Muhammad Ali Baig
AIR Force plays a decisive role in any armed conflict. It not only provides support to the ground troops but it also considerably paralyses the operational capability of adversary’s air power. The air muscle was first used during World War-I and from that time onwards it remains a vital and influential element in war. The effectiveness of “death from above” can be judged from the very fact that every major and minor military campaign after the Great War, and almost every military doctrine, included aerial engagement on a tactical and perhaps strategic level.
Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was created on the same day when Pakistan was born. In his visit to PAF Academy Risalpur in April,1948; Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah envisaged the mission for PAF to become “Second to None”. Though PAF was deliberately and intentionally not given its due share from India and it was aimed to keep it significantly weak and vulnerable, but PAF was aware of Indian designs and started immediately to become a credible air power.
India as dictated by its strategic culture, tried its best to overwhelm PAF in War of 1965, but perhaps they were unaware of the skill and prowess possessed by PAF pilots. India’s source of inspiration Chanakya, who advocated extreme hostility towards neighbours, utterly controlled Indian political and military leadership. Historically, it was India who started skirmishes in the Rann of Kutch region and Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar as a reaction, not an action. This led to the amassment of Indian troops and their subsequent advance towards Pakistani border.
Although PAF was comparatively lesser in size and strength with that of Indian Air Force (IAF) but the War of 1965 was truly dominated by the PAF. PAF’s main warhorse included American built F-104 Starfighter and F-86 Sabre fighter aircrafts. The account of IAF’s destruction was opened by gallant pilot of PAF Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui who destroyed two de Havilland Vampire fighter aircrafts on September 1st, 1965 at Chamb sector. Rafiqui was flanked by Flight Lieutenant Imtiaz Bhatti who also destroyed two other Vampires that night. It is unknown to many that PAF’s fighter pilot Flight Lieutenant Hakimullah while flying an F-104, did an exceptional and extraordinary job in aviation history and forced an Indian pilot Squadron Leader Brijpal Singh flying an advanced Gnat fighter aircraft to surrender and land at an abandoned airfield at Pasrur, on September, 3 1965. Singh was taken as a prisoner of war and was released after the war. The Indian Gnat is displayed at PAF Museum, Karachi, and still is a symbol of PAF’s pride.
While violating every facet of international law, the Indian advance on Lahore on the morning of September 6, brought another success when PAF’s F-104 shot down IAF’s Dassault Mystere with an air-to-air missile. Apart from aerial combat, PAF also conducted close air support mission at Wagah, Lahore, on an incoming column of Indian armour and vehicles. PAF planned and executed a successful air-raid on IAF’s two air bases named as Pathankot and Halwara to neutralize their operational capability at dusk of the same day. Three F-86 aircrafts took part in the strike on Halwara and Rafiqui and Younas embraced martyrdom while Cecil Chaudhary made his way back home. In the mean time, eight F-86 aircrafts hit Pathankot led by Squadron Leader Sajjad Haider. The attack completely disabled IAF’s Mig-21 fighter aircrafts and put them effectively out of war. PAF also did raids on the Eastern wing of IAF at Kalai Kunda and Bagdogra air bases to eliminate any attack on East Pakistan. These attacks paralyzed IAF’s potential threat to East Pakistan. The radar station at Amritsar was hindering PAF’s movement and righteous pilots of PAF eliminated the target. One of the attacks was carried out at Gurdaspur on a train loaded with ammunition headed for the Indian Army. PAF’s role during the Battle of Chawinda greatly helped to halt Indian invasion.
Pakistan Air Force achieved air-superiority right from the beginning of the war and destroyed majority of IAF aircrafts on the ground. It is evident that PAF’s better fighting skills and superior tactics enabled it to destroy enemy’s much superior aircrafts before they were able to become airborne. PAF won the 17-day air war during 1965 while destroying almost 120 IAF aircrafts with the loss of only 19 aircrafts. Decorated veteran of 1965 War, Air Commodore Sajjad Haider’s book “Flight of the Falcon” (2009) is a must read to understand PAF’s role.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.