What's new

PAKISTAN’S AFGHAN WAR AIR STRATEGY AND OPERATIONS

Raider 21

PDF THINK TANK: ANALYST
Feb 18, 2016
2,936
7
5,116
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Canada
Air Commodore A HAMEED QADRI looks at PAF’s strategy and operations during the undeclared war in Afghanistan in the 80’s decade

Air power is the most difficult of all forms of military force to measure or even to express in precise terms.

Winston Churchill

Introduction
The Defence Forces of Pakistan are entrusted with the responsibility of providing ready and responsive capability to counter any challenge to national security. In order to succeed in such a mission, either by deterring or defeating the threat, Pakistan Air force shares the task equally with other services. The core around which the entire edifice of defence and military doctrines is structured remains ‘Visualization of Threat’. Threat and capabilities in a given environment are ever changing factors. Continual review of these makes an essential prerequisite in keeping the formulated military strategy current, relevant and applicable.

In December 1979, the massive influx of Russian forces in Afghanistan transformed the geo-political scenario of the region. The ulterior motives behind the events, for times to come, would remain a subject of discussion and analysis for the students of military history and international affairs. However, as perceived in Pakistan, the long term principal objective of erstwhile Soviet Union was access to warm waters of Indian Ocean. This change, with strong military overtones, brought forth certain stark realities and limitations of our military system. Till then, as the envisaged threat emanated from the East, so quite naturally the force structure, organisation and plans of the PAF were orchestrated only towards that direction. The newly emerged volatile, dangerous and unpredictable situation in the West called for re-evaluation of our land and air strategy.

At this juncture of history, Pakistan’s political and military leadership rose to the occasion. The decision to resist Soviet military aggression at all costs was one of the boldest policy decision taken at the national forum - hopefully for its far-sightedness it would get its due recognition by the posterity. The factor that eased the situation for Pakistan was convergence of national interests which forced United States to offer military assistance. However, the revised land strategy in general and air strategy in particular, seemed to have been influenced by the compulsions of policies set by political leadership. The aim of this article is to analyse the air strategy adopted by the PAF, and recap salient aspects of the conduct of air operations on the Western front.

Formulation of Air Strategy

The pattern of Soviet forces build-up in Afghanistan and their subsequent employment, along with their pre-occupation with combating Afghan resistance, suggested that a full-scale ground offensive against Pakistan was probably neither a viable option nor was it likely. Hostile, rugged terrain along Durand Line being unfavourable for large scale armour employment, reinforced this notion. Any manoeuvre across Pak-Afghan border had to be infantry biased supported with artillery. Under this scenario, it seems that a decision was taken by both Pakistan Army and the PAF that concurrent deployment of forces on the east as well as the west was too costly in terms of burden on our limited inventory. Therefore, resources to counter the new threat were deployed from the existing resources in various sectors of the western front. Simultaneously, plans were chalked out to redeploy these forces on the eastern theatre, if the situation so demanded. Incidentally, throughout the Afghan conflict our arch-rival India never let and opportunity go unexploited in exerting pressure on our eastern border. Throughout the 1980s, she continued to assess our vulnerability arising from divided military strength for realisation of her aims at different times. To our great discomfort, her will to exploit situations for achieving her multiple aims, manifested openly time and again required a suitable response. The most serious ones that merit mention are: threat of a possible surprise attack on Pak nuclear installation and the massive assembly of forces along our borders during exercise ÒBrass Tack. While dealing with the situation on the western border, PAF along with Pak Army, had to also remain prepared to meet the threat on its eastern border. During the same decade, the fervour of non-proliferation at international level was at its peak. Pakistan allegedly, as portrayed by the west, was at the threshold of acquiring nuclear capability. The threat of a possible Israeli attack on Pak nuclear installations, with or without the support of regional and extra-regional players, was a real possibility. This threat required, both, a realistic assessment as well as suitable measures, to address the contingency. Thus, the air strategy called for undertaking following tasks simultaneously at the operational level:-

(a) Defend Pak airspace on the western front against air violations while remaining prepared to deal with further escalation of the Afghan conflict.

(b) Defend Pak nuclear facilities against a possible surprise attack from the IAF and Israeli Air Forces, jointly or separately.

(c) Remain prepared to undertake full-range of operations, if called upon to do so, on the eastern border.

Getting Prepared

Without going into details of the various policy options which must have been considered by the then political and military leadership to protect Pakistan’s long-term interest in the region, the approach adopted by PAF to tackle the above-mentioned tasks could now be discussed. PAF, at this juncture, had to modernise its force to achieve a meaningful qualitative edge, if a credible deterrence had to be offered to its adversary, equipped with state of the art equipment. Making a tough decision, the CAS and his Air Staff wisely, in the first two years of war, turned down US offer of providing low technology F-5E and A-10 aircraft. The argument, put forth by the United States government that only these aircraft could efficiently be absorbed and effectively employed by the PAF, was rejected. PAF leadership insisted that it could not recommend purchase of such outdated and less capable aircraft to its government; and felt fully confident of assimilating advanced technology, and mastering the latest American weapon systems. Standing on its ground firmly, the PAF was able to persuade the Government of Pakistan and of the United States to allow purchase of F-16 aircraft, which were inducted in operational service in 1983. F-16’s air intercept radar, and its potent weapons, provided the much-needed cutting edge to the air force and helped in overcoming the terrain-imposed limitation of ground based radar to some extent. In the hands of well trained PAF fighter pilots, F-16 aircraft were a force to reckon with. Except for the initial batch of six pilots, all F-16 air crew were trained by PAF without any foreign assistance. Pakistan Air Force devised a strategy aimed at deterring the enemy from intruding into our airspace, and hot pursuit operations, through Defensive Counter Air Operations only. It also continued to demonstrate its resolve to deal with large-scale aggressions on our western and eastern fronts. Initially, air violations on Afghan front were countered by ordering air defence scrambles from forward bases. Subsequently in 1986, when the intensity of violations increased, a heavier response in the shape of ÒCombat Air Patrols along the western border was put up with reasonable success. The dictates of defence policy required adaptation of a defensive posture, and exercise of restraint, to keep the conflict from over-spilling the geographical boundaries of Afghanistan.

PAF on War Footing

At the operational level, the strategy devised had much different implications for the PAF than for the Pak Army. It was often not understood or appreciated by those not involved in it. Pak Army deployed necessary force along the western border while the bulk of its forces still remained in cantonments or in exercise areas. Similarly, on the eastern front, reasonable warning was available to occupy battle locations. It was not so in case of the PAF particularly on western front as it operated from a limited number of air bases. As PAF was forced to undertake only Defensive Counter Air Operations, which in simple words required maintenance of pilots and aircraft on ground alert round the clock and mounting continuous Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions, its air bases were kept at highest level of operational readiness. In achievement of first task described earlier, air bases of PAF Northern Air Command were kept ready. Few PAF air bases, along the western border, from where aircraft took off to intercept or patrol air space were at war with the enemy. On eastern front, the threat of a surprise attack on nuclear installation by India or Israel required an air force’s response from almost all flying units. The period during which Pakistan was engaged in dealing with the Afghan problem, was also of growing tension between Pakistan and India. Indeed the PAF remained on war footing and prepared to contain any aggressor with all its might during this crucial period. Its aircrew and personnel remained available to react on short notice and continuously rehearsed their well formulated plans. The spirit with which the above mentioned task was performed by the dedicated personnel of PAF, about which not much was made known to public, deserves highest praise. It should now be made available to public to enable them to acknowledge and appreciate PAF’s role and achievements during those fateful years.

For PAF, therefore, the situation was not much different from a full-fledged war which it undertook throughout the conflict in general and during the period 1986-87, in particular. It entailed operating air defence sensors and command and control centres at their peak efficiency, while men and officers remained operationally deployed in field and on their respective air bases. Such was the level of readiness of PAF that it could have gone to war almost without any warning. With such a state of preparedness why thousands of air violations, including incidents of attack on targets just inside our borders took place during the Afghan war, is a question which requires a deep understanding of air operations. Unless a no-fly zone was declared and established such intrusions could not have been prevented. It called for aggressive employment of air power. A small air force like the PAF, however efficient it may be, cannot establish a no-fly zone over a 1000-km long frontier. Moreover, crossing of international borders to establish such a zone would have meant open confrontation amounting to war. The situation not only required a Herculean effort in terms of continuous CAP but an early warning system to detect violations. Clearly such an objective was both untenable and unrealistic under the prevalent environment. This subject will be dealt with in greater details later.

Air Defence Ground Environment

Defence of own airspace against hostile enemy aircraft is achieved by creating an Air Defence Ground Environment (ADGE) through setting up of radar network to guide own aircraft for interception. Before the Soviet invasion, surveillance of our western border was carried out by high level radar only. Therefore, a new plan had to be made to create low as well as high level ADGE, especially covering the areas of interest. However, difficult and rugged mountainous terrain on the western border did not favour setting up of an elaborate low-level network. Nevertheless, a quick re-deployment of the available resources was made in two distinct sectors. The first area, called the northern belt for ease of understanding, consisted of the land mass between Laram to Miranshah. This area witnessed maximum ground as well as air activity by the enemy during the war. The southern belt stretched from Quetta to Pishin in Balochistan. However, the intensity of activity in this area was not as much as in the north.

Deployment of Mobile Low-Level Radars (MPDRs) and Mobile Observers Units (MOUs) at the chosen sites was an uphill task. The tribal belt, insulated terrain and inaccessibility of the selected sites proved a limiting factor in providing contiguous coverage. The first to be deployed were radars of No 4084 and 4102 squadrons at Landikotal and Aravali. Another coverage was provided by No 410 Squadron whereas low-level ADGE comprised a belt of MPDRs and MOUs. The radars located between Swat in north to Miranshah were manned round the clock by the officers and men of No 483 Unit. These radars had to be provided with rations, water, spares and other day-to-day needs. Similarly, conditions in the south were as hostile and difficult as in the north.

Some of the air defence sites were completely cut off from the bases. During winter season the personnel had to melt ice for washing and cooking. However, at no stage the men and officers were found lacking in morale and courage needed to sustain the operations. Air Defence Command rightly deserves credit for the deployment of radar at Machlak and Khojal which were to play an important and meaningful role during operations. Overall, many radar remained extremely under-manned as weapon controllers had to maintain the sites round the clock. The men and officers of Air Defence Branch are unsung heroes of PAF who withstood the rigours and pressures of real operations, weather and terrain for many years without respite.

Initially, F-6s from Peshawar and Samungli provided CAP in their respective areas. Their primary role was to show PAF’s presence. The CAP pilots were specifically instructed to avoid engagements. More frequent CAP were mounted as the number or air violations increased. Such was the caution exercised by the higher command that almost everyone who mattered monitored the progress of interceptions from Sector Operation Centre and Northern Air Command Headquarters. It almost amounted to breathing down the necks of our controllers by the senior staff, which restricted the freedom of combat controllers. Given the situation and strategy imperatives, as explained earlier, such caution and close monitoring is understandable in retrospect. The Afghan violations initially remained restricted to occasional 1-2 nm incursions. As the CAPs were maintained in depth with strict instructions to avoid engagement, the whole exercise was one of extreme frustration for the controllers and pilots.

PAF’s Air Operations

A review of the operations reveals that squadrons other than the F-16s, were not afforded a fair chance to exploit the intercept opportunities to shoot intruders. Stringent rules of engagement, cautious approach of the higher command and preference to use F-16s for western CAP, appear to have been the causes behind such missed interceptions. Operational activities of various squadrons engaged on western front are described in following paragraphs:-

(a) No 15 AS Squadron. This Squadron was the first one to be tasked with ADA duties in 1979, from Peshawar. Their involvement on western border continued till the end of the war which required eight to ten pilots on ADA at one time. Periodically, a squadron detachment was also sent to another base to share duties for the defence of Kahuta. While thousands of hours were spent by the pilots on ADA, 2142 hours were flown on the western border. Twice its pilots intercepted the enemy aircraft: first a Russian IL-26 on 1st March 1980, and second two Mig-21s in February 1986. The Squadron was not authorised to shoot, much to the frustration of its pilots.

(b) No 26 TA Squadron. This squadron remained deployed on ADA since Oct 84, at Peshawar till the end of the conflict. Its pilots flew 1564 western CAP missions whereas they were ordered 355 times to scramble for hot interceptions. They repeatedly flew parallel to Afghan formations within our territory. Large enemy formations would cross back into Afghan airspace on sensing their presence. Demonstrating a high level of discipline and self control, the pilots of No 26 Squadron played their part in forcing the enemy to abandon their pursuit of Mujahideen across the border, and thus minimised damage to own troops and population.

(c) No 17 and 23 AS Squadrons. Both the squadrons operated from PAF Base Samungli in the southern part of the western border. No 23 Squadron was put on air defence alert right in the beginning whereas No 17 Squadron took over the duty in May 83. No 23 Squadron flew a total of 376 CAP missions and 361 hot scrambles. On the other hand, No 17 Squadron flew 682 CAP missions and was ordered to scramble 238 times. Resources of both the squadrons were stretched to the limit when their pilots had to share the defence of Kahuta from another base in the area of Northern Air Command. Unfortunately, a record of near engagements was not maintained. The same story of sighting the enemy and keeping an eye on him was also repeated here.

(d) No 5 TA&R and No 18 AS Squadrons. These squadrons operated from PAF Base Minhas in the relatively active period of 1986. Their participation was restricted to patrolling the border areas and manning the CAP stations with other squadrons. The enemy always respected their presence and did not dare to pursue attacks beyond the border. No 5 Squadron flew 108 sorties, including 54 CAPs whereas No 18 Squadron scrambled twelve times.

(e) No 11 AS Squadron. This squadron, established as operational conversion unit, played a significant role in training pilots for Afghan Operations. At the same time, the squadron shared the operational duties with its sister units namely No 9 and No 14 AS Squadrons. The instructor pilots of No 11 Squadron shared the burden of ADA duties and western CAP missions. Its pilots flew a total of 346 sorties of west CAP, out of which 256 CAPs were flown between active period of February to May 1986, alone. Unfortunately the first-ever engagement, led by a senior commander was not successful because lack of proficiency on newly acquired AIM-9L.

(f) No 9 AS Squadron. This squadron, with its 16 pilots at any given time, participated actively for over four years and took the burden of operations especially during the period of increased activity on the western border. Its level of involvement can be judged from the fact that despite operational and training commitments, it generated more effort than any other squadron in support of western operations. It flew 2221 sorties on western border, including countless scrambles from PAF Base, Sargodha. The squadron was rewarded by three enemy kills: two SU-22 and an Elint aircraft during the conflict.

The squadron comprised six section leaders, ably led by its squadron commander Wg Cdr Abdul Razzak. Other five section leaders included Sqn Ldr Hameed Qadri, Sqn Ldr Ikram Bhatti, Sqn Ldr Yousuf Chaudhry and Sqn Ldr (Late) Rahat Mujeeb Siddique. Pair Leader duties were shared by Sqn Ldr Kaiser Tufail, Sqn Ldr Faaiz Amir, Sqn Ldr Suhaib Afzal, Sqn Ldr Najam Saeed and Sqn Ldr Waseem-ud-Din. Those who flew as No 2 in formations included Sqn Ldr Sikander Hayat, Sqn Ldr Altaf Saleem, Sqn Ldr Azhar Hussain, Sqn Ldr Imran Amin and Sqn Ldr Farooq Sikander. The CAP activity on the western border started in February 1986, when the Afghans bombed Mujahideen camps on Pak border near Parachinar. These squadron pilots continuously manned CAP points in two ship formations from dawn to dusk on western front, and also repeatedly came up in the air to provide air cover to nuclear installations. The defence of Kahuta was ensured at night as well. On any given day, all squadron pilots were detailed on ADA duties and long Western CAP while normal flying was squeezed in between this routine. The Squadron virtually operated from ADA location, round the clock. Frequent configuration changes and effort requirements put maximum strain on the Squadron and Base maintenance personnel. Operations at such a pace under combat conditions continued for a long time till No 14 Squadron was re-equipped in September 1986 at PAF Base Minhas. Suffice it to state that No 9 MR Squadron successfully accomplished the task of guarding the western skies along with the other PAF squadrons.

(g) No 14 MR Squadron. Immediately after its establishment at PAF Base Minhas in September 1986, No 14 MR Squadron was put on air defence alert and started patrolling our western border. It remained involved in these operations till April 1989. The squadron flew a total of 1825 sorties, including innumerable hot scrambles on the western border. The squadron comprised 16 pilots during the period of relatively increased hostility in 1986-87. Led by Wg Cdr Amjad Javed, its section leaders included Wg Cdr Shahzad Chaudhry, Wg Cdr Muzzafar, Wg Cdr Sami Toor, Sqn Ldr Ghazanfar, Sqn Ldr Khalid Cheema and Sqn Ldr Nauman. Six pair leaders namely Sqn Ldr Khalid Pervaiz, Flt Lt Athar Hussain, Flt Lt Sohail Gul, Flt Lt Badar Islam, Flt Lt Aftab Khan and Flt Lt Azhar Hussain led the two-ship formations. Number two positions were flown by Flt Lt Shahid Khan, Flt Lt Tahir Hamid, Flt Lt Khalid Mehmood and Flt Lt Shahid Sikander. During the year 1986-87, the squadron shot down five Afghan aircraft.

For the officers and families of No. 9 and later No 14 Squadron, life was not normal during this period. There were long hours of anxiety, tension, odd flying times, fatigue and silent commitment towards national cause. They were involved in actual shooting war on the borders where situation could, in moments, develop into full-fledged combat. Only aircrew of No 14 Squadron could understand the stress and strain endured by their brethren-in-arm, the pilots of No.9 Squadron, since the start of the West CAP. The Base Commanders of Sargodha and Minhas, during those fateful years displayed exemplary leadership qualities by sharing this strain, monitoring operations and providing professional guidance.

Opportunities and Frustrations

Initial air space violations took place as a result of small incursions by Afghan ground attack aircraft which crossed just inside our border to bomb the Mujahideen routes. As the Soviets heavily depended on use of air power, the activity in areas adjacent to our border continued to increase both in intensity and frequency. Such violations were responded to by scrambling aircraft from Peshawar and Samungli. Without fail, the Afghans would pull back into Afghanistan by the time our interceptors reached the area. In 1986, the Soviets had stepped up operations to a level that the heat of war was clearly felt on our border. In 1985, Soviet-Afghan units captured the Mujahideen strong-hold of Zhawar in Paktia province after fierce fighting. They then concentrated on area across Miranshah, Parachinar and Peshawar. As the numbers and extent of violations increased, the criticism of PAF in the media for not taking adequate measures to safeguard the airspace continued with varying degrees. However, as a result of public opinion pressure, an air defence campaign of western CAP along the border was launched. F-16 pilots patrolled the border abreast of Afghan aircraft, often in visual ranges and mostly under positive radar coverage, waiting for them to violate our territory, a challenge which never accepted in their presence.

Till February 1986, air defence controllers and pilots followed the peacetime air defence identification/engagement procedures. These did not envisage engagement in air combat with the enemy inside our border. The Rules of Engagement (ROE) required our pilots/controllers to comment after the intruder had entered the border for one minute. Every time enemy aircraft violated our border by 7-8 NM, our pilots set course towards them from their CAP stations deep inside our border territory. Arming their missiles, they tightened their harnesses, increased their speed, planned their intercept on airborne radars and charged towards the enemy seeking permission from the controller to engage. The point of decision beyond which a turn back could prove hazardous reached so fast that the permission was almost never granted from the controller to pursue the intercept. The reason for delay in granting permission was very simple. The controller had to inform almost every one in the chain of command from Sector Commander, AOC (NAC) to DCAS (O). The controllers kept measuring the distance of the violations on their radarscopes and the pilots kept making such approaches repeatedly on enemy waiting for the prescribed scenario to develop which fulfilled the ROE requirements. Initiative did not rest with them. Would they get the enemy within 7-8 NM of the border, under favourable tactical conditions for a single attack, and above all, permission from supervisors to shoot, was anybody’s guess; and beyond their control. It required a co-operative enemy, timely clearance by a bold supervisor on ground and a bit of good luck. From dawn to dusk, the experience of western CAP was most frustrating for our pilots, especially when large enemy formations hit the Afghan villages just across the border in their full view. In Parachinar salient our F-16 pilots would often find themselves in tactically advantageous position, their radar would auto lock, and they would sight the enemy in their sights (HUD). Strong urge to easily convert these contacts into valid kills had to be curbed. Soon with the feedback from the operators and observations of Base Commander Sargodha - who himself flew to feel the combat scenario, suitable adjustments in ROE were made in March 1987. The new rules required a whole-hearted committal on intruders who ingressed by 5 NM allowing controllers much awaited freedom of action and decision. But the other restrictions were maintained. The pilots were still to plan their moves in a manner that the enemy wreckage preferably fell inside the Pak territory. The Afghan border was not to be crossed due to political reasons. However, as a result of this relatively more liberty of action, a greater number of Afghan aircraft were shot by No 14 MR Squadron during 1987-88.

Analysis of Air War


Threat Assessment. This threat was posed by enemy air power in Afghan theatre really wielding the awesome power that haunts many till today? History bears testimony to the fact that a threat is as strong as the capabilities of the combatants and of their weapons. Were we so sure of the actual potential of our adversary? The air threat assessment, provided during the Afghan conflict remained deficient in many areas. The information on enemy deployment was made available; but the aspect which lacked detailed treatment pertained to shaping it all in form of a clear and present threat. How deep did the analysis go to elucidate for us the real mission of Afghan Air Force? was its deployment a matter of expedience or did it reflect a deep thought? How much of the projected threat was merely a figment of imagination and how much could have been correlated with worthwhile reconfirmation ? The fact of the matter is that the army was very much aware of the day to day happenings in all parts of Afghanistan. Experts in Khakis knew Panjsher valley better then the palms of their hands. But, the real combat potential of Afghan and Soviet air force deployed across the border remained vague. On one hand, the Afghan Air Force appeared to be only a rag tag bunch with flying machines, whereas on other occasions they were projected as comprising highly qualified combat pilots flying mirror formations, keeping mutual support in split levels, capable of reforming in highly complex formations for achieving numerical superiority. At the national level, the understanding was very clear that we did not seek an all out war, and the air power would not be used to a level where this limit was tested. The question remains: was the limit set by ourselves for deterring enemy from air violations too short of the threshold of intolerance by a super power? At operational level and in line with its traditions, the headquarters staff must have gone into exhaustive and long deliberations to have come up with a response to the situation. However, with the advantage of having time on our side and intensity of happenings rather slow, could we have come up with an alternate strategy? Perhaps after setting up an initial scheme, a forum for our vast and rich pool of think tanks could have provided invaluable inputs regarding real enemy capability by playing the scenario purely from the point of view of air power. True effects caused by the effort that was being generated and punitive action required to prevent airspace violations could have been assessed. During the course of events, spanning over a decade, the mid course corrections were greatly directed towards tactical activity: improving the game plans in terms of slashing attacks or three ship formations etc.

Intelligence Information. A clinical analysis at the level of wings and squadrons would reveal that a rather restrictive participation was afforded by Intelligence personnel in building up a total picture. It seems to have been left to the local commanders and squadron pilots to build up the scenario for themselves. Pro-active role by intelligence staff at the field level could have rendered greater benefits if war rooms at bases were set up where direct briefs on enemy deployment, pattern of violations, strengths and weaknesses were provided to our operators. Interactive flow of information could have removed many apprehensions in the minds of our pilots and controllers. Another aspect which needed serious consideration was the level of security that was maintained during the period of Afghan operations. It surely went overboard; a level where, even the player of a game tended to lose vivid picture of his opponent on the other side. To make the matters worse, the information on enemy tactics and operations was to be kept as a closely guarded secret. Unlike other services, combatants in Air Force comprise highly qualified and trained fighter pilots at a higher level of intellect. The quality of information they sought about enemy and their tactics had to be clearly realised and provided in order to accrue maximum benefits.

Role of Media. The role played by media also had its impact on the PAF. It tremendously increased the pressure on PAF as nation expected its air force to catch hold of all elusive raiders. More often than not, Afghan aircraft were able to enter Pak border and bomb few miles inside our territory and retrieve before PAF could respond. The only measure of success for psychological reasons remained a kill which could be splashed across the newspapers and electronic media for the nation. This dilemma being faced by the planners, supervisors, well trained pilots and controllers of PAF required great deal of restraint at all levels. The pilots and the controllers, who belonged to a service known for its professionalism and past achievements, helplessly witnessed the war just across the border and patiently bore the media criticism. It was only through continuous indoctrination, supervision and monitoring by PAF commanders that for such a long time these people could exercise the requisite restraint by following stringent rules of engagement during thousands of air defence missions flown on the western front.

Restrictive Rules of Engagement. Air Force, in essence, is basically an offensive power. Despite its defensive capabilities, it delivers best when directed against a well-defined target. The compulsions in the western theatre were much too restrictive to benefit from the true potential that was available. In air warfare, opportunities are created through offensive action, exploiting the elements of surprise and concentration of force. Air force pilots and controllers are taught to create conditions which could ensure that the fight takes place on their own terms. Once a tactical decision to engage has been taken, the success is possible only through a swift, aggressive and whole-hearted engagement employing combat skills perfected over years of rigorous training. If a controller or a pilot only reacts to a situation as it develops, the scenario becomes defensive in nature. Restriction of geographical boundaries during the combat were hard to control and ran against the philosophy of air combat. The rules of engagement were best suited against civil or military aircraft violating airspace during peacetime but definitely not against GCI controlled, well armed and hostile enemy . It was rather difficult to limit the operations to classical intercept only while attempting to avoid possible battle which could have become imminent due to enemy action. Having said that, the argument in favour of the strategy followed by PAF was equally strong. It revolved around the compulsions of policies set by the political leadership which took precedence over all other military considerations. With the comfort of hindsight, it is rather easy to comment on the way we implemented our ‘Defensive Strategy’. The fact remains that the strategy achieved its objectives. However, a review might help in determining how best could we have utilised various air defence elements for greater effectiveness.

Alternate Options. Under a given scenario, where warning time is short and hence interception opportunities limited, effective defence can best be provided by a screen of high-readiness surface-to-air system backed by air defence fighters. On the other hand, when large areas are to be defended and resource constraints do not permit an elaborate surface to air network; a small air force can ensure only local and point defence of selected VPs/VAs with effective surface to air weapons.

Perhaps PAF could have relieved itself of western CAP by defending certain areas heavily with surface to air weapons. Such concentration of air defence weapons would have converted these areas into killing zones. Parachinar Salient and Miranshah were perhaps best suited for such an employment. However, it required suitable high and low level SAM system procurements from western countries. Elsewhere along the border, on detecting a pattern of violations; deliberate, determined and well-planned fighter sweep missions could have forced the enemy to avoid venturing beyond the safety of their borders. Within our available resources, such an attempt appears to have been made in April 1986, to be given up subsequently in favour of western CAPS. Non-availability of AEW aircraft and ineffective SAM coverage were perhaps few reasons for not adopting such a strategy.

Conclusion

With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, PAF along with Pak Army, quickly adjusted to new ground realities and modified their strategies. In the same timeframe PAF was called upon to actively guard nuclear facilities and prevent India from taking advantage of our preoccupation on western front. PAF measured up to these tasks for which its leadership deserves a befitting tribute. Few are aware that PAF almost remained engaged in a full-fledged war during mid- 1980s on western front. PAF’s Defensive Air Campaign included countless hot interceptions and Combat Air Patrols. The nature of these operations required some bases to generate effort under combat condition for a long time. PAF prepared itself well for the task by creating Air Defence Ground Environment on western front out of its existing resources. It acquired top of the line high tech aircraft from US and effectively employed them with low tech fleet to respond to the Afghan air violations. Though defence of 1000 Km frontier was hard to guarantee, the bombing of Pak territory was contained to a large extent.

The media criticism of Afghan violations of Pak airspace and expectation of the nation from PAF in this regard put tremendous pressure on PAF personnel. However, PAF leadership remained committed to its strategy of exercising restraint to avoid escalation of hostilities and international repercussions. At the tactical level, the rules of engagement severely limited the freedom of PAF pilots and controllers resulting in missed opportunities. Need for an Airborne Early Warning System and a potent ground defence network was felt throughout the conflict. These deficiencies could not be redressed due to procurement problems. That the future war scenario would be different from the previous wars needs no elaboration. However, valuable lessons can be learnt from the past experiences. The air campaign ..... Shows the might and precision of Western air power, it also demonstrates the ability of America and its partners to control this unprecedented force to achieve allied military aims - while holding casualties to a remarkably low level. US News & World Report, Gulf War, 11 February 1991.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A fighter pilot by profession, Air Commodore A Hameed Qadri (Late) was commissioned in the GD(P) Branch in 1974. On 17th May 1986 Sqn.Ldr. Abdul Hameed Qadri was on a routine western CAP over Parachinar near the Afghan border. Qadri and his wingman Sqn. Ldr. Mohammed Yousaf flying PAF F-16As intercepted four SU-22 aircraft. Qadri managed to shoot two Su-22s, one of them with an AIM-9 Sidewinder and the other guns. He was awarded the Sitara-i-Basalat. He has held various command and staff appointments during his service career which included Officer Commanding, Combat Commanders School, Flying Instructors School and F-7 CCS Squadron. He was also Personal Staff Officer to Chief of the Air Staff. A fellow of Air War College , Air Commodore Qadri was on the faculty of the College as DS (Tutorial).


 
Last edited:

imran rashid

FULL MEMBER

New Recruit

Jun 3, 2015
86
0
72
Country
Pakistan
Location
Pakistan
kindly increase the Font Size :cry:
making criticism is most easiest thing. get more education then u will come to know articles standard font size is 12. if u can not praise someone then dont get jealous. we are behind others because of people like u
 

YeBeWarned

ELITE MEMBER
Sep 25, 2016
16,924
11
24,192
Country
Pakistan
Location
Pakistan
making criticism is most easiest thing. get more education then u will come to know articles standard font size is 12. if u can not praise someone then dont get jealous. we are behind others because of people like u
:welcome: to my Ignore List :tup:
 

Raider 21

PDF THINK TANK: ANALYST
Feb 18, 2016
2,936
7
5,116
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Canada
making criticism is most easiest thing. get more education then u will come to know articles standard font size is 12. if u can not praise someone then dont get jealous. we are behind others because of people like u
He didn't criticise but simply asked. Good day.
 

Users Who Are Viewing This Thread (Total: 1, Members: 0, Guests: 1)


Top Bottom