The Navy got the message despite all our excuses. There were no more missions that night. The Indians bombed us by the hour and we got a taste of our own medicine. In the early morning we had a completely different type of attack-missiles,- the missiles struck without warning, no air raid alert, suddenly the dawn sky was filled with light and Karachi oil terminal started burning, punctuated with its own explosions. It seems that the Indian convoy reversed course and returned towards Karachi, launched its full complement of 'Osa boats. These boats were capable of speeds of 35/45 knots and armed with missiles with a range of 25/30 miles. Osa boats returned to Karachi again, they sank two naval vessels, two merchant men, captured a merchant vessel from our coastal waters, damaged PNS Dacca and the oil terminal. The Pak Fleet returned to harbor, off loaded its heavy ammunition and remained docked for port air defense for the rest of the war.

The Army deployed 18 Division in the Sukkur - Rahim Yar Khan area and the Air Force was to provide air support from Jacobabad. This forward base was equipped to house and maintain 6, F86s. The Army launched the operation, caught the enemy completely by surprise only to be beaten back by 4 IAF Hunter aircraft based at Jaisalmir. Jacobabad was activated after the cease-fire!

On 16th December a tank battle developed in the Zafarwal area, where an Indian armored brigade consisting of four tank regiments broke the protective cordon of our minefield and massed to attack. When air support was requested, support was not provided, could the answer have been: 'LET THE ARMY FIGHT ITS OWN BATTLES?

The battle raged all day, 13th Lancers and 31st Cavalry lost most of their tanks, the enemy was held despite the Air Force. Over a 100 serviceable F86s, F6s, B57s or Mirages were available at Murid, Peshawar, Mianwali, Shorkot, Faisalabad and Sargodha but remained grounded.

The Air Force 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 PNS Zulfiqar took 900 hits of point 5 inch ammo killing several officers and men, with many more injured.

The ship was at anchor, it was not going anywhere! Had the pilots not been so trigger happy, the ships identity could have been established with just two radio calls, and had the pilots had been trained in ship recognition they would have reported back that it was the PNS Zulfiqar!

The operating statistics for 1971 war are as under:

  Sorties %Effort
Air Defence 1748 58%
Army / Navy support 951 32%
Day Strike 160 5%
Night Strike 130 4%
Photo / Recce 38 1%

Now that I have compiled a survey of PAF disasters, incompetence and achievements covering about 25 years, what conclusions can be drawn? Could it that there is no defined role for the Air Force? Or is it that the PAF defines its own role? Or is it Air Force incompetence? When such incompetence / disasters do occur they are immensely costly; which is why the next part of the article is written with no holds barred.

The PAFs role was not cleared even by the British Chiefs, who understood the role of air power in the light of WWII, and they became involved in a concepts struggle. In August 1950, General Gracey the then Army C-in-C wrote: 'The small PAF should be primarily trained for the tactical support of the Army and Navy--.. Army / Air and Navy / Air cooperation must be perfected especially as regards air recce, production of air photos and the direct support of Army, in conjunction with artillery, in the destruction of enemy tanks. However, the C-in-C Air AVM R.L.R. Atcherly was of the opinion: '-I am not inferring that you dont know your job; I am saying that you dont know mine. Air must be left to the airmen; even Monty preaches that.

By the time the Rann Kutch started there was no training for forward air controllers, no testing of communication with the Army and Navy. The war plans did not assign, specify support to the Army and Navy. Horizontal communications at various levels of the Army, Navy and the Air Force were non-existent. Even after the IAF had flown over the Kutch battle area, joint action did not result. The PAF could only venture 10 miles from the recognised border. Even though we had two high altitude RB57F recce aircraft, these were not used. We put them to aggressive use only after the '65 war. With such a situation as far as recce was concerned, then the question of direct support was entirely out of question!

With the start of operation 'Grand Slam this situation persisted. The IAF did intervene in the land battle, the PAF restricted itself to air defence. On 6th September the Director Operations PAF was in Aden, enroute to the UK, accompanied by his wife, presumably for a belated honeymoon! However, as the war progressed the Army did call and receive tactical air support, but no pre-planned combined operations took place, either with the Army or the Navy. Not even when the Navy visited Dawarka!

Between the '65 and 71 wars some Army/Air Force co-operation took place, but the Navy was left high and dry. The Navy had no defence against the Osa boat. The Egyptian Navy using the Osa had sunk an Israeli destroyer. The PN approached the Air Force, but no solution was suggested nor were any joint plans agreed upon. The Air Force phased out its only Long Range Maritime Search and Rescue aircraft the SA16! The Osa defence plan is quite simple, identify the convoy or boats and zap them with fighters in the day or bombers by night. The B57 crews had been extensively trained in night operations. The use of parachute flares, night gunnery, rocket attack or skip bombing had all been practiced. The Osa had little or no air defence capability. As far as finding and recognition of the Osa is concerned the C130 was available for long range maritime patrol, its navigation radar was adequate and with an endurance of 10 to 12 hours at patrol altitude, the lack of specialist maritime recce aircraft would not be felt. Our highly sophisticated Electronic Intelligence B57 was also an available asset at PAF Masroor, it should have scanned the Arabian Sea daily, starting well before the war, finger printing all Indian naval ship and shore radars! This aircraft did not get airborne throughout the war and was lost due to enemy night bombing! However, Naval support required will, training, co-ordination and the earnest desire to help and not fight over the budget! Even on the night of the 3rd, the Director Naval Operations had sighted the Indian convoy from a PIA Fokker, all that was needed was that the B57s mop them up. Air effort was available. The Air Force / Navy co-operation that had resulted in the shooting up of an anchored Naval vessel borders on criminal negligence. The Indian version of the Osa attack is: '.. The main attack on Karachi harbor would be launched by tiny PT-15 missile boats-. without air cover -these boats were designed for coastal defense and not for long range offensive action-.The Indian Navy accomplished the task assigned to it within a few days of the war. No enemy shipping could move in or out of its harbors. Control of the sea around both wings of Pakistan was with the Indian Navy.

The Air Force blames the Army for not informing them or giving sufficient notice of its operations in the desert and on this basis denied support to 18 Division. What alternatives did the PAF have even if Jacobabad was not activated? There were 8 B57 at Masroor and perhaps 9 at Mianwali, Jaisalmir was within range of both B57 bases. Instead of going any where else the B57s should have been concentrated only on Jaisalmir. Starting with a 4 B57 dusk strike, continuing with half hourly raids through the night and following up with a 4 ship B57 dawn strike. Some 20 or 30 B57 missions could have been flown daily, until the Hunter force had been destroyed. The F104s were sent to Utarlai, Jamnagar and even ordered to Jodhpur, but if its attacks were concentrated against Jaisalmir, this would result in significant help to the Army. The Indian version: 'The Battle for Longewal, fought in the deserts of the Indian state of Rajastan, merits inclusion in any account of the 1971 India-Pakistan war because of the sheer audacity of the Pakistani generals who had planned it. Had it succeeded, India would have lost thousands of kilometers of a vast expanse of desert. But there is a fine line between the daring and the foolhardy. Did Pakistani general cross that dividing line?

Air support was not provided in the Zafarwal sector, this defies explanation, was the C-in-C PAF drunk?

The only place where the PAF acquitted itself well was in East Pakistan, both in '65 and in '71. In '65, it struck Kalikunda twice, Bhagdogra, Hasimara and Agartala. In 71 the Dacca air base, handicapped by not having a wireless observer unit or a main radar (evacuated to West Pakistan) gave an excellent account for itself. It lost only four aircraft in air combat, including the present Chief of Air Staff who became a prisoner of war. The IAF was severely punished in its day attacks and despite, the Indian preponderance of 10 or 20 to 1, they stopped day raids and concentrated their air effort to night high altitude bombing. No aircraft was damaged by these attacks, 12 or 13 aircraft remained when runway repair was given up and the pilots were evacuated, according to plan.

It will be pertinent to note that India operates Pathankot and Amritsar, both within gun range from Pakistan! Other facts are that only four senior officers took part in operations in '65, Nur Khan, Hall, Zahid Butt and Khaqan Abassi, of these pilots only Nur Khan was from fighter command. In 1971, no senior officer Group Captain or above got airborne.

Why did all this happen? Because the role of the Air Force was not clearly defined and the PAF defined its own role. If you look at the percentage effort spent on air defence, 55 and 57%, in '65 and '71 (the effort to protect air bases), and if we subtract bomber, transport and recce effort, then the resultant effect is that the PAF spent up to 70% of the available air effort to protect itself! Military action is an uncontrolled experiment, facts are often distorted, line shooting, deceiving with false appearances and covering up are common place. The Air Force is no exception, have disasters become an enduring feature of the Air Force? Where do we go from here?

Article 243 of the constitution states:

The Federal Government shall have control and command of the armed forces.

(1A)Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provision, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces shall vest in the President.

Article 245 states:

[(1)] The armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, --.

The constitution thus places equal responsibility on all three services, and since the service chiefs are of equivalent ranks, there is no subordinate position! Despite the fact that the Air Force is small and its primary task is to support the Army and Navy. The Air Force, the sword arm of the services has not delivered, and like all good government institutions, it is a bureaucracy, and therefore, has every reluctance to change!

In order to fully understand the damaging effects of an independent air arm has had on Pakistan, it is necessary to explore modern management theories, the misconceptions and the biases of those who proposed the organizations and relationships amongst the forces, however, the position is that the PAF has a subordinate role since its primary responsibility is to support the Army and Navy, therefore, would it not be reasonable for the end users, the Army and Navy to decide the method, quantum, etc of support from the Air Force? Would it not be reasonable to place the Air Force under command of the Army and Navy? Here the only conflict is that of doctrine. What determines doctrine? Does equipment do it, or is equipment born of tactical doctrines. With the development of the Ghauri, and the diminished strategic role of the F 16, would it be used for tactical ground support? To do this, would we have to rewrite history and amend the constitution?

Sqn Ldr Shuaib Alam Khan was commisioned in the PAF in April 1954. He flew in both 1965 and 1971 wars as a Navigator on B57 aircraft.