Pakistan — Modernisation of the PAF

A per­cep­tive arti­cle on the mod­erni­sa­tion and expan­sion of the Pak­istan Air Force. The writer asserts that Pak­istan Air Force is engaged in a mas­sive mod­erni­sa­tion since 1990. The cur­rent and future acqui­si­tions of the PAF would enhance both the qual­i­ty and quan­ti­ty of equip­ment. Con­sis­tent demands for high tech­nol­o­gy weapons clear­ly indi­cate the mod­erni­sa­tion of the Pak­istan Air Force and Naval Air, has been giv­en even high­er pri­or­i­ty over the Army and Navy which implies that they expect the Air Force to play a major role in any future con­flict. Out of the total com­bat air­craft in 1990 just around 10 per cent were fourth gen­er­a­tion. But by 2020 more than 90 per cent would be fourth gen­er­a­tion air­craft in the PAF inven­to­ry. Besides the Pak Air Force has added the AWAC, BVR and Air to air refu­elling capa­bil­i­ties to emerge as a tru­ly mod­ern air force.

“It is my strong con­vic­tion that offen­sive appli­ca­tion of air­pow­er is what can yield pos­i­tive results in a war.”
— Air Chief Mar­shal Mushaf Ali Mir, CAS, Pak­istan Air Force, 2002

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Delhi-India

Defence and Security Alert (DSA

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Pak­istan has been on an arms acqui­si­tion spree to rapid­ly mod­ernise its Air Force since Kargil war, accel­er­at­ing the process dur­ing the last nine years. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Pakistan’s arms acqui­si­tions since the Kargil War have been exclu­sive­ly cen­tered on mod­erni­sa­tion and build-up of the Pak­istan Air Force and aer­i­al mar­itime strike capa­bil­i­ties of the Navy. This has to be viewed in the con­text of the real­i­ty that the Army in Pak­istan, which has ruled the coun­try for most of its exis­tence and has been in direct con­trol since 1999, calls the shots in mil­i­tary pri­or­i­ties and mod­erni­sa­tion. As part of the Armed Forces Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme — AFFDP-2019 Pak­istan has invest­ed in the build-up of the Army, man­aged to expand the land equip­ment and has also ini­ti­at­ed an infantry mod­erni­sa­tion pro­gramme for it’s spe­cial, reg­u­lar and para­mil­i­tary forces. But, the focus of Pakistan’s major defence pro­cure­ments has been the build-up of the PAF and mar­itime strike capa­bil­i­ties of the Navy.

While Chi­na has been an all weath­er friend and Chi­nese imports have tak­en prece­dence in Pakistan’s import list in the last two decades, the Unit­ed States became Pakistan’s major arms sup­pli­er since 9/11. Pak­istan did man­age to get more than US$ 20 bil­lion of the US aid between 2002–2010. Future of the US aid and equip­ment, obvi­ous­ly remains uncer­tain due to the increas­ing mis­trust between the two nations. The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion has already declined the forth­com­ing aid of US$ 800 mil­lion this year. On the oth­er hand, anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ments in Pak­istan have risen and sur­pris­ing­ly, for the first time have sur­passed anti-India sentiments.

Pakistan’s mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty and the mil­i­tary build-up have been pri­mar­i­ly shaped by its rela­tion­ship with the US and unstint­ed sup­port from Chi­na. The last 60 years have seen fluc­tu­a­tions in Pakistan’s mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty devel­op­ment owing to Pakistan’s rela­tion­ship with the Unit­ed States. While the main sup­pli­ers to Pak­istan have been the US and Chi­na, France and Turkey have been impor­tant part­ners in sup­port­ing PAF’s exist­ing fleet of Mirages. To get an under­stand­ing of Pakistan’s mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty, it’s essen­tial to look into the objec­tives behind the mil­i­tary build-up.

Basic objec­tives

Pak­istan has looked at arms pro­cure­ment to sat­is­fy its secu­ri­ty con­cerns. The per­ceived threat per­cep­tion from India, strate­gic devel­op­ments on the bor­der with Afghanistan and the emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies, have been the dom­i­nant fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the sources and kind of arms pro­cure­ment by the mil­i­tary. The basic objec­tives shap­ing arms acqui­si­tions of Pak­istan have been as follows:

First­ly, Pakistan’s adver­sar­i­al rela­tion­ship with India has played a major role in for­ma­tion of its threat per­cep­tion. The dom­i­nant mil­i­tary lob­by in Pak­istan has aggres­sive­ly prop­a­gat­ed the Indi­an threat with­in Pak­istan to legit­imise Pakistan’s high defence spend­ing and on the inter­na­tion­al front to sup­port the acqui­si­tion of high tech­nol­o­gy weapon­ry. This also inter­acts with and pro­motes the military’s spe­cial and dom­i­nant role in the country’s pow­er structure.

Sec­ond­ly, Pakistan’s urge to match India’s con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary supe­ri­or­i­ty. This has per­pet­u­al­ly dri­ven Pak­istan into ways and means to acquire supe­ri­or tech­nol­o­gy. In 2006, the then Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Mar­shal Kaleem Saa­dat stat­ed in an inter­view to Jane’s Defence Week­ly, “When US sanc­tions were imposed in 1990, both the PAF and the Indi­an Air Force were sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion air forces. No real-time sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ty, no air-to-air refu­elling capa­bil­i­ty, no air­borne ear­ly warn­ing capa­bil­i­ty, no beyond-visu­al-range-capa­bil­i­ty, no stand-off weapon capa­bil­i­ty. How­ev­er, after 13 years of sanc­tions, India had all the above and Pak­istan had none until about three or four years ago. This is the gap … We have to bridge this gap in the man­ner that we can deny the advan­tage that our neigh­bour has …” 

The strate­gic aims, as out­lined by Ross Masood Husain are: “to strength­en nation­al pow­er; to pre­vent open aggres­sion by India; to induce India to mod­i­fy its goals, strate­gies, tac­tics and oper­a­tions; to attain a posi­tion of secu­ri­ty or, if pos­si­ble, dom­i­nance, which would enhance the role of oth­er (non-mil­i­tary) means of con­flict; to pro­mote and cap­i­talise on advances in tech­nol­o­gy in order to reach par­i­ty or supe­ri­or­i­ty in mil­i­tary power.”

Third­ly, Pakistan’s reliance on high tech­nol­o­gy weapons to seek com­pet­i­tive mil­i­tary advan­tage. The desire to acquire high tech­nol­o­gy weapons has been very strong in the Pak­istan mil­i­tary and its alliance with the US has assist­ed Pak­istan to pro­cure high tech­nol­o­gy equipment. 

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