, however, there  has been a weakening of our governments resolve to adequately strengthen the Pakistan Air Force, as the Quaid had directed. If the present policy continues it will place the country  “at the mercy of an aggressor”. as the Quaid had rightly said. In our case the aggressor is  our neighbour India with whom we have fought three wars and two border conflicts short of war. An immense shooting war continues at present  in Kashmir where the troops are deployed  since the last more than 50 years on both sides of the ceasefire line or LOC (Line of Control) and also in the Siachin Glacier area  which is the world’s highest and most destructive battle ground. Only after 24 years of its independence, India split Pakistan  into two pieces by use of force, while the UN watched in silence. The freedom struggle of the poor Kashmiris continues even today. Kashmiris are being raped, killed, tortured while the world community watches in silence. At this crucial time when the fate of Kashmiris remains undecided, can we afford to lower our guards under the circumstances is the burning question of the day. The answer is obviously NO. Therefore, Pakistan must continue her efforts to build up her Air Force whether equipment, manpower, aircraft as quickly as possible in order to lower the already existing FIGHTER GAP between Pakistan and her biggest and numerically much larger adversary.

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