Does Pakistan Really Need More F-16s?

Posted on October 16, 2009
Filed Under >Imran H. Khan, Economy & Development, Foreign Relations, Law & Justice
48 Comments
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Imran H. Khan

On October 13, 2009 Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) participated in the rolling out ceremony of the first of 18 F-16C Block 52, one of the most capable versions of the aircraft, which is flown by the U.S. Air Force and numerous other countries.

U.S. Congressman Rep. Kay Granger (R-Fort Worth) said that Pakistan “is the point of the spear” in U.S. efforts to combat terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Pakistan has paid nearly $2 Billion for the aircrafts and parts. Between the Egyptian and Pakistani orders, the Lockheed plant should remain humming till 2012, employing 2,100.

ACM Suleman said that this type of aircraft has been valuable in delivering munitions with precision.

I am sure that the choice of type and number of planes must have been made with due considerations by the senior PAF staff and the Pakistan parliament. But there is something that deeply troubles me about this photograph (more photos here).

Does Pakistan really need $80Million aircraft to bomb the terrorists hiding in FATA and elsewhere?

As an ex-PAF officer myself and coming from a PAF family, I am a strong opponent of using air power to bomb civilian targets in the first place; as it causes unnecessary civilian deaths. The strengths of this plane are superior radar, long endurance and ability to deliver beyond visual range missiles. None of these attributes are needed for the troubles at hand.

The current PAF inventory could easily have been upgraded to handle newer precision weapons at a fraction of the cost. An even better option would be to spread the $80M over a combination of COIN (Counter Insurgency) aircrafts like those from Pilatus or Embraer, helicopters and Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles UAVs. These types of planes would provide the eyes (uavs), mobility (helicopters) and teeth (COIN aircrafts) to an organization like Army Aviation or Frontier Constabulary Air Force. Air power should only be used for close air support of security forces.

Moreover, there is no transfer of technology involved that I am aware of. PAF should focus on evolving JF-17 that it has developed in collaboration with China. Modern jet fighters are a combination of platform, avionics and weapons. JF-17 is an adequate platform. We tend to suffer from short memory. It was only 1965 when US embargoed all military support and PAF had to replace its predominant US inventory with Chinese jets. My father was the first air attaché to Beijing and over saw the incredible Chinese support at the time of our needs.

Even better, given the sad state of primary education in Pakistan, this money could have educated half the school going kids for an year. Right now we only provide money for one out of forty children in our budget.

Additionally, this ceremony could not have come at a worse time as Pakistanis are actively debating the nature of US Pakistan relationship under the Obama administration. There are many in Pakistan who feel that the Kerry-Lugar bill’s language is an interference in the internal affairs of the country. F-16 could come to represent the Symbol of Subservience rather than that of pride.

Article 245 of the Constitution of Pakistan states:

The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

Right now Pakistanis are being bombed by an external aggressor (US Drones flown by CIA) and being blown up in terrorist attacks from an internal aggressor on a nearly daily basis. Would ACM Suleman be present in Fort Worth if he was fulfilling his Constitutional obligation?

Imran Khan is an ex-PAF officer and technology entrepreneur who blogs at Planet Earth.

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48 responses to “Does Pakistan Really Need More F-16s?”

  1. Shahid Mahmood. says:

    The .P.A.F war plan for future war with India requires addition in numbers of A/Cs.As any possible war P.A.F according its war plan would have to impose hell on the floatila of so called Blue water Navy,it means sending 20-30 I.N frigates to seabed P.A.F have to send large numbers of A/Cs.TO get the objective it would have to sacifice of 30-40 A/Cs and Pilots.obviously $80 million worth of A/Cs would not be a sane to send them for this job ,JF.17+Mirage are ideal n A/Cs.

  2. Sridhar says:

    Small correction. Four Mig-21s were lost to enemy fire in the West, three to AA fire and one shot down by an F86 Sabre. Apologies for the error. The numbers I stated in the East are correct.

    Also, no Mig-21 was shot down by an F-6, either in the East or the West.

  3. Sridhar says:

    I just read an article written by Air Marshal Inam H. Khan (who you have quoted in support of the Mig-21 kill claim) on your blog. I must regretfully state it is perhaps one of the most bigoted and racist pieces of writing I have read in recent times. His claims have zero credibility, at least as far as I am concerned, after reading his article filled with untruths and gross generalizations and stereotypes.

  4. Sridhar says:

    Thanks for sharing the perspective of the Air Commodore. I have checked my sources. There were indeed Mig-21 squadrons in the Eastern sector. I was only speculating (and stated explicitly that I was not sure) that the aircraft type was not employed in the East. So thanks for the information (I have not been able to confirm how many squadrons were there, but will let you know if I learn more about it).

    On the Mig-21 supposed to have been shot down over Dhaka, I checked my sources again (including a Pakistani one) and stand by the claim that no Mig-21 was shot down over Dhaka on the 4th of December or at any time during the course of the war.

    There were a total of 7 Mig-21s lost during the course of the war, 2 in the East and 5 in the West. Of the two in the East, one was shot down by AA (anti-aircraft) fire, another was hit by AA, made it back to Indian territory and crashed close to the airbase as it ran out of fuel. Of the five in the West, one was lost in an accident while landing, another was lost to friendly fire over Indian territory. Of the three lost to enemy fire, only one was lost in air-to-air combat (to an F86 as you have stated) – the other two were lost to AA fire.

    On 4th Dec 1971, there were two Hunters that were shot down in air-to-air combat in the East, one at about 0800 hours by an F86 and another at about 1430 hours by another F86. There was no incident on the day where two aircraft were shot down at around the same time. In fact, these two Hunters were the only air-to-air combat losses on that day anywhere in the East. No Su-7 Fitter and certainly no Mig-21 was shot down that day.

    I think the respected Air Commodore is mistaken about the incident he claims. Also, there are typically lots of false claims made during war situations for reasons of morale and so forth. The data I am giving are the most reliable ones available, with rigorous verification from both sides.

    On the general point being made, there are lots of instances even in the India-Pakistan scenario where technically inferior aircraft shot down much more superior ones or where lone aircraft took on multiple adversaries. For instance, a subsonic Mystere shooting down a supersonic (Mach-2) F-104 Starfighter in 1965, or a lone Gnat taking on 6 Sabres and hitting two of them and forcing the other four to flee in 1971. There are examples in other theatres as well. These instances support the claim that skill and bravery are crucial factors in war. I just don’t think the data support the claim that skill and bravery levels are different on the two sides.

    In any case, this is a distraction from the main point of the article, which is that F-16s are not needed to battle the Taliban or for COIN operations in general.

  5. Imran Khan says:

    Since I put the story in the letter to Dawn on this blog, I felt that I should make sure that the story was correct. On doing some further research it turns out that there were three Mig 21 squadron in East Pakistan at the time. One of the plane shot was Mig-21 and the other very similar looking SU-7. Both these planes are technically speaking two generations removed from F-86. This is by no means the only such encounter. On the West Pakistan side in 1971 another F-86 shot down a Mig-21 and the pilot was taken POW. Another F-6, one generation removed from Mig-21, shot down another Mig 21. If you look at the examples of other encounters there are plenty of such cases.

    For anecdotal purposes only I am including a response from Air Officer Commanding EPAF, then Air Commodore Inam H. Khan regarding this encounter. He said
    “..Sqn Ldr Afzaal did engage and shot a MG 21 over Dacca city. I was at the Killer Control at that time, when I saw him positioning behind a Su- 7 which was coming into attack the only visible ac from the air and the only one destroyed on the ground was PIA’s one of the two Twin Otters. There being no tall suitable tree cover available. Other one had some excuse of a cover, survived and employed for repatriation of pilots. Any way this Su-7 positioned nicely at normal 360 knots or less came, flew past close to killer control, gave a solid longish cannon burst causing this Otter to surprisingly almost instantaneous evaporation. Naturally breathing heavily our fighter was getting into firing range when Su-7 immediately after firing, cut in his AB and zoomed away. As IAF DAI Air Commodore Grewal also told me at Calcutta, IAF air attacks till delivery of ordnance were made at normal practice range speeds of 360 to 420 knots…”

    So there you have it. He is actually appreciative of IAF pilots bravery.
    In conclusion I would refer you to Ezer Weizman’s (IDF-AF commander ) comment
    “The human factor will decide the fate of war, of all wars. Not the Mirage, nor any other plane, and not the screwdriver, or the wrench or radar or missiles or all the newest technology and electronic innovations. Men—and not just men of action, but men of thought. Men for whom the expression ‘By ruses shall ye make war’ is a philosophy of life, not just the object of lip service.”

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