26 February 2021

IAF's Balakot Disaster Two Years On

As with any political party in power, the Indian elections of 2019 were critical for Bharatya Janata Party (BJP), for it wanted a stronger showing than its previous term in power. The issues of rising unemployment, currency demonetisation, farmers’ complaints of low remunerative prices, and not the least, the persistent insurgency in Kashmir had, however, dented BJP’s prospects considerably. Something needed to be done to avert a poor show at the hustings. Pakistan, perceived as India’s perennial nemesis, was the perfect scapegoat which could be accused of supporting the uprising in Muslim-majority Kashmir. BJP assessed that targeting Pakistan on charges of supporting terror in Kashmir would be fully supported by both sides of the political divide in India. According to the Pew Research Centre, their 2018 and 2019 surveys suggested that the significant majority of the Indian voters considered Pakistan as a “very serious threat” to their country, and terrorism to be a “very big problem.”

On 14 February 2019, a Kashmiri youngster carried out a suicide attack by ramming his car into a police vehicle, killing 40 troops of Central Police Reserve Force. The attack was in retaliation for the excesses committed by para-military forces, which had tortured and maimed hundreds of young men, and raped scores of women in a relentless campaign of terror. Instead of reflecting on the causes of the on-going insurgency, the Modi government found it opportune to blame Pakistan yet one more time.  Without an iota of evidence to present to UN or any other world adjudication body regarding involvement of Pakistan in the attack, the Indian government decided to exact revenge on its own. With elections just six weeks away, the timing could not have been more favourable for Prime Minister Modi.

IAF struck a purported terrorist training camp at Jabba, near Balakot town early morning on 26 February. Fortuitously for Pakistan, the brazen attack started with a string of failures, which continued embarrassingly throughout the operation. Of the planned package of twelve Mirage 2000H which were to strike, two aborted on the ground, while four had to abort in the air due to cloudy weather which precluded use of the electro-optically delivered ‘Crystal Maze’ bombs. The remaining six Mirages delivered their ‘Spice 2000’ bombs from a stand-off range of 40 km; five bombs exploded on a hillside, well away from the target, which was actually a seminary that housed teenage children learning to memorise the Holy Quran. There was no loss of any life or property.

IAF stood guard on the night of 26 February when PAF’s riposte was expected. Extensive Combat Air Patrols (CAP) were flown by IAF, with surveillance support from ground radars, as well as an AEWCS aircraft anchored over Adampur.   When PAF did not show up till sunrise of 27 February, IAF eased off from its highest alert state, and waited for the following night.  A pair of Su-30MKI was patrolling near Srinagar, while a pair of Mirage 2000I was patrolling east of Udhampur.   PAF’s deception worked splendidly when its strike package of four Mirage 5PA/IIIDA and two JF-17, duly supported by a big swarm of escorts and patrolling fighters (a mix of F-16A/B and JF-17), cluttered the scopes of IAF’s ground radars at 0920 hours. Working at the rear of the fighter package were PAF’s SAAB Erieye AEWC aircraft, and the DA-20 Falcon in which electronic warfare wizards sat ready with their arcane tricks.

Two vintage – but still quite capable – Mirage 5PA, each armed with one H-4 stand-off  bomb, along with two JF-17, each armed with two Mk-83 Range Extension Kit (REK) bombs, headed towards their respective targets in southern-western Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK).  Each Mirage 5PA was followed by its communication control aircraft, a dual-seat Mirage IIIDA, which was to steer the H-4 after launch through data link, while the JF-17s’ Mk-83 REK were to be launched in the autonomous ‘fire and forget’ mode. Since the purpose of the mission was essentially to demonstrate that Pakistan had the resolve, as well as the capability of responding in kind, it was decided that there was no compelling need to pick the front door of a brigade commander’s office, or the air shafts of soldiers’ bunkers. General area bombing of open spaces in military garrisons near the Line of Control (LOC) in IHK was, therefore, agreed upon.  It was expected that this ‘abundance of restraint’ would prevent mass carnage in the Indian military garrisons, which could otherwise lead to a chain of escalatory actions, and spiral into a very dangerous all-out war under a nuclear overhang.  When PAF struck the garrisons within 32 hours of IAF’s abortive air strike at Balakot, it came like a ‘shot across the bow’ and had the desired sobering effect on the Indian military commanders.  

Meanwhile, the pair of patrolling Su-30s were completely shocked when they were targeted by an F-16 with an AIM-120 missile at long range. Narrowly surviving an apparent proximity hit, both Su-30s scampered out of the area, leaving the field to the Mirage 2000 pair. When the IAF ground radar sought to position the Mirages to tackle the F-16s, both terror-stricken Mirage pilots expediently declared fire-control system malfunctions, and also bowed out without a fight. The desperate ground radar control then scrambled two pairs of MiG-21 Bison to tackle the rampaging PAF fighters. It was not long before an F-16 fired an AIM-120 missile at one of the Bisons that was charging in headlong, rather recklessly. The Bison was promptly blown out of the skies; its pilot, Wg Cdr Abhinandan, was lucky to parachute to safety, and was promptly apprehended by Pak Army soldiers inside Pakistani territory.

While air combat was in progress in the skies, an IAF combat search and rescue Mi-8 helicopter holding in the combat zone was shot down with a Spyder SAM, as the Terminal Air Defence Unit radar at Srinagar took it for a Pakistani UAV. The costly mistake resulted in six aircrew fatalities. For the IAF, it seemed like a morning of endless misfortunes.

India had the initiative, and could also exploit the element of secrecy and surprise to its advantage. However,  these possible benefits were squandered by the IAF as the operation was flawed in its planning, and entirely disastrous in its execution. Some of the basic planning considerations were flouted: cloudy weather resulted in cancellation of the electro-optical weapons delivery, elevation data fed into the autonomous Spice 2000 bombs was in error, capabilities of the PAF’s BVR air-to-air missiles were not well-known to IAF aircrew, and the determination as well as the state of readiness of PAF was taken lightly.  More serious was the failure of IAF’s patrolling fighters to pick up the gauntlet when challenged, allowing PAF fighters to have a free run; it reflected poorly on the morale and training of IAF pilots. Oversight of the operation was faulty at all levels of command, and cannot be put down to bad luck by an air force that claims to be professional.

It is a wonder that despite such a fruitless operation, the Indian media painted it as a great victory. Fabrications knew no bounds when an F-16 was claimed to have been downed by Abhinandan. The Indian pilot had truthfully claimed on TV – while sipping a ‘fantastic’ cup of Pakistani tea – that he was still searching for the target on his radar when he got zapped by an air-launched missile. Apparently, the Bollywood habituated Indian public least bothers about fact-checking, and two years down, continues to revel in the ‘great victory,’ despite a most discomfiting rout. It must be confessed, however, that media manipulation was the only success of Modi’s government.

The reaction of the international community to India’s brazen aggression against Pakistan was muted, and outright condemnation was absent. The closest any country got to disapproval was a neither here nor there statement, calling 'all parties to exercise restraint.' In an environment where freedom movements are labelled as terror campaigns – as in Indian occupied Kashmir and Palestine – it is not difficult for the host governments to justify punitive action against suspected supporters.  Pakistan needs to be wary of this reprehensible trend, and needs to be at the diplomatic forefront to quell hostile propaganda by its adversaries, especially India.

Though the failed IAF strike did not bring any concrete dividends, it did open up the possibility for India to repeat such action in future. The mistakes made in planning and execution of 26/27 February 2019 operation are certain to have been remedied, and it would be naïve to believe that India is not raring for a revenge bout. India has never digested the fact that its military options against Pakistan have been thwarted by the latter’s nuclear capability. To keep an upper hand as a regional player, India is likely to resort to periodic muscle-flexing through so-called ‘surgical strikes.’ These could be conducted with stand-off weapons launched by conventional fighters, or more likely by Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV), which may be the new norm in Indo-Pak conflicts. Pakistani military, especially the quick-reacting PAF, needs to maintain its operational readiness at the cutting edge to deter India from any adventurism in future.


This article was published (under a different heading) in Pakistan Politico, February 2021 issue.

11 September 2020

Impact of Rafale Induction in IAF

Quite clearly, the inadequacy of IAF’s Su-30MKI and MiG-29 twin-engine fighters in the air superiority role led to the decision to acquire the Rafale, ostensibly a more modern and capable multi-role fighter. While both Russian fighters are highly manoeuvreable in a visual dogfight, as evidenced in several IAF exercises with RAF Typhoons and USAF F-15s, they seem to have shortcomings in network-centric, Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat. This was noticed during the 27 February 2019 skirmish with PAF F-16s, when a pair of Su-30s failed to establish data link and were of no mutual support to each other. The capabilities of the much-touted N011M ‘Bars’ airborne intercept radar are also suspect as the patrolling Su-30s were unable to launch even a single radar-guided R-77 BVR missiles against two dozen PAF fighters milling in the area on 27 February. While a definitive conclusion about the shortcomings of the Su-30 fire-control radar and missiles cannot be made on the basis of a single engagement, it is clear that they were not at par with the PAF F-16/AMRAAM combo.  IAF was aware of these limitations of the Russian fighters, which is why it had initiated measures for the acquisition of Western multi-role combat aircraft instead of more Su-30s, as far back as 2012.

IAF’s choice fell on the French Rafale, which is, indeed, a formidable multi-role fighter with long range and endurance, along with a sizeable payload in the class of the Su-30, areas that single-engine fighters like the F-16A/B and JF-17 cannot compete in. One bare metal Rafale comes at a cost of $120 million apiece, while one with a worthwhile armament suite and full logistic support costs twice as much.  Dollar for dollar, PAF can acquire three JF-17 Blk-III for the cost of one Rafale, thus more than offsetting the latter’s payload capabilities, at least. The range of the Rafale’s Meteor missile claimed by the manufacturer (MBDA) to be 100+ km led the Indian Prime Minister to ruefully state that, “if we had the Rafale, results would have been different [on 27 February].” Mr Modi has apparently not yet been briefed by his Air Staff about the JF-17’s upcoming PL-15 BVR missile guided by the new AESA radar, which beats the Rafale’s ramjet-powered Meteor by several tens of kilometres.[1]  In his 2015 interview with Flight Global magazine Commander of USAF Air Combat Command, General Herbert Carlisle stressed that he regarded outmatching the Chinese PL-15 air-to-air missile as "exceedingly high priority" for the US. "The PL-15 and the range of that missile, we've got to be able to out-stick that missile," Carlisle underscored. It is manifest that with missiles like the PL-15 and Meteor, long range BVR combat will take precedence over close combat in any future conflict.

While we are at it, it may be worthwhile to have a cursory line comparison of the Rafale, F-16A and JF-17 in one-on-one visual air combat. All three aircraft have a ‘clean’ configuration Thrust-to-Weight Ratio of 1:1 and can climb and accelerate equally well.  In a turning fight, Aspect Ratio and Wing Loading are critical parameters. The JF-17 and F-16A enjoy better Aspect Ratios of 3.7 each, compared to the Rafale which stands at 2.6. A better Aspect Ratio (square of wing span to wing area) implies better aerodynamic efficiency due to less induced drag during turning.  As for Wing Loading, or the weight of the aircraft per unit area, the lesser the better.  The Rafale has a slight edge, having 68 lbs/sq ft compared to the JF-17 and F-16A, both of which have Wing Loadings of 77 lbs/sq ft.  A lightly loaded wing helps in a tighter turn, though in case of the Rafale, this advantage is overcome by greater induced drag due its lower Aspect Ratio. In sum, all three fighters are alike, more or less, in a turning fight.

Induction of the Rafale in IAF has created considerable media interest, and the impression has been created that with immediate effect, IAF will rule the Indian skies. It must, however, be remembered that it will be at least two years before the Rafale achieves anything close to Full Operational Capability[2]. PAF, on the other hand, has been flying F-16s for 37 years, including hot scenarios during the Afghan War, in local counter-insurgency operations, and the latest Operation ‘Swift Retort,’ downing half a dozen enemy fighters in these operations.  The JF-17 has been fully operational for over a decade, and is expected to replace the legacy fighters over the next five years. These combat-proven PAF fighters are fully integrated with the air defence system, and are mutually data-linked, alongside all AEW and ground sensors.  Such capabilities are not achieved overnight, and it will be several years before the Rafales can be considered a threat in any real sense. Any immediate impact of the Rafale on IAF’s air power capabilities is, thus, simply overhyped.  This inference, however, must not be dealt with lightly, as there is a distinct possibility of the Indian Prime Minister using the Rafale for a false-flag operation in a surreptitious manner, to prove his point that, “with the Rafale, the results would have been different,” from those of 27 February 2019.


[1] Some sources providing details of PL-15 maximum range:





[2] For a minimum 1:1 pilot-cockpit ratio, 42 pilots need to be trained for 30 single-seat and 6 dual-seat Rafales.  If two training courses of 10 pilots each are run per year, it is likely to take at least two years for these aircraft to be fielded in full strength.

Picture credit: Kristof Jonckheere (www.airliners.net)


This article was published in Pakistan Politico, September 2020 issue.

31 May 2020

Fighters of Indo-Pak Wars

A fighter is a flying machine designed to shoot down enemy aircraft, besides performing many other ground attack roles. Depending on the threat to be countered, the operating environment and the weapons available, capabilities of a fighter vary widely.  Trade-offs are made in several areas, the more prominent ones being performance and manoeuvrability.  Each fighter is, therefore, a compromise, but with certain qualities emphasised in order to best fulfil the primary task for which it has been designed.

Aircraft Performance includes parameters like rate of climb, ceiling, acceleration and speed which play a significant part in the interception of an adversary; the latter two parameters can also help in rapidly extricating out of a thorny situation.  As would be expected, unbeatable aircraft performance is dependent on good design, and availability of excess energy.  Thrust produced by the engine can be a convenient index of available energy; however, when an aircraft is considered as a mass acting under the force of gravity, a simple reading of engine thrust values can be misleading.  ‘Thrust-to-Weight (T-W) ratio’ is the factor that helps appraise aircraft performance in a correct perspective.  Besides enhancing basic performance parameters, a high T-W ratio also helps sustain turn rates by countering the effects of drag induced during manoeuvring flight. 
Higher thrust is, of course, produced by paying the penalty of higher fuel consumption.  Sufficient on-board fuel quantity can thus be seen as an important factor if aircraft performance is to be fully exploited.  ‘Fuel fraction’ is a term used to denote the internal fuel as a fraction of aircraft weight in the clean configuration.  It gives an idea of the staying power in a dogfight, assuming that fuel consumption rates of different turbojet engines are largely similar.   A fuel fraction of less than .25 for afterburning turbojet fighters and .20 for non-afterburning ones is considered inadequate.
Manoeuvrability, or the ability to out-turn an opponent, is an important attribute of a fighter.  Turning is measured both in terms of radius of turn as well as rate of turn.  A good radius of turn is a ‘nice to have’ feature, but an attacker rarely needs to turn as tightly as his adversary to maintain a favourable position in a stern attack, unless at very close ranges. A defender, on the other hand, needs to swing his tail away from an attacker’s flight path as fast as possible by generating a high rate of turn.  Thus in a turning fight, rate of turn is of greater significance than radius of turn.
Turning ability is dependent on wing design, and the easiest understood feature is ‘wing loading’ or the weight of the aircraft per unit area of the wing (which is the source of most of the aircraft lift).  During a turn, when banked flight tilts the lift vector away from the normal, and drag wrecks whatever remains of the angled lift, a low wing loading comes in handy to help balance the essential lift-weight equation.  Low wing loading is thus advantageous to an aircraft turning for a smaller radius, as well as a higher rate of turn, at any given speed.  At very low speeds, however, when an aircraft is on the verge of stalling, devices like slats and flaps preserve/generate much needed lift; in such speed regimes low wing loading does not help matters much.  
Creating lift in an aircraft incurs an unavoidable penalty in the form of induced drag.  Aerodynamic efficiency is achieved by designing a wing that produces maximum lift for the least drag.  This is done by having a high ‘aspect ratio,’ which is the ratio of the square of the wingspan to the wing area. Since induced drag happens to be inversely proportional to the aspect ratio, greater the wingspan, lower the induced drag.  A high aspect ratio is thus an important factor in combat, as it helps in sustaining turn rates.  A good combination for manoeuvrability would, thus, be low wing loading for enhanced turning ability, along with a high aspect ratio to help sustain it.  (High aspect ratio also improves endurance and ceiling, and shortens take-off/landing distances.) 
As fighters become faster, their aspect ratios have to be reduced to minimise supersonic wave drag.  This is done by presenting a smaller frontal area to the supersonic airflow with the help of a smaller wingspan, besides other profile streamlining techniques.  It can thus be seen that the conflicting requirements of high-speed pursuit flight and subsonic manoeuvring flight have a bearing on the aspect ratio, and compromises invariably result. 

Fighters of Indo-Pak Wars include some of the classics of jet age.  The Sabre, Starfighter, Gnat and Hunter had earned reknown in the Indo-Pak sub-continent due to the 1965 War. The later MiGs and Mirages are no less celebrated, if for no other reason than their large production numbers, and service in numerous air forces.  Fighter pilots who have flown these aircraft would swear that theirs was the best fighter ever, with facts and figures to back up their claims.  With due regard to their opinions, here is a brief description of these fighters on the basis of some well recognised criteria. 

The F-6 was a Chinese copy of the MiG-19, the first supersonic fighter of the Soviet bloc. It sported highly swept-back wings which, at 55 degrees, were considered the right antidote to drag rise during transonic flight.  Thick wings were the answer to the  low lift generating ability of highly swept wings, but drag rise due to the stubby profile did not help matters. Despite two powerful afterburning turbojet engines which helped in initial acceleration, it could barely keep pace with subsonic fighters at low altitude.  Low wing loading coupled with a high aspect ratio gave it excellent dogfighting abilities, though a poor fuel fraction limited its staying power in a dogfight. A pair of AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles along with a set of three powerful 30-mm cannon were lethal weapons to finish off an aerial target. The same cannon armed with armour-piercing bullets, along with two rocket launchers having 8x57-mm rockets each, served a useful close air support role. 

Though of Korean War vintage, the F-86F Sabre continued to soldier on in many air forces, due largely to laurels earned during that conflict.  It was a good fighter from the point of view of manoeuvrability, as the low wing loading and high aspect ratio would suggest.  Its low T-W ratio however was no help in preventing speed from bleeding off in sustained combat.  Paradoxically, this was an advantage that turned the tables on many an opponent because of the Sabre’s superb low speed handling, thanks to a fine slatted wing.  An excellent all-round view from the bubble canopy was a delight for the Sabre pilots.  The Sabre’s six 0.5" guns with a total of 1,800 rounds provided enough firing time to target several aircraft, as was demonstrated twice in the 1965 War. The Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk-6 (designated F-86E in the PAF, not to be confused with the regular North American Aviation ‘E’ model) was better endowed than the ‘F’ model in terms of T-W ratio, due to a more powerful engine. 

The F-104A Starfighter’s high T-W ratio coupled with a streamlined supersonic design, positively impacted acceleration, maximum speed and rate of climb. Due to its sleek profile and fantastic pursuit performance, it came to be known as a 'manned missile.' A good fuel fraction ensured that it could maintain its high performance long enough. As far as manoeuvrability is concerned, the Starfighter was an utter disappointment due to the very high wing loading and low aspect ratio.  Armed with a Gatling gun firing 66 rounds a second, along with AIM-9B Sidewinder missiles, the Starfighter generated enough awe if not a high turn rate, to keep its adversaries at bay!

The Mirage IIIE is a derivative of the earlier ‘C’ model, which was the first Mach 2 fighter from the Dassault stable. It came to be the progenitor of a very successful series of multi-role fighters that continue to operate well past their fifth decade since the prototype flight. The Mirage IIIE has a very low wing loading that is helpful in instantaneous turns, but an unimpressive T-W ratio robs it of the ability to keep up in a dogfight. A very poor aspect ratio (typical of delta wing planforms) causes phenomenal drag rise in manoeuvring flight, which is only worsened by the lack of a tailplane, since the upgoing elevons on the wings deduct considerably from overall lift. Prolonging a dogfight is thus, sure to be disastrous.  Its Sidewinder missiles, hard hitting 30-mm cannon, and an airframe customised for high speed are the saving grace in a hit-and-run fight. The aptly named Mirage can easily go supersonic at low altitude, and twice over at high altitude.

Jew’s Harp’ would not be a misplaced moniker for the diminutive Gnat, which vied for a place amongst an ensemble of more daunting fighters. A fine blend of performance and manoeuvrability, it had a relatively high T-W ratio for a subsonic fighter, giving it good acceleration, while its low wing loading and relatively higher aspect ratio conferred it with an impressive turning ability.  Due to its small size, the Gnat surprised its opponents on many an occasion when it was sighted too late. This attribute especially, made it a formidable fighter in air combat.  The Gnat’s size was, however, also a liability in so far as it did not permit large external loads, and restricted it to the role of a 'guns-only' point defence interceptor.  Propensity of its 30-mm cannon to jam was a sore point with pilots, as was claimed to have happened in combat on more than one occasion.  The Gnat had a reasonably good fuel fraction, which at first sight would appear quite unlikely. 

India’s first indigenously built jet fighter, the HF-24 Marut went through serious teething troubles which it failed to outgrow. What might otherwise have been a first class fighter, it essentially failed to find a potent powerplant. Poorly endowed with a pair of very low T-W ratio engines, the HF-24 was useless as an air combat fighter. It was however put to limited use for ground attack, in which role its four powerful 30-mm cannon packed a powerful punch.

The Hunter F-56 was an outstanding fighter in all respects. Though outdone by the Sabre in manoeuvrability by a slight margin,  it made up with its higher speed and better acceleration. Like the HF-24, its four 30-mm cannon provided it with tremendous firepower against aerial, as well as ground targets.

The MiG-21FL had an uncomplicated 'tailed delta' design, and was easy to fly even to the limits. It was more manoeuvrable than its bisonic counterpart, the F-104A, but not in the class of its subsonic contemporaries whose low wing loadings in particular, were unmatchable.  The MiG’s low aspect ratio caused high drag rise during turns, though a good T-W ratio offset this limitation to quite an extent. Its K-13 missile, despite employment restrictions, did instill caution in the minds of adversary pilots; the 23-mm cannon, however, had low lethality as well as a very short firing time.

The Mystère IVA was a reasonably good fighter, though not as manoeuvrable as the Sabre. It lacked the latter's wing slats, and could not turn as well, especially at low speeds. Except for a few odd aerial engagements, including a daring duel with an F-104 in the 1965 War, it did not figure significantly in the fighter role.

With wings swept back at an audacious 62 degrees, the Su-7BMK looked every bit a high-speed fighter-interceptor. However, its heavily loaded wings were no good for manoeuvrability. Due to a high T-W ratio, it could rapidly accelerate away, provided it had not run out of three afterburner light-up chances that were available, which was a serious handicap in combat. With a poor fuel fraction, staying in afterburner for long was not a viable prospect anyway. Though endowed with two hard hitting 30-mm cannon, it could not carry IR missiles, and was best employed as a ground attack fighter with up to four rocket launchers having 16x57-mm rockets each, as its primary ordnance. Its robust structure earned it the reputation of being unbreakable, as was demonstrated in several safe recoveries despite serious battle damage.

The aging Vampire FB-52 was not really a match for the PAF fighters.  Its aluminium and balsa wood structure gave it a very light wing loading, but its poor T-W ratio and unimpressive maximum speed were grave liabilities, due to which it was relegated to a second-line role.

Note: Aircraft profiles not to scale.


> Colour profiles of aircraft, courtesy Tom Cooper.
> PAF aircraft data obtained from respective Pilot's Flight Manual.
> IAF aircraft data obtained from Encyclopedia of World Air Power, edited by Bill Gunston; Hamlyn/Aerospace Publishing Ltd, London, 1981.


20 May 2020

PAF's Quest for Self-Sufficiency

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) started off as an overhaul factory for the Chinese F-6 fighter, with the first aircraft rolling out in 1979.  Several more factories were added over the years, resulting in today’s vast complex at Kamra in northern Pakistan.  PAC is a state-owned enterprise with the goal of self-reliance and indigenization in the field of military aviation. PAC is governed by a Board headed by the Chairman who is a serving Air Marshal of PAF.  The PAC Board is overseen by the Ministry of Defence Production.  PAC deals with two main aeronautical engineering activities: i) production of military aircraft, and ii) maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) of military aircraft, engines, and ground-based radars.

Aircraft production takes place at the Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (AMF), the military aircraft production unit of Pakistan Aeronautical Complex.  The factory was conceived for the licensed manufacture of the SAAB-Scania MFI-17 primary trainer aircraft, after sufficient experience was gained in assembling 92 of these from knocked-down kits.  The new factory was inaugurated at Kamra in 1981, and in September 1983, it produced the first MFI-17, locally named Mushshak (Proficient).  By end 1997, AMF had manufactured 180 Mushshak aircraft from raw materials for PAF, Pakistan Army, and overseas customers.  In July 1996, the upgraded Super Mushshak featuring a more powerful engine, an air conditioned cockpit, electrical trimmers, and a digital glass cockpit, flew for the first time.  In due course, all PAF Mushshaks were upgraded at AMF.  By June 2018, 60 all-new Super Mushshaks had also been manufactured for overseas customers including air forces of Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia.  Production continues apace for an increasing number of  orders, which includes a major one from Turkey.

Pakistan and China signed an agreement for design and development of an advanced jet trainer in 1986, on a 25:75 cost-sharing basis.  The prototype K-8 flew in 1990, and PAF acquired the first batch of six aircraft in 1994. Satisfied with its performance, PAF signed successive contracts for 34 more aircraft. A total of 16% of the airframe including the horizontal stabiliser, vertical tail and engine cowling was produced at AMF, with final assembly taking place at Hongdu Aviation Industry, Nanchang. The K-8 trainer has been exported to several countries, with PAC manufacturing a total of 50 sets of the afore-mentioned sub-assemblies.

In 1995, Pakistan and China signed an MOU for joint design and development of a new fighter.  In 1999, a contract for co-production of the JF-17 was signed between China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) and PAC.  Soon AMF began manufacturing various components, and by 2008 production of sub-assemblies had started, which made up 58% of the airframe (wings, horizontal stabilizer and vertical tail). The remaining 42% of the airframe (fuselage) is manufactured at Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, with final assembly of the aircraft taking place at AMF. As of December 2018, 112 aircraft had been manufactured at AMF. Work continues apace for an additional PAF order of 76 aircraft under the current fiscal outlay.  With the capacity of AMF to produce up to 24 JF-17s a year, ongoing export orders are also being accommodated alongside PAF’s requirements.

In 2007, Pakistan became the launch customer of Falco UAV made by Selex, Italy, when it purchased eight knocked-down kits for assembly. Later, PAC signed a contract with Selex for manufacture of the UAVs.  So far, 20 units have been manufactured by AMF.

MRO tasks are undertaken at three factories. The Mirage Rebuild Factory (MRF) overhauls Mirage III/5 fighter aircraft and its Atar 9C engine.  Several engines of Western origin including Pratt & Whitney F-100-220 of F-16A/B, Allison T-56 of C-130E, Honeywell TFE-731 of K-8, and Continental J-69 of T-37 are also overhauled at MRF.  The Aircraft Rebuild Factory (ARF) overhauls JF-17 and F-7P/PG fighter aircraft, K-8 jet trainer, and Y-12 commuter aircraft, along with overhaul of C-130 propellers; ARF also has several facilities that manufacture aircraft canopies, drop tanks, and electrical harnesses.  The Avionics Production Factory (APF) overhauls ground-based radars, in addition to licensed production of the Italian Grifo 7 radar of F-7P/PG, and assembly of KLJ-7 radar of JF-17.  APF also undertakes production of an assortment of avionics items including radar warning receivers, IFF, crash recorders, navigation systems, MFDs, and PCBs.


This article was published in Defence Journal, June 2020 issue.

PAF's Transnational Exposure

PAF has had the unique opportunity of training pilots of many air forces in the Middle East and Africa.  PAF pilots have flown on trainers and fighters in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkey, UAE, UK, and Zimbabwe.  The pilots gained extensive experience on an assortment of fighters including F-5A, F-5E, Lightning, MiG-17, Mirage F-1E, Gnat, Hunter, MiG-21FL/M, and Su-7; the latter four types were of particular significance to PAF, as these were flown by its traditional adversary, IAF. First-hand knowledge about adversary aircraft, as well as well-honed flying skills of PAF’s pilots were key factors in their remarkable performance during various conflicts.

During the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, PAF’s expert marksman Flt Lt Saiful-Azam, who was on deputation to Jordan, downed an Israeli Mystère IVA while flying a Hunter.  A day later, he shifted to an Iraqi air base and shot down an Israeli Vautour IIA and a Mirage IIICJ.  A near-ace, he had earlier shot down an Indian Gnat in the 1965 war.

In 1974, during a combat air patrol in Syria, Flt Lt Abdus Sattar Alvi, part of an all-PAF eight-ship MiG-21 formation, claimed an Israeli Mirage IIICJ, bringing some cheer to the beleaguered Syrian Arab Air Force.

PAF has also been a regular participant in various multi-national exercises with China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, UK, and USA.  Pilots have enthusiastically fought against A-6, F-4, F-14, F-111 and Hunters of yesteryears, as well as the modern fighters including F-15, F-16, F-18, J-10, J-11 (Su-27 copy), Mirage 2000, Tornado, and Typhoon.   Operations in electronically jammed environments, flying in large strike packages at very low altitudes, and air combat against fighters with AEWC support, are some of the scenarios PAF pilots have been exposed to, during these exercises.


24 April 2020

Risalpur Diaries

The first day of 1974 saw 39 of us from 60th GD (P) Course arriving at PAF Academy, Risalpur.  This was the dream place we all had longed for, as many a PAF legend had passed through its hallowed halls, classrooms and flight lines.  We still had three more months to go in the second term before we could fit into the scheme of things at the Academy.  For some reason, our tenure at the Initial Training Wing at Lower Topa had been cut short, and we were to complete the remaining term as the junior-most cadets at Risalpur.  This was quite a let-down, for we had been enjoying full authority and complete freedom in the most salubrious environs of Murree Hills, just a few days earlier.  The only consolation was that the state of affairs at Risalpur was said to be more ‘mature,’ whatever that meant.
We were accommodated in one of the three U-Blocks in the Cadets’ Mess.  Each room had a bunk bed for two, along with a study table and a chair.  The Mess was bifurcated by a road, with the cadets’ accommodation on one side, and the dining hall, ante-rooms and the Under Officers’ Block for the senior appointment holders, on the other.  The road in between was, unbelievably, a thoroughfare with airmen and civilians loitering around merrily at all times of the day and night.  The Mess premises had no boundary wall around it, as security was never felt to be an issue in the cantonment area. The cadets could wander off to the nearby ‘casino,’ a ramshackle canteen for army soldiers that served jalebis, rusks and tea.  The Cadets’ Mess tea bar, run by the strict and authoritarian bartender Abdul Rauf, popularly known as ‘Maulana,’ was out of bounds for any cadet who was not dressed up properly, so the casino was a convenient hangout for some of the slothful types.
As the junior-most term at the Academy, we were subjected to the usual shouting and cursing, withdrawal of petty privileges, and periodic punishments for no rhyme or reason. Interestingly, the same treatment was being meted out to our immediate seniors from 59th GD (P) Course, who still had over a year to climb to the top rung.  For us, the irony of it all was to watch our previous tormentors receive their payback, one frog jump at a time!
Not long after settling down, we found ourselves on the parade square, when not at the Directorate of Studies.  The graduation parade of 57th GD (P) Course was not too far, and practice started in earnest rather early.  Perhaps we had been called in from Lower Topa prematurely to pack the parade square to capacity, as the President of Pakistan was to review the parade.
The Directorate of Studies was headed by a seasoned educationist, Wg Cdr Muhammad Shamim.   Some of the new subjects that we got introduced to included aerodynamics, aero-engines, armament, electronics, meteorology and navigation.  Since these subjects had a direct bearing on our future careers as pilots, all of us evinced keen interest, much to the satisfaction of our worthy education instructors. A Bachelor’s degree in Aero-sciences to go along with the coveted flying badge remained everyone’s ultimate goal.
A welcome activity at the Directorate of Studies was the tea break at 11 o’clock, when a horse-drawn tonga would arrive at the edge of the parade square with a huge samovar filled with tea, along with a container of crockery.  Tea would be served on a table laid out by a Cadets’ Mess waiter.  Some of the smokers would drift off and draw some quick puffs in the company of seniors, hoping to endear themselves to someone who could make their lives easier.
The strident drone of the T-6G, and the high-pitched whine of the T-37 soon started to sound like music to our ears and we would look skywards, hoping to fly these birds someday.  Anwar Amil, originally a course senior but relegated to ours, was a great air enthusiast.  He was always ready to fire us up with stories of air wars, complete with sound effects of roaring jets and staccato cannon fire.  During tea breaks, we used to be all ears listening to his instructor-like comments about the accuracy, or otherwise, of aircraft flying in the circuit pattern.  A fine artist, he would spend the study periods drawing fighter aircraft, always portraying himself in full pilot’s gear next to the aircraft, or in the cockpit.  His interest in aviation stemmed from his past job as a flight despatcher in Alitalia, while he was in England earlier.
One day in February, an excited Amil broke the news to us that he had talked a senior of 58th GD (P) Course into arranging a guided tour of the Primary Flying Training (PFT) Wing.  The senior was a suspended cadet by the name of Rafique (fondly known as paahh, or ‘brother’ in Punjabi), and was Under Disposal (UD) pending adjustment in another branch of the PAF.  What kind of coordination Rafique had done was not known to us, but on his go-ahead, Amil marched our course from the Directorate of Studies to the Flying Wing.  Nearing the flight lines, we spotted rows of yellow T-6G Harvards on the tarmac, and we imagined flying them in the not too distant future.  As we reached the Wing building, we spotted a few flying instructors sitting on the steps, with their zippers open at the neck mocking the prescribed limits; some were smoking, blowing puffs in our faces from a distance.  Amil brought the flight to attention and saluted the instructors.  “What brings you here?” asked one of them.  Before Amil could answer, one of the burly instructors shouted, “Start running around the block if you guys have nothing better to do.”  It seemed quite a disappointment, and we wondered what had gone wrong. After half an hour of running – with some frog-jumping to break the tedium – one of the angry-looking instructors emerged from the crew room and gave us a shouting. “You guys can’t even tell the front side of an aircraft from its back side.  How dare you disgrace the Flying Wing?  Get lost. We don’t want to see your faces till you are in the fourth term.” After the dressing down, a sheepish Amil led us back to the Directorate, where he was taunted by all of us.  Amil’s intense enthusiasm for flying was cut short, unfortunately, when he could not pass his end-term examinations, and had to be withdrawn from the Academy.
Character Building and Leadership (CBL) was a subject handled by officers from the Cadets’ Wing, and was more of a general discourse on their experiences in the PAF. Sqn Ldr Malik Iftikhar, a navigator, used to conduct CBL classes.  We found him somewhat enigmatic, for he had the knack of instilling fear in us, even though he could be smiling about something.  He had been a PAF boxer, and was well-known for his winning left hook in many a championship.  It was no wonder that he had earned the sobriquet of jabra torr (jaw breaker) amongst the cadets.  During one boring CBL class, I was dared by my course-mate, Zafar Iqbal, to digress and bring up the subject of boxing. Making use of a rather long pause in Sqn Ldr Iftikhar’s talk, which I took to be the end of the lecture, I asked him if he could tell us about his boxing experiences.  He smiled but said nothing. I continued by asking if he had been the PAF champion, to which he nodded in the affirmative. “You must have broken lot many jaws,” I promptly followed up. There was a hush in the class. My jaw dropped too.  Sqn Ldr Iftikhar was amused by my boldness, and he managed to put on his puzzling smile.  Raising his hand, with two fingers forming the victory sign, he continued to look at me. I could not figure out what exactly he meant, but I thought it was about his boxing wins.  Still smiling, he had second thoughts. “Make it five,” he said, stretching his outspread palm. “What sir?” I asked. “Restrictions, my friend.  I will see you on extra drill today in the afternoon!” I could do nothing but blame Zafar who had prompted me, while he had a good laugh at the incident.

After months of daily drill practice, the graduation parade of 57th GD (P) Course was finally held on 6 April, 1974.  The reviewing officer was the President of Pakistan, Mr Fazal Elahi Choudhry.  For us, it meant promotion to the third term, denoted by three thin stripes on the epaulettes. A more momentous promotion followed a few weeks later, when the Academy Commandant, Air Cdre Zulfiqar Ali Khan, was nominated as Chief of the Air Staff. The last we had inter-acted with Air Cdre Zulfiqar was on the dining-out for the graduating course, when he told us that he was about to retire shortly.  Instead, he rose to the next three ranks in the new appointment in quick succession, which we found very inspirational. Air Cdre Shuja’at-ullah Khan, a course-mate of the previous Commandant took charge as the new one.
A modest privilege that we earned in the third term was the facility of a bicycle to and from the Cadets’ Mess and the Directorate of Studies, instead of having to walk down all the way.  These bicycles were traditionally hand-me-down items purchased from, or gifted by the graduating courses.  Other than that, not much had changed, as we continued to be the junior-most course, though a new set of cadets from 58th GD (P) Course had moved into the final term.  As expected, they gradually started to wield absolute authority, albeit at our expense.
Our course got an early taste of heartless behaviour of the senior cadets when one of them, by the name of Ghazanfar, decided to test his uncertain confidence levels by conducting a punishment assembly, one Sunday morning. Citing absence from a previously ordered assembly as the reason, he ragged the course to insane limits.  A punishing fitness exercise involving a clap over the head followed by a rapid squat (locally termed as 5BX, or Five Basic Exercises of the Canadian Air Force Fitness Plan), was ordered to be performed one-thousand times.  Rest periods involved protracted squatting on the heels, which was no less painful. The ridiculous activity lasted for the better part of the day, and even went on into the night.  Pleased with his poise and authority, Ghazanfar finally let go of our course which, by then, had blessed him with a thousand curses between the lips.

Not long after the 5BX episode, a revolt of sorts took place when cadets of our course got fed up with the final term cadets of 58th GD (P) Course, whose constant harangue about our turnout and haircuts had become intolerable.  “I don’t want to see a single hair on your rotten heads by tomorrow afternoon,” shouted ‘Munoo,’ during a punishment assembly conducted by him.  ‘Munoo’ was one of those affable seniors who, once in a while, felt the need to stand tall in front of his juniors.  Our course, led by the activist Ayuk Elburz, immediately went into a huddle and came up with the idea of retorting with a head shave. An oath was drafted by another firebrand, Ashiq Hussain, during classes next day, and signatures were obtained pledging to remain true to the decision of a ‘zero cut’ for everyone.
Soon after pack-up time, there was a rush for the barber shop, and the head barber was instructed by Ayuk and his confederates to shear off the hair from the forty-odd heads, in as many minutes.  As the three barbers got to work, some of the course-mates started to get cold feet and slipped away with flimsy excuses, like ‘feeling hungry, will be back after a quick lunch.’ They were hoping that some informant would blow the whistle in the meantime, and the officers would promptly intervene.  Sure enough, officers of the Cadets’ Wing came rushing in no time, and put a stop to the unprecedented mass shearing at the barber shop. The head barber – who had the compulsive habit of clenching his tongue between the teeth while negotiating uneven contours of his subject’s scalp – turned ashen-faced.  The poor chap feared that his barber shop contract might be terminated for violating the cadets’ regulation hairstyle.
An inquiry was ordered and thirteen cadets who had gone under the barbers’ clippers were in the dock.  Termination of cadetship loomed, but the authorities had their own jobs to save, lest the Air Headquarters took a dim view of their command and control abilities.  A series of punitive actions were taken against the errant thirteen: the group, informally christened as ‘G’ Flight (G, as in Ganja), was to be on daily extra drill till further notice, had to keep running around the athletics track during the daily games period, had to forego all entertainment facilities like TV and billiards, and had to eat alongside the Mess staff in a shabby veranda behind the dining hall.  When the Annual All-Collegiate Declamation Contest started after a few days, ‘G’ Flight was ordered to stay completely out of sight of the visiting participants and guests.
During the relentless punishment sessions, cadets of ‘G’ Flight had built up good strength and stamina, as was evidenced by their outstanding performance during the Inter-Squadron Cross-Country Competition.  The authorities were, thus, forced to rethink about the open-ended penance.  Also, the whole episode had become too embarrassing, what with ‘G’ Flight becoming the laughing stock of passers-by on the roads, as well as cadets’ weekend visitors. ‘G’ Flight was thus disbanded, and all punishments were ceased, with a stern warning that any future incident of such nature would be treated as a mutiny, with serious consequences.
Conjecture leads one to believe that a course-mate of ours had figured for himself, that the upcoming Declamation Contest was a good opportunity to charm some of the female contestants.  Perhaps the Romeo had been grooming himself for the occasion for weeks, and did not want to put off the girls with the missing plumage on his crown.

In the month of June, the Inter-Base Swimming Championship was held, and some of the cadets got a chance to represent Risalpur. Though the championship went to PAF Base Korangi, Risalpur were the runners up, with me and Asif Rehman  bagging five trophies.  My second position in the gruelling one mile free-style race earned me a position in the PAF team for the Inter-Services Swimming Championship, held a few weeks later.  Needless to state, the Army participants were far more prepared, and there was a total rout at the Engineers Bridging Pit – which is what the Olympics-size pool was properly called.
        Shortly before the summer vacations in July 1974, we learnt that the top ten cadets from 61st GD (P) had been promoted to our course.  These lucky ten were fast-tracked into the third term by foregoing their summer break, and stretching their classes well into the evenings.  This was done with some urgency by the Air Headquarters when there was talk of substantial infusion of US military aid. The aid package was supposed to include F-5 fighters and A-7 attack aircraft, which would have entailed training of a large number of pilots.  In the event, there was no military aid, but our course ran into a healthy competition with the new-comers.
During summer vacations in July, we attended a week-long Physiological Indoctrination Course run by the Aero-Medical Institute, at PAF Base Masroor.  It was an important introduction to subjects like dysbarism, hypoxia, hyperventilation and spatial disorientation, which were some of the phenomena we could encounter in flying.  There was demonstration of some bodily functions that could go awry due to reduced atmospheric pressure, or lack of oxygen.  For instance, a few cadets – probably smokers – suddenly conked off when oxygen levels were reduced to the equivalent of 25,000 ft in the pressure chamber.  This was in contrast to the majority who had enough warning signs like onset of confusion, shortness of breath, or blueing of nails.  The subject of ‘evolved’ gases needed no demonstration, mercifully, but the warning about not taking gas-producing foods or beverages before flying was well registered. The hazard of preoccupation during flying was also well understood when we all (except Imran Shirazi) failed to correctly count the blinks of a dot in the corner of the film frame, which had a racy dance number in progress.
        By the time we were midway in the third term, we had acquired basic knowledge of principles of flight, and were eager to touch the skies, as it were.  It was time to get introduced to practical flying, and there was no better way than to start on gliders. The Academy had two tandem seat Slingsby T-31 Tutors, besides two T-45 Swallow single-seaters.   Scheduling was done in batches, and we were to take turns during the evening sports periods.  On the first day, our excited batch was on the runway waiting for the instructor.  Looking at the T-31 glider was in itself awe-inspiring, and we were keen to see the instructor who could master this engineless contraption.  Soon, a handsome young man wearing flying coveralls and aircrew glasses arrived on a Vespa scooter, and introduced himself as Kamal.  With his fair complexion and blue eyes, he seemed like the archetype aviator of American movies.  Without his flying badge and ranks, there was an air of mystery about him, but word went around that he was a Mirage pilot, and would be checking our flying aptitude as prospective fighter pilots.  Kamal gave us a short talk and told us that 3-4 dual sorties had been planned per cadet, but depending on the performance, solos might be possible.  We were briefed about the pre-flight checks (CHISTR[1], that was it), and there was a demonstration of glider towing by the tow truck.  Kamal took us up one by one, the whole activity lasting a few weeks.  The promised solos were not flown, and it was only then that we realised the commitment was just to keep our enthusiasm from sagging.  It was only towards the end of the gliding phase when we learnt that Kamal was a Sergeant, though a most inspiring one at that. We always remembered him as the Mirage glider pilot.

Our third term ended when 58th GD (P) Course graduated on 25 October 1974. The parade was reviewed by the Turkish Air Force Commander, General Emin Alpkaya. After the graduation parade, we were glad to wear four stripes and formally step into the semi-final term, while cadets from 61st GD (P) Course arrived from Lower Topa to take our place in the third term.  We had started ground school at the PFT Wing for the upcoming flying training on Harvards, a few weeks before the graduation parade.
With the issue of flying clothing and accessories, our swagger knew no bounds.  Flying coveralls, flying gloves, flying shoes, flying helmet, oxygen mask, aircrew sunglasses, survival knife, air navigation computer, and Douglas protractor made up our flying kit. Some of the costlier luxury items like the aircrew watch, suitcase and flying jacket were to be issued after graduation, when we had completed our flying training successfully.  The much cherished flying badge was one item that we had to earn based on hard work – besides some luck – and was to be ‘issued’ on our graduation parade, someday.  For the time being the greatest privilege was to wear the flying coveralls when ‘cockpit time’ (familiarisation with the aircraft cockpit) started in the first week of November. 

We were assigned flying instructors, and I fell to the lot of Flt Lt Nusrat-ullah Khan who had perhaps chosen me for being a fellow Abdalian. My progress was surprisingly satisfactory, considering that the instructor was not known to suffer fools gladly.  After nine sorties, when I had started to consistently make three-pointer landings on the notoriously difficult tail-wheeler, we learnt that half the Harvard fleet had been grounded due to discovery of structural defects. The problem was promptly solved by inducting five of the recently purchased Swedish MFI-17 piston engine trainers in our No 1 PFT Squadron, while No 2 PFT Squadron was to continue flying the remaining Harvards that were free of defects.  For us it was a great relief, as the MFI-17 had a milder 200 hp engine compared to the Harvard’s beastly 600 hp one, and was also much easier to land with its tricycle landing gear that was not prone to a swing on landing.  The side-by-side seating was also conducive to learning, provided the instructor did not lose patience on every little mistake.  My instructor lost it once, not for my sub-standard flying performance, but for a bizarre reason that I was to blame. My flying glove carried a comical message, which had remained unobserved while we had been flying in the tandem seat Harvard.  Seeing it now over his shoulder, the instructor was riled by my chutzpah, and grounded me for a few days with threats of suspension. The matter was resolved when I was handed over to another instructor, Flt Lt Kamran Qureshi, who looked at the matter lightly, and saw me through the solo stage, right up to the Final Handling Test.
My first solo was eventful, but only so after landing. Having stopped the aircraft on the runway in a fairly short distance, I decided to use a kutcha taxiway link to turn off, instead of going till the end of the runway, as per SOPs.  It had rained a day or two earlier, and the ground was quite soggy. This, I discovered when the aircraft was not moving forward at idle power, and I had to rev up quite a bit.  There came a stage when the more power I added, more the wheels dug in. The only solution was to go up to full power, hop a few feet, and throttle back. Finally, with several hops, skips, and jumps, I made it to the concrete taxiway and back to the tarmac.  My instructor, Flt Lt Kamran, was standing at the parking spot; I was full of excitement, waiting to be doused by him with the traditional bucketful of water. As I came out of the aircraft, an angry-looking Flt Lt Kamran ordered me to collect all the fire buckets lying next to the parked aircraft. “Do you have an idea what have you done? Look at your mud-splattered aircraft.  Now wash it sparkling clean before you come back to the squadron,” he said, as he walked away. When I looked back, I was aghast at the condition of the aircraft; the instructor wasn’t angry without reason.  How silly of me! After about fifteen minutes of washing, Flt Lt Kamran called for me in the squadron.   With a wide grin on his face, he hugged me, and there was no mention of the incident.  His anger was always like a tempest in a teacup.  We remained great friends till he passed away in 1996.  

Talking of senior cadets being unable to handle authority judiciously, we were once again confronted with an unsavoury incident, soon after we had begun to fly. 59th GD (P) Course which was in the final term, ordered the usual punishment assembly for no reason but to assert its supremacy.  ‘Vicky,’ an otherwise unassuming and amiable senior, had apparently been pumped up by his course-mates to test his hitherto unused shouting abilities.  Fed up with the endless assemblies, our course decided not to turn up. Intervention of Cadets’ Wing officers was sought by the seniors, and another assembly was ordered.  It was made clear that absence would be tantamount to disobedience of lawful orders. The order was reluctantly registered, and all but three cadets turned up. The missing three had locked themselves in their rooms in the Olpherts[2] Lines, a detached block of buildings within the Cadets’ Mess.  The search party from amongst the seniors had to break open locks and bolts, and a brawl of sorts ensued.  The serious matter was reported to the authorities, and an inquiry followed.  It transpired that the three absentees were on last warning for having been involved in the earlier haircut revolt. Swift action followed, and they were withdrawn from the Academy.  A clear message was driven home that in the military, orders were to be obeyed first and questioned later.

Back in the PFT Wing, flying continued on a mixed note.  Those who got their solos would be doused with bucketfuls of water in the Cadets’ Mess lawns, a good-humoured tradition followed the world over.  Sadly, seven cadets who were found lacking in flying aptitude in the primary stage were suspended, and found themselves in the disappointing UD category. One exceptional case that had a short leg reach to the rudder pedals on the Harvard, and three others who were marginal cases in flying, were lucky to get a chance to fly the MFI-17, after relegation to the junior course.
        Inam-ullah Khan was the first in our course to have been cleared to go solo.  On the fateful day, Inam lined up, opened full power, and started rolling for take-off. After covering a few hundred feet, when he raised the tail of his Harvard to get the tail-wheel off the ground, the aircraft swung viciously through 180 degrees and started heading towards the mobile control.  Several officers including the air traffic controller, and the instructors, rushed out of the mobile and ran for their lives. Seeing the impending disaster, Inam immediately switched off the engine and hastily evacuated the aircraft. There was only minor damage to the aircraft, and Inam’s instructor, Flt Lt Naseem Gul, gave him another chance to complete his solo flight.  The familiar PAF maxim that anyone who had mastered the Harvard could handle any aircraft was rendered true, as Inam went on to have a very successful flying career in PAF.
        On one occasion, while practising touch-and-go landings with his instructor Flt Lt Ejaz Wyne, Rauf swung the Harvard, and went on to the kutcha. The instructor, suspecting that the propeller or the wings may have grazed the uneven ground, unwisely asked Rauf to unstrap and go around the aircraft to look for damage, while he held brakes from the rear cockpit.  Oblivious of the danger, Rauf went so close to the spinning propeller that he was about to be chopped up. No amount of shouting by the instructor could attract Rauf’s attention.  In desperation, Flt Lt Ejaz opened power, causing a startled Rauf to jump away to safety. After the incident, Rauf was relegated to the junior course, where he successfully completed his flying training on the MFI-17.
        Mistakes made by cadets were sometimes dealt with whimsically, as in the case of Khalid Ismail who, while on a consolidation mission after his first solo, asked permission on radio for a ‘closed circuit pattern.’  The tight pattern was prohibited for student pilots, but Flt Lt Ejaz Wyne, mobile officer of the day, absent-mindedly cleared him.  When Khalid went around after a touch-and-go landing, Flt Lt Ejaz realised what had happened.  Ejaz promptly called Khalid to land full-stop out of the next approach, and switch off the aircraft after clearing at the end of the runway.  Arriving on scene in a jeep, Ejaz gave Khalid a dressing down, and in a fit of anger, ordered the slightly-built Khalid to haul the 15-kg parachute on his head, and run 3-km back to the squadron. That was a rather harsh punishment for a slip-up that the mobile officer was equally culpable for!

After the solo stage, the next hurdle to be cleared was the Final Navigation Test (FNT).  During my FNT, the mission had gone well, and I had made good the first three destinations smack on time.  The picturesque Potohar Plateau, where primary flying students flew the navigation phase, was quite familiar as most of the landmarks had been keenly observed during flying.  Suddenly, I heard the instructor call out, “Okay, divert to Tret. Do you know where is it?”
“Yes sir, we used to pass by Tret while proceeding to Lower Topa,” I replied to the check instructor (also the Flight Commander of the squadron) who was taking my FNT on the MFI-17. 
The tricky part of the test was a ‘practice diversion’ to another destination, as might be required in case of bad weather.  The instructor would suddenly announce a new destination, and the heading, time and fuel consumed had to be calculated while flying the aircraft accurately.  Now Tret was well outside our flying training area, and had never been observed from the air, so I was rather apprehensive about the diversion.  It was more so because Tret was in the Murree Hills, and prominent landmarks were few and far between. I was hoping that the instructor would soon ask me to resume the originally planned route if he found the calculations satisfactory, and the diversion progressing nicely; this was not an uncommon practice to save time, if the destination was far away.  There was no indication that the diversion would be cut short, despite the mission having gone very well so far.  I was going to be grilled to the limits, it seemed.
Soon after crossing Rewat, the ground started to rise, and I wondered if the instructor might take over the controls.  Otherwise a staid officer, he was in a jolly mood that day, tapping his fingers on the dashboard as if in accompaniment to a song in his heart.  Just to be doubly sure that the instructor was not lost in some thoughts while the aircraft flew lower and lower, I hesitatingly asked him if I was to carry on flying.  “I shall let you know when I want to take over the controls. You are doing fine. Continue.”
While it was comforting to know that an instructor had confidence in a student who had never flown low and that too in the hills, I was quite confused about what was going on. “Give me your map and chinagraph pencil,” the instructor ordered.  He took my map and scribbled something, which I thought were some kind of remarks about my mission.
“Do you see that shining silver tin roof, next to the green ones? Go straight for that house.” “Yes sir,” I excitedly replied.  Getting closer, I figured out a large house nestled in a thickly forested area.  “Okay Kaiser, good mission. I have the controls.”
From five hundred feet above ground that we were at, the instructor dived down to the tree tops and threw the aircraft in a tight left-hand turn, kicking off the menacing stall warning horn. As my G-stressed vision started to clear up, I saw something that was absolutely surreal, and right out of a movie. A blonde, fair-looking girl clad in red, came running out of the house and started waving at the aircraft.  The instructor told me to open the little photography window on my side of the canopy.  Next, he handed me the folded map and asked me to toss it out exactly when ordered. After two-odd orbits in which he sized up the release conditions, the instructor asked me to be ready. “Okay, drop it NOW. Keep looking outside and tell me if it has been picked up.”
The ‘toss bombing’ resulted in a near-direct hit, falling within a circle of radius 10 feet from the intended target. Quite like an airborne range safety officer, I announced the score to a beaming instructor. Much to my relief, the instructor announced, “You can relax now.  I shall fly us back to Risalpur.”
Back in the squadron my course-mates were keen to find out how had the mission gone, especially the diversion, so they could prepare for their upcoming tests accordingly.  When I told them about the jaunt to Tret, they did not believe me. No amount of requests to stop fibbing could sway me, with the result that some of them got annoyed.  Word went around that I was not divulging the actual diversion destination, lest others might learn some tricks and get better scores in their test missions. As if flying low in Murree Hills with a 50-hour total experience did not sound preposterous enough, dropping messages to the instructor’s sweetheart during a navigation test mission was simply unbelievable.
Weeks went by, and we completed the primary flying training course in end April 1975. A traditional end-course tea party was hosted by the instructors and their wives in the Cadets’ Mess. As the cadets swarmed around their instructors, I spotted the Flight Commander, with a newly-wed blonde wife standing beside him. I knew it was the same lady who had picked up the map dropped from the aircraft, and decided to prove my story to my course-mates. Gathering a few of them, I nonchalantly walked up to the couple and we all paid our respects, eagerly waiting for the ice to be broken.  The Flight Commander immediately turned to his wife, and introduced me by saying, “He was the one.  Now you better return his map.  He will need it for his T-37 training.” My story had been ‘officially’ confirmed within earshot of my course-mates, and needless to say, I was quite happy at the outcome.

A few missions after the FNT, we had to go through the Final Handling Tests (FHT) that would conclude our Primary Flying Training.  In one such FHT, Shaharyar Shaukat was taken up by the Officer Commanding (OC) of the PFT Wing, Wg Cdr Mujtaba Qureshi, in a Harvard.  One of the important exercises was a Simulated Flame-Out in which the instructor would power back to idle, and induce a bit of drag by lowering the flaps to simulate engine failure.  The student was to quickly convert any extra speed in to height, start gliding, and look for some plain ground for an emergency landing.  The exercise would terminate after a successful pattern had been flown and a landing was assured.  Shaharyar looked around and luckily found a khaki patch of ground that seemed like a perfect landing strip.  Gliding smugly, Shaharyar set himself for the pattern, but as he came lower, he was horrified to see the strip transform into what was actually a vast graveyard.  “What was the big rush to get here?” asked the OC, in a rare display of wry humour.  Shaharyar had unwittingly put fear of God in the OC, who passed him without any fuss.
Soon after the FHTs were over, we moved across the tarmac to the Basic Flying Training (BFT) Wing, to start a more comprehensive phase of training on the T-37 jet trainer.  Ground school on the T-37 included classroom instruction, as well as time on the simulator, which kept us busy during the month of May.  Parade rehearsals had also started for the upcoming graduation of 59th GD (P) Course.  The searing heat on the parade ground had to be endured.  Replacement of tea with iced Rooh Afza during the 11 o’clock break could do nothing to prevent cases of cadets crashing down on the sizzling tarmac, during the parade rehearsals.

The graduation parade of 59th GD (P) Course was finally held on 31 May 1975. The parade was aptly reviewed by Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan, who had been the Commandant of the Academy a year earlier.  For us, the biggest pleasure was entering the final term; we were the senior-most after all, and had a thick stripe on our epaulettes that could not be missed from afar.
The three senior-most appointments from our course went to Inamullah Ahsan (Wing Under Officer), Shahid Dad (Under Officer, No 1 Sqn) and Azamuddin Khan (Under Officer, No 2 Sqn).  The three were privileged to reside in the Under Officers’ Block, while the rest of the course moved into the Olpherts Lines, where some of the course-mates had already been staying since the fourth term.  Single rooms, two cadets to a toilet, and a little backyard with each duplex were the special features of this colonial relic that existed since the very founding of Risalpur Cantonment.
        At the BFT Wing, we were once again assigned instructors, and I was lucky to have been earmarked as the student of Flt Lt Peter Glover, an RAF exchange pilot.  For me it would be an especially rewarding experience, as Flt Lt Glover was an ‘A’ Category instructor from RAF’s renowned Central Flying School.  His superb instructional technique was evident when I and Shafiq Akbar (Flt Lt Glover’s other student), were the first ones to go solo on the T-37 after a little over seven hours of flying.  Consolidation and basic aerobatics followed before we proceeded for the summer vacations.  Unfortunately, five cadets were suspended in the early stages of BFT, bringing the total to twelve, including the previous PFT cases. 27% attrition on grounds of slow progress out of a total of 44 was high, but not surprising for those times, as flying aptitude tests had not yet been included in the selection process.

Before we could proceed on our summer vacations in July ‘75, we learnt that we had to undergo a one-week General Survival Course at PAF’s Ski and Survival School in Naltar, near Gilgit. This was one of several aircrew survival courses, including jungle, sea, desert and snow that we went on to attend in the first few years after graduation.  The idea was for aircrew to experience survival conditions in different environments, in case of ejection from an aircraft.
        We flew to Gilgit by C-130, but got a rude shock after disembarking when we were ordered to trek all the way to Nomal, 25 km away.  A night stay at a spartan rest house was followed, next morning, by a gruelling hike to Naltar 20 km away at an elevation of 10,000 ft.  The picturesque surroundings could be little appreciated as we huffed and puffed while traversing 4,000 ft up from Nomal to Naltar.
        After arrival in Naltar, we were briefed about a camp-out for two days and nights.  We had to sleep in improvised shelters made out of parachutes, and had to live off the land during this period.  The first day was spent hiking to the first of three azure and green Naltar Lakes, about 12 km way.  The freezing water of the lake was the just the right challenge for our survival instructor, Flt Lt Zafar Yusufzai, a tough commando, to take a dip. We goaded him, and he did not disappoint us amidst cheers.  We noted that goats and sheep were grazing on their own in the area, which gave us instant ideas about how to live off the land.
        As night fell, we got to work on improvising our shelters, while a hunting party set forth to find food.  Lo and behold, after a few hours, the hunters emerged with a goat slung around Ashiq’s shoulders. The goat was secretly slaughtered, skinned and chopped up for a barbecue by Shafiq who, we discovered, was not just a 'caterer,' but a master butcher too. A hurried barbecue followed, and the entrails and all traces of the animal were dumped in the nearby river.
        The next day was a rest and recreation break, and small groups loitered in the area.  The course was finally over after six days, and we returned to Gilgit, awaiting the C-130 to pick us up. Due to weather delays, we had to rough it out at the Army’s Casualty Clearance Section for two more days. Finally, when the C-130 came, we had to share space with casualties from an Army troop bus that had met a road accident near Gilgit.  Reaching Rawalpindi, we dispersed to our homes for vacations.

After return from the summer break, we resumed flying which included consolidation of circuit and landings, and aerobatics.  Instrument flying, never a favourite phase of aspiring fighter pilots, was made interesting by Flt Lt Glover as he, being a transport pilot, was well-versed in blind flying on instruments.  His instructional technique was excellent, and I obtained top marks in the Instrument Rating Test.  The next phase was formation flying, which was not quite Glover’s forte, and I had to fly with several instructors.  Amongst them, Flt Lt Iqbal Haider, a member of the ‘Sherdils’ aerobatics team, taught me precise formation flying, and his anticipation techniques – chippak jao, hilnay na do – still ring in my ears. The last few phases including navigation, advanced aerobatics, and night flying were handled by yet another instructor, Flt Lt Liaquat Hayat, for Glover’s tenure as an exchange pilot was over.  I had to adjust to these new instructors every once in a while, but luckily, I did not face any issues as we got along well in the cockpit.  At the end of October ’75, I went up for my FHT with the soft-spoken OC of BFT Wing, Wg Cdr Javed Afzaal.  A man of few words, he barely murmured, “Good, you are a qualified pilot now.”  I was over the moon!
For me, November was a fairly free month, and I spent a lot of spare time in the well-stocked library.  Half-hearted preparations for the final exams also started, but the focus remained on the graduation parade.  We ordered new ceremonial uniforms with the tailor.  Towards the end of the month, we were out on the parade square rehearsing the rifle drill movements, including saluting on the march, and presentation of arms, etc.  The parade consisted of two squadrons, each composed of three flights.  The squadrons were led by the Flight Cadet Under Officers and the flights by Flight Cadet Sergeants, all wielding ceremonial swords, scabbards, and gold-embroidered belts.  The rest of the cadets carried the G-3 rifles. The parade was initially supervised by the General Service Training Officer (GSTO), Sqn Ldr Bardar Khan, a gruff old man, who had always been rather stern on the parade square.  Luckily, a new GSTO, Sqn Ldr G I Khan took charge, and the drill movements came up to the desired standard in no time; this was largely due to his congenial manner of dealing with parade-weary cadets.  The full brass band, led by the veteran band master Warrant Officer Allah Ditta, used to play the very inspiring marching tune, Aye mard-e-mujahid jaag zara, ab waqt-e-shahadat hai aya.  It would sometimes get hilarious when somebody on parade would faint and crash on the tarmac, while the band played the stirring tune!  After parade, Ditta’s band would entertain us with music from popular songs.
Flying log book records were finalised and signed by the respective Squadron Commanders.   I had flown a total of 154:45 hours, during my flying training.  One day, we received certificates signed by the Commandant of the Academy (newly posted Air Cdre Sultan M Dutta), stating that we were ‘qualified to wear the Pakistan Air Force Flying Badge with effect from 20th Dec 1975.’  These certificates were duly pasted in the flying log books, but we still had to wait for the big day to actually flaunt the ‘wings’ on our uniforms.
The ground subjects final examinations took a few days, and a big burden was off our heads.  The results did not take long to be announced, and all those who sat for the exams qualified for the University degree.  It was a particularly gratifying achievement for those who had been dropped from flying earlier.

The graduation parade was scheduled for 20th December, 1975, and was to be reviewed by the Chief of Army Staff, General Tikka Khan, HJ.  The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan was also to be in attendance. Parade had been rehearsed to perfection scores of times, as excitement for the grand event built up to a crescendo.  Invitations had gone out to parents and other guests, including officials of the diplomatic corps.
On the eve of the graduation, a dining-out night in mess kits was held in our honour, with speeches lauding our success at the end of our training.  Commendation certificates in various sports and extra-curricular activities were also awarded on the occasion by the Academy Commandant.
       On the big day, the parade formed up under command of the Wing Under Officer Inamullah Ahsan. The Under Officers and Sergeants led their respective Squadrons and Flights.  The parents and dignitaries were seated, and the chief guest arrived on the dot. After presentation of arms, inspection of the parade, and march past, a speech by the chief guest followed.  The long-awaited time for award of wings had finally come.  33 flight cadets of our course – including one from UAE, and three from Libya – fell out of their positions on parade, formed up into a small flight and marched closer to the dais.  The rest of the parade shuffled up to re-form in an orderly fashion, and went into ‘at ease’ position for the high point of the ceremony. The parents and relatives of graduating cadets waited in anticipation.
The chief guest, walked up to Wing Under Officer Inamullah Ahsan at one end of the flight, shook hands with him, and pinned the wings on his chest.  Next he did the same to me, and then moved on to the next one, Inamullah Khan.  General Tikka extended his hand, but Inam broke into a smile and reminded the General that his right hand was holding a rifle, and he could not shake hands. It so happened that Inamullah Ahsan and myself were wielding the appointment holders’ ceremonial swords, which were in their scabbards, and both hands were free.  The chief guest was thus able to shake our hands, but Inam Khan – and the rest – who were equipped with rifles, had to decline this impromptu courtesy. With the flying badges pinned on our uniforms, it was time for announcement of the much-awaited awards.

The coveted Sword of Honour went to Shahid Dad, who also won the Ground Subjects Trophy. Shahid, a heads-down cadet had excelled in many fields, and was also an accomplished speaker. The Best Pilot Trophy went to the soft-spoken Muzaffar Ali, who was considered a matchless pilot, besides being well-informed on a variety of subjects.
As the parade marched off, Flt Lt Hameed-ullah Khan, who was doing the commentary in his clipped British accent, called attention of the audience for a thrilling air show by ‘Sherdils,’ the academy aerobatics team.  Streaming coloured smoke, four T-37s approaching in line astern pulled up in front of the on-lookers, and slid into a perfect diamond formation.  Then followed a series of barrel rolls, loops, steep turns and wing overs, and the final ‘bomb burst’ in which the T-37s broke off like ‘splinters’ in all directions.  The audience was immensely awed by the performance.  The team was made up of flying instructors, and was led by Flt Lt Rizwan Qayyum, with other members being Flt Lts Iqbal Haider, Imtiaz Khan and Riffat Munir.  The aerobatics performance was a suitable finale to the graduation parade, and reflected the high standards at PAF Academy Risalpur.
After the parade, we took off our final term epaulettes, and replaced them with the Pilot Officers’ ranks that we had kept ready in our pockets.  Hugs and cheers followed, as our parents and relatives were delighted to see us, twenty-year old officers, strutting around proudly. Without much ado, we hurried to the Commandant’s residence where we had a group photograph with the chief guest, General Tikka Khan, along with the Chief of Air Staff and the Commandant. The photograph remains the most cherished memento of our course. 
Immediately after the group photograph, we were ushered into the auditorium where the convocation ceremony was held for the award of the Bachelor’s degrees from Peshawar University, with which the Academy was affiliated. That function marked the conclusion of an endeavour that had started nearly three years earlier.

EPILOGUE:  At Risalpur, we had been ragged to the bones; we were made to obey orders unflinchingly; we learnt that punctuality meant presence five minutes before time; we learnt table manners fit for royal banquets. Athletics, cross-country running, horse riding, rifle shooting, rowing, and swimming had transformed us into physically fit young men raring to go.  Incessant drills on the parade square had instilled in us pride in uniform, and a sense of ever-lasting camaraderie that exists in all fighting men.  It was at Risalpur that we had vowed to rise .… and then eventually, we touched the skies.

Note: The earlier period of training is covered in <Lower Topa Diaries>.

[1] CHISTR - Controls, Harness, Instruments, Spoilers, Trimmer, Release hook.
[2] Named after British General Sir William Olpherts, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for putting down the mutiny in Lucknow in 1857.