- By: Ibn-e-Taha
Founder of Pakistan had witnessed utility of air power in World-War II. Shades of his understanding and perception about an air force are visible in famous speech which he delivered on 13 April, 1948 at RPAF school Risalpur (Pakistan Air Force Academy Asghar Khan). Pakistan Air Force is also fortunate, having commanders who endeavored purchasing the best available aircraft of the era in the initial days of PAF. Constant quality technical /logistics support and skilled human resource coupled the efficiency of PAF. Hence group of committed people made it a dynamic combination of men-machines, ensuring a small but effective organization.
In pursuance of Quaid-e-Azam’s vision, PAF overcame challenges with a small number of personnel and insufficient equipment and emerged into a powerful component of the country’s defense into a brief period. Today undoubtedly it stands as one of the finest institutions of country.
PAF inducted latest air fleet according to its’ needs and envisaged air operations. PAF inducted “Halifax” bomber (1948-54), Hawker Sea Fury (1950-56), first jet aircraft “Attacker” (1951-58), bombers B-57 (1959-85), Gloster Meteor and Spitfire (during 50s), F-86 (Sabres,1955-80), Starfighter F-104 (1961-72), Chinese F-6 (Farmer) 1966-2002, Mirage III and Mirage V in 1968 and 1982 respectively (still in service), F-16 in 1983 (still in service), F-7 (1988-2002), indigenously built JF-17 (Thunder) inducted in 2007, JF-17 B and C (ongoing), J-10 in 2023 (4.5 generation aircraft) and its’ modified version in 2024. Air Staff is working on 5 Generation aircraft (J-31/KAAN). PAF has shown capabilities of advanced electronic warfare buying aircraft DA-20 and SAAB-2000. PAF has also worked on the CBT Drones and has an inventory of TB II/AKINNCI, Falco, Buraq, Bravo, CH4, Shahpar, Ababeel and Baz. PAF is also one of the few air forces which can carry out air -to-air refueling of aircraft.
Embargo after 1965 War, led to serviceability issues of main stay fleet F-86, B-57 and F-104. Air Marshal Nur Khan, Commander-in-Chief of PAF proposed to government to immediately arrange for one squadron of Mirage III from France. The second-generation fighter aircraft was considered state of the art aircraft in 1966 with supersonic speed (Mach 2). It was fastest speed of any European aircraft at that time. French aircraft is a unique design of “Delta” wing with a fuselage (body) designed according to the area rule. It is ideally suited to PAF being a multi-role aircraft having capabilities of a night bombing, night interception, advanced electronics to launch missiles and deep penetration into enemy’s territory. It could also accommodate relevant electronic systems (navigation center, Doppler radar). The aircraft is diversified having different versions i.e. dual-control two-seater version, interceptor version, low-altitude air strikes, Reconnaissance and bombing.
For the newly inducted system, war hero of 1965 war, Wing Commander MM Alam (retired as Air Commodore), was made operational in-charge. His role included, selection of pilots, their training in Pakistan and France respectively. Alam had his team comprising Squadron Leader Hakimullah and Squadron Leader Farooq F Khan (both later retired as Chief of Air Staff), Squadron Leader Farooq Umar (retired as Air Vice Marshal), Flight Lieutenant Arif Manzoor (embraced shahadat in Syria in a flying accident) and Flight Lieutenant Akhtar Rao (later retired as a Squadron Leader).
At the Air Headquarters French weapon system “Mirage-III”, under project “Blue Flash” was established. Wing Commander Abid Raza was selected as the engineering in-charge who was posted to Paris. His other team members were Squadron Leader Najmuddin and Squadron Leader Suzard. It was a daunting task, but done excellently by Wing Commander MM Alam and Abid Raza. Both proved hand in glove for technical and flying activities.
Initially six Mirage aircraft were to be ferried from France to Pakistan in winters which necessitated extensive experience on instrument flying in clouds and fog. Preparations for instrument flying were extensively done in at Sargodha (Mushaf) and the pilots underwent rigorous training of instrument under MM Alam.
Considering long route journey and European weather conditions, weather forecast and route were carefully analyzed and implemented. The pilots were also trained in France for conversion flying and simulator flying on German border called STRASSBURG. Conversion of flight training of six PAF pilots was completed at Dijon Air Force Base. Return voyage was planned via Italy, Turkey, Iran, Karachi and finally Sargodha (Mushaf) in three formations (02 aircraft each). All along the route, the weather was cloudy, the land was not visible, and the pilots had to fly clouds of less than 200 ft and land through Ground Controlled Approach at each of the enroute airfields. By the grace of God, the dedicated team ensured the delivery of six aircraft to PAF Base Mauripur (PAF Base Masroor) as scheduled.
Technical training of PAF Engineers in France was for six months and Wing Commander Syed Abid Raza arranged the PAF engineers training in an amicable manner. After technical training, PAF engineers’ team was flown by PAF C-130 with three refueling stops namely; Brindisi Airport Italy, Ankara Turkish Air Base, and Tehran Airport via return to Pakistan. Tiresome efforts, good team-work, excellent planning and follow up of “Blue Flash” project team enabled Pakistan Air Force successfully inducting this weapon system. Syed Abid Raza and his team on the engineering side and MM Alam along with their team on the flying side deserve special kudos. Later Air Commodore Abid Raza also established repair facilities for aircraft at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra. Today Pakistan air force is the only country where Mirage-III aircraft are still operational mainly due to Mirage Re-build Factory (MRF) where Mirage aircraft and its’ engines are being repaired/overhauled and kept air worthy since its’ inception.
The six aircraft were handed over to No. 5 Squadron which was fully operational by the 1971 War. During the war, it flew over 200 day and night sorties from its home base, Sargodha (Mushaff), along with a detachment in Mianwali (MM Alam Base). Wing Commander Hakeem Ullah (later Air Chief) was the Officer Commanding of No 5 Sqn who claimed none of the aircraft was lost during the war.
When the first 6 blue flash aircraft reached Pakistan, moral of the country went sky high and very warm reception in the entire city in Karachi was given to the pilots. MM Alam decided to fly over the city of Karachi in this 6 Mirage formation and the entire country invited them for various functions. Muslim countries also asked for technical and operational assistance from Pakistan on Mirage aircraft. Air Vice Marshal Farooq Umar was sent to Libya to induct 110 new Mirages being purchased by the Libyan Air Force.
PAF continued legacy of their predecessors and purchased Mirage V in 1972. This version had more speed (2.3 Mach), more range (2485 Miles compared to 100 miles of Mirage III), more rate of climb, conventional drop bombs and reconnaissance pods.
- Wing Commander Syed Abid Raza (later retired as Air Commodore), as Head of Project Blue Flash I, representing Pakistan Air Force, sitting in the middle second from left, signing the official documents. Squadron Leader Najmuddin (later retired as Group Captain) is sitting first from left and Squadron Leader Suzard (later retired as Air Commodore) sitting third from left. The photograph shows French officials standing behind them (France, December 1966 – June 1970).
In 1991, France stopped producing Mirage III and spare parts had ceased. Similarly, repeated embargoes have led to self-reliance, innovations and ingenuities. To meet the requirement, Pakistan acquired 50 Australian-built Mirages, retired by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1988. Eight of the ex-RAAF Mirages entered service with the PAF immediately, while another 33 were upgraded under a PAF project known as (“Retrofit of Strike Element”), with new equipment including Head up Display (HUD), Hands on Throttle controls (HOTAS), multi-function display (MFD), radar altimeter, Nav/attack system inertial Navigation system, GPS, Radar Warning Receiver, Electronic Counter Measures, Decoy flare, and Chaff dispenser. In 1999 Griffo radar was also installed.
- Group of personnel working on Mirage in a delta shape (wing shape of Mirage) aircraft
Ten Lebanese Air Force aircraft were purchased in 2000 and in 2003. Another 15 Mirage IIIEEs and 5 Mirage IIIDEs were obtained from the Spanish Air Force for cannibalization. From 2011, the PAF Mirage fleet had been modified to carry Hatf-vii cruise missiles and to accommodate aerial refueling probes of South African origin. Subsequently, Mirage aircraft have been modified to accept additional equipment and munitions, such as Chinese PL-12 air-to-air missiles. PAF has also acquired Mirage III from Dubai for meeting the spares requirement. Having been in service since 1968, the Mirage fleet, serves as the primary strike aircraft of the PAF. Today Mirage aircraft had a record of having served in 21 countries around the world in with more than 80 versions. Today Pakistan Air Force is the seventh largest air force with limited airmen and equipment, but maintains the ideology of Jinnah
“……. Aircraft and personnel in any numbers are of little use, unless there is a team spirit within the Air force and a strict sense of discipline prevails. I charge you to remember that only with discipline and self-reliance can the Royal Pakistan Air Force be worthy of Pakistan”.
In a recent ceremony, Air Chief, Zaheer Ahmed Sidhu has stated, latest inductions in PAF’s arsenal comprising J-10 C (fighter jets) air mobility platforms, modern radars, unmanned aerial systems, loitering munition capabilities, and long-range vectors have significantly bolstered the aerial defense capabilities of the country. He mentioned “Center of Excellence for Air Mobility & Aviation Safety”, “College of Air Defense” and reinvigoration of “Air Power Centre of Excellence” alongside the operationalization of “National Aerospace Science and Technology Park (NASTP)” has provided PAF the capability to “stay abreast with the evolving challenges.” Sidhu also emphasized the progress achieved by the PAF in the emerging domains of cyber and space technologies to ensure an impregnable defense of the country. It was heartening to learn national air defense is in safe hands. Air Chiefs come and go but Mirage remains in service since last 55 years.