25 February 2018

An Indian Admiral and a Pakistani Air Commodore

My recently published book, In the Ring and on its Feet – PAF in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, was commented upon by a former Chief of Staff of the Indian Navy​ a few days ago in an article on a web portal ‘The Print’. Though Admiral Arun Prakash was the Chief of Naval Staff, he had a unique career, for he served as a fighter pilot flying Hunters during the 1971 War, while on deputation with the IAF.

A discussion took place between the two of us on the portal, which is reproduced here. All credit to the Admiral for a very civil and amicable interaction. I may mention that Admiral also had this to say about the book: “The book deserves warm praise for its lucid narrative as well as frank and interesting insights into the 1971 air war, provided by a knowledgeable and objective Pakistani ‘insider’.”

Admiral Arun Prakash’s Article

"Disregarding the counsel of wise men, from Herodotus to George Santayana, Indians have consistently ignored the importance of reading, writing and learning from history. So, when retired US Air Force Brigadier ‘Chuck’ Yeager, head of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group in Islamabad during the 1971 war, says in his autobiography that “the Pakistanis whipped the Indians’ asses in the sky… the Pakistanis scored a three-to-one kill ratio, knocking out 102 Russian-made Indian jets and losing 34 airplanes of their own…”, we are left fumbling for a response.

Other Western ‘experts’ have alleged that, in 1971, the Indian Air Force was supported by Tupolev-126 early-warning aircraft flown by Soviet crews, who supposedly jammed Pakistani radars and homed-in Indian aircraft.

Where does one seek authentic information about India’s contemporary military history?

The Ministry of Defence website mentions a History Division, but the output of this division is not displayed, and it seems to have gone into hibernation after a brief spell of activity. A Google search reveals copies of two typed documents, circa 1984, on the internet, titled ‘History of the 1965 War’ and ‘History of the 1971 War’ (HoW), neither of which is designated as ‘official history’.

 A chapter of the latter document, deals with the air war in the Western theatre, and opens with a comparison of the opposing air forces. The 1971 inventory of the IAF is assessed as 625 combat aircraft, while the PAF strength is estimated at about 275. After providing day-by-day accounts of air defence, counter-air close support and maritime air operations, the HoW compares aircraft losses on both sides, and attempts a cursory analysis of the air war.

The IAF is declared as having utilised its forces “four times as well as the PAF” and being “definitely on the way to victory” at the time of cease fire. Commending the PAF for having managed to survive in a war against an “enemy double its strength”, it uses a boxing metaphor, to add a (left-handed) complement: “By its refusal to close with its stronger enemy, it at least remained on its feet, and in the ring, when the bell sounded.”

This is the phrase that Pakistani Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail (Retd) has picked up for the title of his very recent book: “In the Ring and on its Feet” [Ferozsons (Pvt) Ltd, Lahore, 2017] about the PAF’s role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Commissioned in 1975, this former Pakistani fighter pilot is a historian and bold commentator on strategic affairs. Currently unavailable in India, the book may, prima facie, be accepted as authentic, because the author asserts that in two of his appointments, he was the “custodian of PAF’s war records”, which he was, officially, permitted to access in writing the book.

Tufail starts with an attempt to dispel the “ludicrous Indian fabrication about Pakistan having initiated the war”, and offers the thesis that since war was already in progress, the ineffective 3 December PAF pre-emptive attacks were merely “first strikes” meant to overburden the IAF’s retaliatory capability. Apart from this half-hearted attempt at obfuscation, the rest of Tufail’s narrative is refreshingly candid, free of hyperbole and – one hopes – reliable. Having served in an IAF fighter squadron during the 1971 war, I was fascinated by Tufail’s account, and share a few of his frank insights into wartime events in this article.

Tufail suggests that the wartime PAF Chief, Air Marshal Rahim Khan, was an inarticulate, short-tempered and lacklustre personality, who, at this crucial juncture, chose his two most important advisors – the ACAS (Operations) and the Deputy Chief – from the ranks of transport pilots! His problems were compounded by low service morale, due to the massacre of 30 airmen in East Pakistan and defections by Bengali PAF personnel.

As far as the two orders-of-battle are concerned, it is interesting to note that the HoW figures of 625 combat aircraft for the IAF and 273 for the PAF are pretty close to Tufail’s estimates of 640 and 290 respectively. A fact not commonly known, in 1971, was, that while the IAF’s work-horses, Sukhoi-7s, Hunters, Gnats, HF-24s, Mysteres and Vampires, were armed only with 30/20 mm guns, the opposition had the advantage of air-to-air missiles. While all PAF Western-origin fighters carried Sidewinders or R-530s, Yeager tells us: “One of my first jobs (in Pakistan) was to help them put US Sidewinders on their Chinese MiGs… I also worked with their squadrons and helped them develop combat tactics.”

Tufail provides a tabular account of both IAF and PAF aircraft losses, with pilots’ names, squadron numbers and (for PAF aircraft) tail numbers. To my mind, one particular statistic alone confirms Tufail’s objectivity. As the squadron diarist of IAF’s No.20 Squadron, I recall recording the result of a Hunter raid on PAF base Murid, on 8 December 1971, as “one transport, two fighters (probable) and vehicles destroyed on ground”. In his book, Tufail confirms that 20 Squadron actually destroyed five F-86 fighters in this mission – making it the most spectacular IAF raid of the war!

Particularly gratifying to read are Tufail’s reconstructions of many combat missions, which have remained shrouded in doubt and ambiguity for 47 years. Personally, I experienced a sense of closure after reading his accounts of the final heroic moments of 20 Squadron comrades Jal Mistry and K.P. Muralidharan, as well as fellow naval aviators Roy, Sirohi and Vijayan, shot down at sea. Tufail also nails the canard about Soviet Tupolev-126 support to IAF, and describes how it was the clever employment of IAF MiG-21s to act as ‘radio-relay posts’ that fooled the PAF.

Coming to the ‘final reckoning’, there is only a small difference between the figures given in the HoW and those provided by Tufail for IAF losses; both of which make nonsense of Yeager’s pompous declarations. According to the tabulated Pakistani account (giving names of Indian aircrew), the IAF lost 60 aircraft. The HoW records the IAF’s losses in action as 56 aircraft (43 in the west and 13 in the east).

However, a dichotomy surfaces when it comes to PAF losses. While Tufail lists the tail numbers of only 27 aircraft destroyed, the HoW mentions IAF claims of 75 PAF aircraft destroyed, but credits only 46 (27 in the west and 19 in the east).

Using ‘utilisation rate’ per aircraft and ‘attrition rate’ as a percentage of (only) the offensive missions flown by both air forces, the HoW declares that the IAF’s utilisation rate being almost double, and its attrition rate being half that of the PAF, “…had the war continued, the IAF would certainly have inflicted a decisive defeat on the PAF”.

Adopting a different approach, Tufail concludes that the overall ‘attrition rate’ (loss per 100 sorties) for each air force as well as aircraft losses, as percentage of both IAF and PAF inventories, are numerically equal. Thus, according to him, “…both air forces were on par… though the IAF flew many more ground-attack sorties in a vulnerable air and ground environment”.

He ends his narrative on a sanguine note, remarking that, “The PAF denied a much stronger IAF …the possibility of delivering a knock-out punch to it”.

Air Commodore Tufail’s book clearly demonstrates that there are at least two good reasons for writing war histories; lessons are learnt about the political sagacity underpinning employment of state military power, and militaries can test the validity of the Principles of War.

Sensible nations, therefore, ensure that history is not replaced by mythology. Like Kaiser Tufail, there is a whole new crop of young scholar-warriors emerging in India too, eager to record its rich military history.

But as long as our obdurate bureaucracy maintains the inexplicable ‘omerta’ vis-a-vis official records, this deplorable historical vacuum will persist." 

Comments by Air Cdre Kaiser Tufail

1.  I clearly conceded in the Preface that we lost the war, so I find the surrender picture out of place, though it may have been inserted by the publisher to rub it in.

2.  As to the initiator of the war, how can the Indian invasion of East Pakistan on 22nd November be denied, or is it that an invasion must have the ingredients of air strikes and armour assaults? I touched upon the much-flogged point that Indian writers regularly harp upon – PAF’s pre-emptive strikes. We were not pre-empting an Indian invasion (which had already taken place), so technically it was not a pre-emption per se. It was just opening up another front. Therefore, the comment about a “half-hearted attempt at obfuscation” is rather strong and unwarranted.

3.  As for your ‘cherry-picking’ of some adverse remarks about Air Mshl Rahim Khan, I would have appreciated if you had also included some of the following points:

“The PAF was led by Air Marshal Abdur Rahim Khan, an officer with a bearing as impressive as his credentials. Soon after his commission in 1944, Rahim saw action in World War II, when he flew Vultee Vengeance dive-bombers in RIAF’s No 7 Squadron while stationed in Burma. Interestingly, Air Marshal Rahim Khan’s IAF counterpart in 1971 was the former Squadron Commander of No 7 Squadron, Air Chief Marshal P C Lal. Later in the PAF, Rahim flew Hawker Tempest and Hawker Fury in No 9 Squadron. He started to move on the fast track in the PAF when, in 1951, he was selected to command No 11 Squadron, PAF’s first jet fighter Unit equipped with the challenging Supermarine Attacker. Rahim went on to command PAF Station Mauripur (later named Masroor), which was PAF’s largest Station in terms of assets, as well as physical area. He did his staff course at RAF Staff College in Andover, and later, his defence studies course at Imperial Defence College in London. Well qualified in air power and war studies, he went on to command the PAF Staff College in Karachi. His staff jobs at Air Headquarters included those of ACAS (Ops) and ACAS (Admin). As ACAS (Ops), he was at the forefront of planning and conducting air operations during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. The C-in-C, Air Marshal Nur Khan, who had been appointed just 45 days prior to that war, was completely out of touch with the PAF, having been on deputation to PIA for a long period of six years. Rahim not only assisted his boss competently, but gained useful experience in the conduct of operations that he was to put to good use in 1971.”

4. I never mentioned that Rahim Khan’s ‘problems were compounded by low service morale’, though I did say that, “Two incidents that occurred prior to the 1971 war – which are sure to have rankled Air Marshal Rahim and exacerbated his wrath – need to be seen in context of their subsequent impact on the mind-set of the C-in-C and his Air Staff.” I have, regrettably been misquoted.

5.  Your comment that, “all PAF Western-origin fighters carried Sidewinders or R-530s” needs to be tempered with a clarification that only about 75% of the Sabres carried Sidewinders, and there was only ONE sortie flown on the Mirage III with the useless R-530.

6.  About Chuck Yeager, all I have to say is that he was a big mouth and a braggart. If you have read his book, he makes a preposterous claim that he had exceptional vision, and could easily spot an aircraft as far as 50 miles ahead. Now, as for the bit where he states, “I also worked with their squadrons and helped them develop combat tactics,” it is utter balderdash. All he did was to fly a couple of sorties on the Sabre in Peshawar, due to his friendship with Air Mshl Rahim, both having a penchant for hunting and fine Scotch.

7.  Admiral’s Observation: “However, a dichotomy surfaces when it comes to PAF losses. While Tufail lists the tail numbers of only 27 aircraft destroyed, the HoW mentions IAF claims of 75 PAF aircraft destroyed, but credits only 46 (27 in the west and 19 in the east).” My Comment: I have given the tail numbers of 22 aircraft that the PAF lost in the West, while tail numbers of the five lost in East Pakistan were not available, as the squadron authorisation book, as well as individual pilot log books were left behind in Dacca. I am willing to challenge any Indian historian or military person to share with me details of lost PAF aircraft that number more than 27. In fact, if I were to obfuscate these losses, I would have easily covered up at least three Sabres in the Murid raid by IAF’s 20 Sqn that the IAF did not know about, or the F-6 aircraft shot down by Wg Cdr S S Malhotra over Lyallpur that the IAF was never sure about, or a Sabre which ran out of fuel and was lost while chasing IAF Hunters.

8.  Admiral’s Observation: “Using utilization rate per aircraft and attrition rate as a percentage of (only) the offensive missions flown by both air forces, the HoW declares that the IAF’s utilisation rate being almost double, and its attrition rate being half that of the PAF, …had the war continued, the IAF would certainly have inflicted a decisive defeat on the PAF”. My Comment: Why should HoW have cherry-picked only the offensive missions? Sir, EVERY mission is to be counted for determining the attrition rate, so let us be fair in conceding that the IAF and PAF had an EQUAL attrition rate at the end of the war. I have taken the number of sorties flown based on the ‘Official History of the 1971 Indo-Pak War’ by S N Prasad, which was ‘leaked’ to Times of India (by the government, of course) in 2000.

9.  Admiral’s Final Observation: “He ends his narrative on a sanguine note, remarking that, “The PAF denied a much stronger IAF …the possibility of delivering a knock-out punch to it”. My Comment: Yes sir, SANGUINE! Why not? To force a draw on an opponent two-and-a-half times bigger calls for a drink. Bottoms up, Admiral!

Some Clarifications by Admiral Arun Prakash

While this is not a ‘Jawabi Hamla’, I do owe you a few ‘clarifications' too:

1.  I would certainly not have used that particular picture, but media people will do as they please. 

2.  While 22nd November 1971 may be a cardinal date, whose technical/historical implications could be argued interminably, 26nd March 1971 is also considered significant in the Indian narrative vis-a-vis the succeeding chain of events. As adversaries in a war, we are, each, entitled to our own and respective perceptions and we should leave it at that. But as a historian, you may just like to take note of the firm Indian belief that the 3rd December PAF air raids (whether technically ‘pre-emptive’ or not), were the opening gambit of a formal war on the Western front - that had remained quiescent till then. I remember Indira Gandhi broadcasting on radio that night that we were at war.

3.  I do feel a twinge of regret that I may have caused you some embarrassment with my remarks about A/M Rahim Khan. Since I could not have reproduced the full text devoted to him, I did ‘cherry-pick’ your remarks on p. 40: “not given to articulation”, “... insipid enunciation of his plans for impending hostilities”, and “unduly quick-tempered”. I did not realize that my commentary would be read across the border, and hope that this will not harm the late Air Chief’s reputation in any way.

4.  The ‘low morale’ comment was my own deduction, and I did not attribute it to you.

5.  Your frank views about Chuck Yeager were enlightening! He just celebrated his 95th birthday, and I don't think we should pass them on to him!!

6. As far as statistics and conclusions are concerned, I do not have the data or background to offer authoritative comments. All I did was to cite SN Prasad, as well as your own account. Btw, Prasad’s work is also available on the Bharat Rakshak website.


Admiral Arun Prakash's picture credit: Wikipedia

06 February 2018

Reliving the Past - Veterans Fly the F-16

A call from the Vice Chief of Air Staff asking me if I wanted to fly the F-16 got an immediate positive response, notwithstanding the fact that I had last flown the F-16 three decades ago. The stated objective was for a few retired veterans to assess the capabilities of the much modified fighter, as well as its young pilots, from a ‘then and now’ perspective – a sort of evaluation by independent auditors.  It seemed like a great idea coming from the Chief of Air Staff, and was certainly ‘out-of-the-box.’ 
Four of us veterans (an Air Marshal, two Air Vice Marshals, and me, an Air Commodore) were flown to an F-16 Base in a special executive jet.  Soon after a smart welcome on arrival, we were huddled into the auditorium for a crisp mission briefing by the Squadron Commander of No 9 Squadron, Wg Cdr Yasir Shafiq.  The brief was rich in techno-jargon and fancy terms we had never heard before while flying the no-frills Block-15 version.  It was quite apparent that the tactics and employment methods had transformed significantly after the Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) on the F-16s. We were to be introduced to Beyond Visual Range (BVR) intercepts, as well as Stand-off Laser Guided Bombing (dummy attacks) with the help of the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod. Some flying time was also reserved for us to throw around the aircraft, and assess for ourselves the workings of our aging sinew and muscle.

Some time was spent struggling into our old flying coveralls that we had brought along, though the anti-G suits and helmets were new, as our old ones were either unserviceable, or could not fit over our none-too-slender appendages. When we were all garbed up, we felt an inexplicable transformation that made us feel like the coolest hot rods, no matter that we were all well-established sexagenarians.  

Cockpit procedures and strapping up seemed routine, except for the almost arthritic inability to twist around and select the oxygen switch at the extreme rear of the right hand panel. Taxiing out in pairs, we lined up and did the engine run up checks. With the Squadron Commander in the lead, the first F-16 rolled for take-off, with us as No 2 following 10 seconds later.  Thoroughly excited as the five stages of the afterburner cut in an unbroken sequence, I was slammed against the seat as the aircraft roared away, with Sqn Ldr Sami at the controls in the front seat. As a special favour, the Squadron Commander had allowed us a rocket trajectory take-off, perhaps recalling my penchant for such astronautics from previous years. Exhilaration knew no bounds as we zoomed up to our exercise altitude, and split up to start an interception. 
Instead of the single Radar Electro-Optical scope of the older version, the MLU aircraft has two Multi-Function Displays that can show radar and navigation-map data. The display was hard to interpret without proper ground schooling, as it had all kinds of target data available. Radar information from AWACs, ground radars and other formation members can be shared through data link, providing the pilot with a complete three-dimensional all-around coverage or the ‘God’s eye view.’ Situational awareness of pilots has never been better, but requires exceptional abilities to interpret the plethora of symbols and numbers usefully. Those skills were evident as Sami gave me a running commentary of the target (leader’s aircraft), as we ran through the intercept geometry. Used to shooting aircraft in visual ranges, I was amazed to learn that the fight was over not long after the aircraft appeared on the radar scope!  It had been ‘knocked’ out by a simulated BVR missile far beyond the eyes could see. The fire control computer was constantly providing information on the shrinking and expanding ‘dynamic launch zone’ as the target tried to out-turn the missile, which of course, was a futile effort.  If somehow, an enemy aircraft were to sneak into visual ranges, the radar-coupled helmet-mounted sight would require the pilot to just look at the target and press the missile launch button.  Instead of having to manoeuvre the aircraft like old times, one ‘dirty look’ by the pilot can do the needful.  The 20 mm Vulcan cannon remains a backup weapon and can discharge a fusillade at a ripping rate of 100 rounds per second.  I was doubly convinced that coming out alive after a hostile encounter with the MLU F-16 would be a miracle, so this is a beast best avoided by any adversary.

Demonstration of a dummy attack against a ground target with the Sniper electro-optical pod was the next item on the agenda. The Sniper pod allows aircrews to detect, identify and engage targets outside the range of most enemy air defences. It also allows engagements beyond jet noise range for counter-insurgency operations.

The pod incorporates a high definition Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) seeker, as well as visible-light HDTV, laser spot tracker, laser marker, video data link, and a digital data recorder. The pod’s FLIR allows observation and tracking through smoke and haze, and in low light or no light conditions. The CCD camera supports the same operations in visible light for most daylight conditions.
It being a hazy day, FLIR mode was selected, and a target was identified and immediately tracked. Zooming in from far-off ranges helped resolve the target down to fine details that were unimaginable with the older ATLIS pod, that we had flown in the eighties. More importantly, the standoff range from the target has improved considerably, and targeting can be done safely from further off. The video of the target can be shared by formation members or army ground liaison staff in real time through data link. Sensor fusion is the key to this lethal game, and this could not have been more evident during the slick attack sequence we went through.
Time came for throwing the aircraft around, so the leader of the formation announced some mild tail chase. Not ready for the sudden onset of Gs, I strained my neck, which is a not an uncommon problem afflicting those who have stayed away from the F-16 for a while. The flight controls are driven by the same old right hand electric joystick, but the functions of the buttons on the stick (and throttle) have increased manifold. The facility and confidence with which Sami was handling the aircraft and its sensors was a marvel, and bespoke of his experience on the type that was past the 1,500 hours mark.
Landings were uneventful, and we taxied back to the aircraft shelters with ground crew eager to welcome us back after a unique experience. Soon afterwards, media teams emerged with their video cameras and mikes for short interviews regarding our experience. Here is what the veterans had to say:
Air Marshal Qazi Javed: “Fantastic! After 25 years, when you sit in an F-16, it is absolutely fantastic. The number of sensors these aircraft have is unbelievable; the situation awareness they provide is out of this world. I wish in our times, we had one-tenth of what we saw today. I wish the PAF good luck. Everyone is doing a fantastic job.”
Air Vice Marshal Hamid Khawaja: “It was a great experience. I returned after 20 years, which is a long time. The things I have seen today are very encouraging. The aircraft that I flew today has been modified so much – so much gadgetry – it makes you very happy to see that. I was very glad to see the pilots who are very comfortable with the aircraft. The level of experience of the younger pilots is very good too.”
Air Vice Marshal Faaiz Amir: “It reinforces my belief in the quality of today’s air force … more so the quality of pilots, although there is great improvement in the equipment as well. I was very pleased to see the competency of the pilots during the air-to-air exercise that we flew today. The technicians too are maintaining a very high standard of maintenance, and the aircraft are in very good shape. Godspeed to the Pakistan Air Force.”
Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail: “I was flying the F-16 after 30 years, and the last I flew any fighter was in 2004. It was a wonderful experience and I really enjoyed it. This aircraft is absolutely different from what we flew three decades ago. It is a completely changed aircraft, full of avionics, full of gadgetry. However, the best part I liked was the professionalism of the pilots. Everyone is very dedicated. I think everything has transformed. It is a very powerful punch-packed air force. I am very impressed.”

23 September 2017

Super Mushshak - A Nifty Trainer Comes of Age

Development of MFI-15 Safari
Björn Andreasson, a Swedish aeronautical engineer working for Convair USA, designed his home-built BA-7 in 1958, incorporating the distinctive shoulder-mounted wing with a forward sweep. Returning to Sweden in 1960, Andreasson joined Malmö Flygindustri where he designed an improved version of BA-7 that went into production as the MFI-9 Junior, along with its German license-built clone, the Bölkow 208. Improvements included a larger cockpit, and a more powerful Continental O-200 flat-four, air cooled piston engine delivering 75 kW (100 HP).
When Malmö Flygindustri decided to build a senior version of the Junior, Andreasson was at hand to oversee the project.  The MFI-15 Safari was an all-metal aerobatic trainer and utility aircraft, with a more powerful piston engine.  It featured shoulder-mounted wings having a 5° forward sweep, fixed tricycle landing gear, and side-by-side seating for two, with dual stick type controls. An additional passenger could also be housed in a spacious baggage compartment.  The prototype flew in July 1969.  A more powerful Avco Lycoming IO-360-A1B6, four-cylinder, air-cooled piston engine became the standard power plant for the production version from 1971 onwards.

A tail-wheel version of the MFI-15 was also conceived, whereby, the regular tricycle configuration could be converted into a tail-dragger in a couple of hours, as attachment points were provided for either type of gear. This version also had provision for quick-refit, high-lift slotted flaps instead of plain flaps, for STOL performance. During flight trials, it was discovered that when using these high-lift flaps at full down (38°) for a short landing, the downwash from the main wing caused tail plane buffet.
The tail plane was, therefore, shifted up, out of the downwash. An added benefit of the T-tail configuration was that the tail plane stayed clear of debris kicked up by the prop wash during rough field operations. Contrary to expectations, however, the Army version with tail wheel and high-lift flaps was not chosen  by any customer.

Unusual Aerodynamics
In theory, shoulder-mounted wings – or more properly, eye-level mounted wings – allow the pilot to see above and below the wings, quite unlike the fully high or low mounted ones, which block the upper or lower views. In practice, the problem with shoulder-mounted wings is that the when the centre of gravity and centre of aerodynamic pressure are properly balanced for positive longitudinal stability, the wing spar ends up running through the cockpit in light aircraft. This would not happen in high or low mounted wings, as the wing spar would be well clear, above or below the cockpit.
A solution to this problem of shoulder-mounted wings was found in the forward swept configuration, where the wing root is attached to the fuselage sufficiently aft – so that the wing spar is clear of the cockpit – yet retaining the desired longitudinal stability. The result of this shoulder-mounted configuration is unrestricted vertical visibility. For similar reasons of visibility and longitudinal balance, several gliders have a slight forward swept design.
Some tweaking of the forward swept wing design was required on the MFI-15, because the wing root was attached against the fuselage in such a position that the pilot had to crane his neck forward to see along the wing leading edge (or the ‘3-9 line’).  A simple solution to the problem was an angled indent at the wing root that cleared up the obstruction.  
To improve handling at high angles of attack, small fixed slats at the wing root were incorporated to allow high-energy air to swish through the slot to the upper surface of the wing, and smoothening out the airflow by reattaching the separated boundary layer.  Higher angles of attack can thus be achieved, which help exploit the coefficient of lift (CL) to the maximum, without any adverse behaviour setting in.  In effect, these fixed slats work in ways similar to leading edge root extensions (LERX) on modern fighters, which generate high-energy vortices over the wings. The vortices smoothen out the airflow over the wing surface, well past the normal stall point at which the airflow would otherwise break up, thus sustaining lift at slow speeds and during high-g manoeuvring.

Speed and Range
The MFI-15 never made big claims about speed and range, having to strike a compromise between the requirements of an aerobatics trainer and a utility aircraft. An aerobatic aircraft stressed to +6, -3 g cannot have a high aspect ratio due to demands of structural integrity. The wingspan is thus small in relation to the wing area.  Such a design militates against a utility aircraft, which entails high aspect ratios for better lifting efficiency and less drag – in other words, faster speeds and longer ranges.  The fixed landing gear does not help matters either, though in ab initio flying training, as well as ground operation from rough fields, the simplicity of fixed gear, its sturdiness, and ease of maintenance are quite desirable. The penalty paid in terms of drag was, thus, unavoidable but acceptable, considering the role of the aircraft.  All said, the excellent handling characteristics and panoramic visibility made the MFI-15 popular amongst the civilian air enthusiasts in Europe, who bought a large number of these aircraft.

MFI-15 as a Military Trainer
The first military customer of the MFI-15 was the Republic of Sierra Leone Air Force, which purchased two aircraft in 1973 for training pilots of its fledgling air arm. The aircraft were sold off five years later, as the air force never really took-off.
The Royal Norwegian Air Force purchased 18 MFI-15 in 1981, with a later order of 5 MFI-17 as attrition replacements.  These continue to provide primary pilot training at the Flight Training School in Bardufoss, located well north of the Arctic Circle.
In 1968, the Royal Swedish Air Force had started a search for replacement of its SAAB Safir trainer, while the Swedish Army also wanted a replacement of its Super Cubs.  At that time the MFI-15 was still in the development stage. Despite the fact that non-aligned Sweden had always depended on its own industry for all military equipment, it had to choose from what was available at that time: the spruced up and renamed MFI-9B Mil-Trainer, Scottish Aviation Bulldog and SIAI-Marchetti SF-260.  In the event, the decision went in favour of the Bulldog; unfortunately, the MFI-15 was just a little late on the scene.
MFI-17 Supporter / Mushshak
Eyeing the military potential of the aircraft, Malmö Flygindustri developed a lightly armed COIN-capable version, the MFI-17 Supporter, which first flew in July 1972.  It differed from the Safari only in having strengthened wing spars for six underwing stations that could carry machine gun or rocket pods. The idea was spawned by the successful use of MFI-9 Junior by a few intrepid soldiers of fortune, in support of Biafra’s fight for secession from Nigeria. Led by the dashing Swedish Count Carl Gustaf von Rosen, a flamboyantly named squadron, the ‘Biafra Babies’, was raised with five MFI-9 armed with underwing Matra SNEB 68 mm rockets.  Two Swedes and two Biafrans made up the aircrew.  Starting on 22 May 1969, the squadron conducted a series of spectacular strikes on Nigerian airfields that seemed right out of a low-budget thriller. Caught by complete surprise, several Nigerian Air Force MiG-17 and three Il-28 bombers were destroyed in the raids. With the ability of light aircraft to conduct meaningful operations clearly demonstrated – albeit by mercenaries – Malmö Flygindustri set about marketing its diminutive MFI-17 as a multi-role platform for military users.
Pakistan Air Force, which had been using the aging T-6G Harvard as primary trainers since its inception in 1947, decided to replace them with something more modern, and less daunting for ab initio pilots.  In 1973, SAAB-Scania (Malmö Flygindustri’s parent company) offered to demonstrate the capabilities of its new product. The offer was most opportune for the PAF, as well as Pak Army which was also looking for a replacement of its aging Cessna L-19.  An MFI-17 (SE-XCF) , along with SAAB technical staff, was airlifted from Sturup, Sweden, in a DC-6 cargo plane, and flown to Rawalpindi in November 1973. A series of flight trials were conducted at PAF Academy, Risalpur and the Army Aviation Base at Dhamial. The trials were rounded off with a thrilling ground attack demonstration by the company test pilot Ove Dahlén at the Nowshera Artillery Firing Range, where Bantam rockets were accurately fired at a wagon rolled on to a railway track segment.  Though satisfied with the aircraft’s flight performance, the PAF and Pak Army Aviation showed no  interest in the trainer’s puny ground attack capability that could have fallen foul of Swedish neutrality laws.  Pakistan’s interest in another Swedish jet trainer and ground attack aircraft, the SAAB 105G, had recently come to naught as it fell in the category of ‘lethal weaponry’ whose sale was prohibited to countries that had an ongoing conflict.
PAF signed the first contract for purchase of MFI-17 from SAAB-Scania in June 1974. Several successive contracts followed, each tailored for progressive transfer of technology. The first batch of 15 ‘ready-to-fly’ aircraft was to be followed by assembly of 10 semi-knocked down kits (SKD), and subsequent assembly of 82 complete knock down (CKD) kits, the whole program spread over eight years.
The first of the ‘ready-to-fly’ aircraft (74-501, temporarily under civil registration SE-FIH) was actually ferried across in an epic 8-day journey from Sweden to Pakistan, involving over 40 refuelling stops. The aircraft was flown by Malmö Flygindustri’s pilot Sven-Erik Larsson, with a handy mechanic, Ingvar Larsson, by his side to fix any maintenance problems enroute. The aircraft landed in Rawalpindi on 16 August, 1974. The remaining 14 aircraft were airlifted over the next twelve months in four sorties of PAF C-130 and a chartered Transmeridian CL-44.
Pakistan's first locally manufactured aircraft seen against
the backdrop of Minar-e-Pakistan and Badshahi Mosque
in Lahore. [Painting by Rehan Siraj]
Delivery of 10 semi-knocked down (SKD) kits started in 1976, these being assembled in a maintenance hangar at PAF Academy, Risalpur.  From early 1977 to late 1983, 82 complete knocked down (CKD) kits were assembled at Risalpur, with the aircraft being renamed ‘Mushshak’ (‘Proficient’ in Urdu).  When Malmö Flygindustri ceased logistics support in 1982, Pakistan signed a deal with SAAB-Scania for licensed manufacture to meet the increasing demand of what was found to be a very useful multi-purpose aircraft.  Production of the aircraft started at the newly established Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (AMF) within the sprawling Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in Kamra, northern Pakistan. Pakistan's first-ever locally manufactured aircraft (Mushshak 83-5117) rolled out in September 1983. Between 1983 and 1997, AMF built 180 Mushshak aircraft from raw materials.  
Besides Pakistan Air Force, as many as 174 Mushshaks were procured by Pakistan Army Aviation for air support operations, including forward air controlling, artillery spotting and field liaison duties.
25 PAC-manufactured Mushshaks were sold to the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force in 1990. One Super Mushshak was purchased by Iran in 1997, possibly to use it as a sample for modification of previously purchased Mushshaks; however, there is no confirmation about any such upgrades.
Six Mushshaks were gifted to the Syrian Arab Air Force by the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. It may be recalled that Pakistan’s relations with Syria were at a high during the premiership of her father, and the country was considered a close Arab ally.
The Royal Danish Air Force did not have to look far when it chose the MFI-17 as its primary trainer in 1976. Of the 32 MFI-17s (designated T-17 by RDAF) that were ordered from SAAB, 23 went to the air force, while nine went to the Danish Army Air Service for artillery spotting and liaison duties. When the latter service was disbanded in 2003, all assets were transferred to the air force.  Primary flying training continues to be imparted on the T-17 at the Flying School in Air Base Karup.
Zambian Air Force was the next SAAB customer, with deliveries of 20 MFI-17 aircraft starting in 1977. The ZAF used the aircraft for primary training of its pilots for over three decades.  The surviving aircraft were known to be suffering from serious maintenance problems, and were eventually grounded.

Super Mushshak
The PAF was not too happy about the slow rate of climb of the Mushshak in hot summer temperatures, as students were left with less time aloft to perform their air exercises.   This was quite in contrast to the 1973 flight trials, which had been held in the cold November weather, something that had been smartly planned by SAAB, but somehow not seen through by the PAF. Pakistan Army Aviation, used to the STOL capability of the earlier L-19s, was also not impressed with the Mushshak’s take-off performance, especially from unprepared airfields in forward areas. Cruise speed was also a feature that required enhancement.
The need for performance improvements was felt as far back as 1985, when AMF, SAAB-Scania and Teledyne Continental Motors teamed up to retrofit the Mushshak with a more powerful engine. The Continental IO-360 six-cylinder turbo-charged engine, delivering 210 horsepower, was chosen for the ‘Shahbaz’ (‘Royal Falcon’ in Persian), as the modified aircraft was to be known. Work continued for the next two years, incurring an expenditure of US$ 2 million, but the results were far from satisfactory.  The failure of the project was largely due to design changes in the basic aircraft that negatively affected stability and balance.
With pilots still unhappy about the performance of the weak 200 horsepower engine, the power plant retrofit project was revived in 1995.  A strict stipulation not to meddle with the basic design of the aircraft was laid out from the outset. The Lycoming IO-540-V4A5 six-cylinder engine delivering 260 horsepower was selected. The already available maintenance facilities and compatibility of a large number of spare parts, were important considerations for choosing the Lycoming engine.
Installation of the engine entailed a new engine mount that was designed and tested by AMF to verify its load limits.  The slightly increased size of the new engine and minor changes in its shape also entailed a new cowling that was designed and fabricated locally. The choice of a suitable propeller for the new engine mainly centred on the issue of a two or three-blade type.  Both types were tested, but the differences in performance were marginal, so AMF followed a more economical course and stayed with the Hartzell two-blade, variable pitch, constant speed propeller.
Besides the engine, additional modifications to the aircraft included a powerful air conditioning system, electrical trimmers, and re-wiring for some new electrically powered instruments.
The aircraft flew its first test flight with the Lycoming IO-540-V4A5 engine on 15 August 1996, a mere eight months after the start of the project. The heavier engine and air conditioning system required placement of ballast in the aft fuselage to maintain the centre of gravity. The aerobatic category, along with spin capability, was thus retained in accordance with US FAR 23.3 regulations. The aircraft showed significant performance improvement in all three desired areas viz, take-off distance, rate of climb and cruise speed.  The most welcome of all modifications was the air conditioning system, as aircrew had been operating in scorching weather with summer temperatures routinely exceeding 45°C in many parts of Pakistan.
With all modification parameters met, and a marked improvement in performance, it was considered befitting to rename the aircraft. While various names were under consideration, a team of journalists visiting Pakistan Aeronautical Complex learnt about the newly modified Mushshak. Next day, newspapers reported some exciting stories about Pakistan’s ‘Super Mushshak’, a name that has stuck ever since.
PAF started upgrading its Mushshaks in 2001, and in the next five years, all its training fleet was modified to the Super Mushshak standard. Three Super Mushshak aircraft have also been procured by the Army for training of their instructors at PAF’s Flying Instructors’ School in Risalpur.

Going by the trend of overseas customers preferring a glass cockpit (Garmin 950 or Dynon Skyview suite), PAF also decided to install a Dynon suite on its Super Mushshaks. The good thing about this display is that it can be customised to show only the basic information, so that ab initio trainees are not overloaded with superfluous data. PAF Academy has found this scheme useful, and today’s video games-savvy students have been found to have no difficulty in adapting to the digital displays.
 Export Customers of Super Mushshak
In the rather restricted category of fully aerobatic piston engine trainers, with fixed tricycle landing gear, and side-by-side seating, there was hardly any competition for the Super Mushshak. Aircraft with these features are ideal as ab initio trainers, and at the turn of the century, one of the few aircraft that fitted this category was the German Grob G115.  The highly successful Italian origin SIAI-Marchetti SF-260 was also a capable aircraft, but had a retractable undercarriage, and was costlier than the Super Mushshak.  Being a niche product, and quite affordable, the Super Mushshak was able to capture a sizeable market in the Middle East.
The Royal Air Force of Oman became the first overseas customer of the Super Mushshak with the purchase of five aircraft in 2003. Three of its Mushshaks that were on the inventory since 1993 were also upgraded to the new Super Mushshak standard.
The Royal Saudi Air Force showed interest in the Super Mushshak as a replacement of its Cessna 172, which was being used for screening and elementary training at King Faisal Air Academy. After a series of aerial trials, a contract for the sale of 20 aircraft, along with after-sales support, was signed in 2004.
Qatar Emiri Air Force was next to order eight Super Mushshak in 2016. Deliveries are underway at the time of this writing. These aircraft would be used for screening and elementary training at the QEAF Air Academy.
The Super Mushshak marked its presence in Africa with Nigerian Air Force ordering ten aircraft in 2016. Deliveries of these aircraft are expected to be completed by mid 2018.
The largest order of 52 Super Mushshaks was placed by the Turkish Air Force in 2016.  It is planned that all flying training in the armed forces would take place at a single facility, thus the large order.
The most recent customer is the Azerbaijani Air and Air Defence Force, which signed a contract for purchase of ten Super Mushshaks in July 2017. Deliveries are likely to be complete by end 2018.
Going by the spate of recent orders of Super Mushshak, it seems that AMF would be in lucrative business for many years. Studies are underway to further improve performance through some design changes; these could possibly include extended wingtips for higher aspect ratio, as well as a tapering cylindrical aft fuselage for drag reduction. The Super Mushshak surely has some life ahead, and it is quite likely that it will complete fifty years of service in the PAF, alongside its jet trainer counterpart, the T-37, which has already done so.                         

- Details regarding number of aircraft assembled and produced, as well as those exported to other countries, provided by Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, PAC Kamra, Pakistan.
- Cutaway illustration courtesy 'Swedish Hocus Pocus', by Monty B Groves in American Aircraft Modeler, Dec 1974.
- Water colour painting of Pakistan's first locally manufactured Mushshak 83-5117 by renown aviation artist Rehan Siraj.