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The Counter-MMRCA Strategy OF Pakistan Air Force

Indian Air Force (IAF) has finalised the long awaited deal of 126 Medium
Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) with Dassault, a leading aviation
industry of France. Dassault will deliver 126 Rafale MMRCA to India in
the next decade. The first batch of 18 aircrafts will be delivered from
France. The remaining aircraft will be built in India. The $11bn (£7bn)
contract is the biggest ever procurement made by the IAF. The Rafale
Multirole fighter/bomber aircraft can participate in air, ground and sea
operations in both short and medium ranges. In an additional
multi-billion weapons package for these 126 aircraft, India will buy
air-to-air and air-to-ground Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) and Joint
Stand Off Weapons (JSOW). With a top speed of Mach 1.8, service ceiling
of 50,000 feet and a range of 3,700km, it is no doubt a potent weapon
for IAF and a threat to both China and Pakistan.

India took around five years to decide the best bidder as a mainstay
aircraft for its air force. During these years, IAF conducted flight
trial of Mig-35, F-16, F-18, JAS-39, Eurofighter and Rafale on different
locations in India. The purpose was to look out for the lowest bidder
and the most favourable combat aircraft, which will replace the aging
Mig-21 fleet. As India moved forward in search for MMRCA platform,
Pakistan aimed to counter India’s plans by reassessing its military
doctrines of airpower and assessed the shortcomings.

India’s conventional arms build-up threatens Pakistan. The MMRCA deal is
especially threatening for Pakistan because it augments India’s air
power and worsens the conventional arms asymmetry between the two
arch-rivals. To counter India’s increasing air power, PAF has followed a
multi-pronged strategy which involves: replacing aging fleet of fighter
aircraft; modernizing its existing fleet; procurement of force
multipliers like Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) systems
and Multirole Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft; induction of F-16C/D
Block52 aircraft; and, rapid indigenous production of JF-17 Thunder. The
procurement of FC-20/J-10B Multirole combat aircraft from China is a
long term solution to IAF’s increasing airpower. Meanwhile, PAF is also
enhancing skills of its pilots and aircrew by regularly participating in
national and multinational exercises.

A decade ago, when India initiated the MMRCA project, PAF operated
250-300 combat aircraft including Chinese Origin A-5 for ground support,
F-7P/PG for air superiority role, French built Mirages for surface
attack/naval support and night strike role and F-16 A/B tasked with
multirole operations. The Cold War era airframes, A-5, F-7 and Mirage
fleet were reaching the end of their service, albeit they were
overhauled at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Kamra. The immediate
solution at that time was to invest in the JF-17 Thunder project. JF-17
is believed to be the replacement of A-5, F-7 and Mirage fleet of PAF.
Thus far, the situation was such that India was looking out to the skies
while Pakistan was facing problems even in maintaining operational
readiness of its air force.

JF-17 Thunder is one of the key solutions of PAF’s problems as it
provides superb air-to-air and air-to-ground weapon carrying capability
at an affordable cost. Pakistan has plans to induct 150 JF-17 Thunder
till 2020. The first batch of 50 JF-17s named as Block-I will finish
delivery by mid-2012. Block-II of 50 JF-17s with better avionics and
aerial refuelling probe will be delivered till 2016. The third batch of
50 JF-17s with state-of-the-art avionics, electronic warfare and a wide
array of weaponry will be delivered till 2020. The first two batches of
JF-17 were meant to be well-timed and well-equipped replacement aircraft
for A-5, F-7P and Mirage fleet. The third batch will include the Joint
Standoff Weapon (JSOW) capability, Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM)
capability, Infra-Red Search & Track (IRST) capability and more use
of composites to reduce the radar echo. No doubt, the third batch of
JF-17 will be a punch to the enemy!

Pakistan also opted for acquisition of four Saab-2000 AEW&C systems
from Sweden in 2007 and procurement of four IL-78 MRTT aircraft from
Ukraine. Both of these projects were scheduled to finish in late
2011/early 2012. The need of an AEW&C was strongly felt by PAF ever
since Kargil War in 1999. Such aircraft are a necessary requirement in
any modern day air power campaign. Presence of an AEW&C system
increases the situational awareness of the fighter and bomber aircraft
and yields better results in any campaign. The procurement of IL-78 MRTT
aircraft was to the allow Mirage and JF-17 to carry out deep strike
missions inside the enemy territory and increase loiter time of these
aircraft during Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions. Furthermore, it
enhances the strategic airlift capability of PAF. IL-78 strategic tanker
and transport aircraft can also be used to carry large amount of fuel,
ration and equipment to remote military bases.

PAF also modernized its air defence structure by acquisition of TPS-77
High Level Radar from U.S. It enhanced its Intelligence, Surveillance
and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities with purchase of Falco Unmanned
Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from Italy. It improved its F-16 fleet with
purchase of 14 F-16A/B Block-15 aircraft as Excess Defence Article (EDA)
from U.S. The Command, Control, Computers, Communication and
Intelligence (C4I) Systems were also enhanced by upgrading the air force
bases inter-communication network.

PAF also placed an order for acquisition of 18 F-16 C/D Block52 aircraft
from Lockheed Martin worth $1.5 billion and $650 Million worth
air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. The quantum leap achieved in this
deal was the purchase of 500 AIM-120C5 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air
Missiles (AMRAAM) and 200 AIM-9M Sidewinder Short-Range Air-to-Air
Missiles (SRAAM), which was necessary to maintain the air superiority.
This was the first time that PAF has been given the opportunity to
purchase AIM-120 Beyond Visual Range (BVR) weapons. In a separate $1.5
billion worth contract, PAF placed an order for up-gradation of 45 F-16
A/B fleet to Mid Life Upgrade (MLU) standard. This contract meant
extension of service life of these aircraft for another two decades. The
first batch of these MLU F-16s will be handed over to PAF in early
February 2012.

During the past five year period PAF has participated in various
multinational exercises to assess the training standards and skills of
Pakistani pilots and crew. Table 1 shows the name, location and year of
these exercises:

Exercises Location Year
Anatolian Eagle Turkey 2006, 2007, 2008,2009, 2009
Advance Tactical Leadership Course UAE 2006 and 2011
Al-Saqoor Saudi Arabia 2006 and 2011
Brightstar Egypt 2009
Iron Eagle UAE 2009
Falcon Air Meet Jordan 2010
Red Flag United States 2010-4
Green Flag United States 2010-9
Indus Viper Pakistan 2008
Falcon Talon Pakistan 2005 and 2009
Saffron Bandit Pakistan 2009
High Mark Pakistan 2005 and 2010
Shaheen-I Pakistan 2011

Table 1: Exercises in which PAF participated since 2005.

In all these exercises PAF pilots have flown with the world’s highly
advanced combat aircraft which include USAF’s F-15 & F-22, French
Air Force’s Rafale, Italian Air Force’s Eurofighter-2000, UAEAF F-16
Block60 and Mirage-2000-9, RSAF F-15C, PLAAF Su-27SK and various blocks
of F-16 from TUAF, RJAF and USAF. Apart from interaction with military
aviation professionals, these exercises gave PAF the opportunity to
learn from the experience of other fighting forces.

Exercise High Mark is the biggest national exercise conducted every five
years to assess the operational readiness of PAF. In High Mark 2010,
PAF not only demonstrated its network-centric capabilities but also
conducted Beyond Visual Range (BVR) and Within Visual Range (WVR) air
combat missions, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR),
close support, air-to-air refuelling and strategic airlift missions.

In late 2010, Pakistan acquired Electronic Warfare Tactical Training
Range (EWTTR) from Turkey. This range located 31 miles (50kms) from
Mushaf Airbase, Sargodha was made operational in early 2011. It has been
used to monitor various fighter squadrons competing against each other
in a simulated electronic warfare combat. This range provides much
electronic warfare combat, anti-radar and radar-avoiding techniques to
the pilots. Another range named Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation
(ACMI) is also present at Sargodha, where pilots learn the lessons of
modern day air combat and fly against aggressor units of Combat
Commanders School (CCS). Both of these ranges complement each other by
providing simulated air combat and electronic warfare training platform
to pilots.

While the prices of fighter aircraft and necessary equipment from the
West were going sky high, the only solution for PAF was to hold the
Chinese helping hand. After analysing JS-39 Gripen, Rafale and
Eurofighter, PAF decided to pick the Chinese card by going for J-10
Vanguard Multirole aircraft. The initial plan was to buy 36 J-10A and
equip fighter squadrons as early as possible. As India delayed the
results of MMRCA, PAF had no choice but to allow its adversary to decide
first. During these years, Chengdu developed much proficient version of
J-10 named J-10B. J-10B (named FC-20 for PAF) will provide deep strike
capability, greater range and air combat capabilities to PAF. The
aircraft will be equipped with IRST, modern day BVRs, Precision Guided
Munitions (PGM), Anti-Shipping Missile (ASM) and Anti-Radar Missiles
(ARM). Induction of up to 50 FC-20 will complement the JF-17, F-7PG,
F-16 MLU and F-16 Block52 fleet. The deployment of IL-78 Airborne Aerial
Refuelling (AAR) platform will enhance range and strike radius of both
JF-17 and FC-20 aircraft.

The counter MMRCA strategy of PAF also includes up-gradation of network
centric capabilities by the procurement of ZDK-03 and Saab-2000
AEW&C systems. One out of four ZDK-03 is already delivered to PAF
while the other will be received in mid-2012. Three out of four
Saab-2000 AEW&C are in service with PAF, the fourth and the last one
will be received this year. These two types of AWACS will provide
strategic edge to both Western and Chinese origin aircraft in PAF’s

Rafale will be the mainstay of IAF in future. To deny the Indian air
superiority in the region, PAF has to remain vigilant and continue with
its diligent efforts for impregnable defence of the country.

Looking at the aforementioned procurement and squadrons re-equipment
plans it is evident that PAF has invested great time and effort in
implementing the counter-MMRCA strategy. This will make an efficient and
hard hitting air force…an air force that will augment the defence of
Pakistan and make PAF second to none among the world’s best fighting