Pakistan Air Force

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) (Urdu: پاک فِضائیہ‎—Pāk Fizāʾiyah, Urdu: [pɑːk fɪzɑːɪjəɦ] or alternatively Urdu: پاکستان ہوائی فوج‎, Reporting name: PAF) is the aerial warfare uniform service branch of the Pakistan Armed Forces, tasked primarily with the aerial defence of Pakistan, with a secondary role of providing air support to the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Navy. The PAF has a tertiary role of providing strategic air transport and logistics capability to Pakistan. As of 2017, per IISS, the PAF has 70,000 personnel.[5] It operates 755 aircraft.[6]

Pakistan Air Force
پاک فِضائیہ
Badge of the Pakistan Air Force.svg
Pakistan Air Force emblem
Founded14 August 1947; 72 years ago (1947-08-14)
CountryPakistan Pakistan
TypeAir Force
RoleAerial warfare:17[1]
Size70,000 active duty personnel:70[2]
8,000 Reserve personnel.:70[2]
128 civilian personnel[3]
Approx. ~871 aircraft
Part of Ministry of Defence
HeadquartersAir AHQ in Islamabad Pakistan
Motto(s)Persian: صحراست که دریاست ته بال و پر ماست‎, lit. 'Be deserts or rivers; all lie under my wings'[4][circular reference]
ColorsSky and Air Force Blue
AnniversariesAir Force Day: 7 September
Commander-in-Chief President Arif Alvi
Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan
Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Ahmer Shehzad
RoundelRoundel of Pakistan.svg
Fin flashFlag of Pakistan.svg
FlagAir Force Ensign of Pakistan.svg
Aircraft flown
AttackMirage 5, Mirage III, Burraq UAV, CH-4 UAV
2000 Erieye (AWACS), ZDK-03 (AWACS), Falcon DA-20 (EW)
FighterF-16A/B/AM/BM/C/D, JF-17A/B
HelicopterAW139, Bell 205, Bell 412, Mi-171, Bell AH-1 Cobra
ReconnaissanceMirage IIIRP, Jasoos I UAV, Jasoos II Bravo+ UAV, Shahpar UAV, Selex ES Falco
TrainerMFI-17 Mushshak, MFI-395 Super Mushshak, T-37, K-8P, FT-6, FT-7, F-16B/D, JF-17B
TransportC-130B/E/L-100, CN-235, Gulfstream IV, Phenom 100, Saab 2000, Harbin Y-12
TankerIlyushin Il-78

Its primary mandate and mission is "to provide, in synergy with other inter-services, the most efficient, assured and cost effective aerial Defence of Pakistan." Since its establishment in 1947, the PAF has been involved in various combat operations, providing aerial support to Inter–Services's operations and relief efforts.[7] Under the Article 243, the Constitution of Pakistan appoints the President of Pakistan as the civilian Commander-in-Chief. The Chief of Air Staff (CAS), by statute a four-star air officer Air Chief Marshal, is appointed by the President with the consultation and confirmation needed from the Prime Minister of Pakistan.[8] The Pakistan Air Force is currently commanded by Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan.[9]


1959 Indian aerial intrusion

On 10 April 1959, on the occasion of the Islamic Eid ul-Fitr festival holiday in Pakistan, an Indian Air Force (IAF) English Electric Canberra B(I)58 of No. 106 Squadron entered Pakistani airspace on a photo reconnaissance mission. Two PAF F-86F Sabres (Flt. Lt. M. N. Butt (leader) and Flt. Lt. M. Yunis) of No. 15 Squadron on Air Defence Alert (ADA) were scrambled from Sargodha Air Base to intercept the IAF aircraft. Butt attempted to bring down the Canberra by firing his Sabre's machine guns, but the Canberra was flying at an altitude of more than 50,000 feet – beyond the operational ceiling of the F-86F. When Yunis took over from his leader, the Canberra suddenly lost height while executing a turn over Rawalpindi. Yunis fired a burst that struck the Canberra at an altitude of 47,500 feet and brought it down over Rawat, near Rawalpindi, marking the first aerial victory of the PAF. Both crew members of the IAF Canberra, ejected and were captured by Pakistani authorities and were subsequently released after remaining in detention for some time.[10]

1965 India–Pakistan War

The PAF fleet at the time consisted of 12 F-104 Starfighters, some 120 F-86 Sabres and around 20 B-57 Canberra bombers.[11] The PAF though was smaller in size than their counterpart Indian Air Force, still had air superiority during the war due to their well trained Pilots. Pakistani Pilot Muhammad Mahmood Alam made a world record of shooting down 5 Indian Jets in a dog fight in a minute. He was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat ("The star of courage") [12] Many publications have credited the PAF's successes to U.S. equipment, claiming it to be superior to the aircraft operated by the IAF and giving the PAF a "qualitative advantage". However some Pakistanis refute this argument. As per them, the IAF's MiG-21, Hawker Hunter and Folland Gnat aircraft had better performance than the PAF's F-86 fighters.[13] According to Air Cdre (retired) Sajad Haider, the F-86 Sabre was inferior in both power and speed to the IAF's Hawker Hunter yet PAF managed to outperform them due to their skilled pilots.[13][14][15][16]

On September 6, Eight F-86Fs of PAF No 19 Squadron struck IAF Pathankot airfield. With carefully positioned dives, the strike elements completed a textbook operation against Pathankot. Wing Commander M G Tawab, flying one of the two Sabres as tied escorts overhead, counted 14 wrecks burning on the airfield. Most of the aircraft destroyed on the ground were the IAF's Soviet-supplied Mig-21s received till then. None of them was seen again during the War. The Attack Team consisted of Squadron Leader Sajjad Haider led the strike elements in this formation, Along with him were Flight Lieutenants M Akbar, Mazhar Abbas, Dilawar Hussain, Ghani Akbar and Flying Officers Arshad Chaudhry, Khalid Latif and Abbas Khattak (later Air Chief Marshal and CAS, PAF).[17]

According to Indian sources most aircraft losses of IAF were on ground while PAF lost most in aerial combat.[18] Even though the IAF flew a larger offensive air campaign by devoting 40% of its air effort to offensive air support alone, according to Indian sources the majority of its losses came from aircraft destroyed on the ground through PAF air strikes. PAF conducted many operations inside Indian territory and were successful in destroying many IAF jets.[19]

The two countries have made contradictory claims of combat losses during the war and few neutral sources have verified the claims of either country. The PAF claimed it shot down 110 IAF planes and lost 16 of its own, while the IAF claimed it shot down 43 PAF planes and lost 89. During the last days of the war many Pakistani aircraft flew over Indian cities and airbases without any major response from the opposing side outperforming a four times larger foe. [20]

1971 India–Pakistan War

PAF B-57 Canberra bombers lined up at an airbase.

By late 1971, the intensification of the independence movement in erstwhile East Pakistan lead to the Bangladesh Liberation War between India and Pakistan .[21] On 22 November 1971, 10 days before the start of a full-scale war, four PAF F-86 Sabre jets attacked Indian and Mukti Bahini positions at Garibpur, near the international border. Two of the four PAF Sabres were shot down and one damaged by the IAF's Folland Gnats.[22] On 3 December, India formally declared war against Pakistan following massive preemptive strikes by the PAF against Indian Air Force installations in Srinagar, Ambala, Sirsa, Halwara and Jodhpur. However, the IAF did not suffer significantly because the leadership had anticipated such a move and precautions were taken.[23] The Indian Air Force was quick to respond to Pakistani air strikes, following which the PAF carried out mostly defensive sorties.[24]

Hostilities officially ended at 14:30 GMT on 17 December, after the fall of Dacca on 15 December. The PAF flew about 2,840 sorties and destroyed 45 IAF aircraft while Pakistan lost 75 aircraft.[25]

1979–1988 Soviet–Afghan War

In 1979, the PAF's Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Anwar Shamim, was told by then President, and Chief of Army Staff General Zia-ul-Haq, that Pakistan had reliable intels on Indian plans to attack and destroy the Pakistan's nuclear research facilities at Kahuta. ACM Shamim told General Zia that, "Indian aircraft could reach the area in 3 minutes whereas the PAF would take 8 minutes, allowing the Indians to attack the facility and return before the PAF could defend it". Because Kahuta was close to the Indian border it was decided that the best way to deter an Indian attack would be to procure new advanced fighters and weaponry. These could be used to mount a retaliatory attack on India's nuclear research facilities at Trombay in the event of an Indian attack on Kahuta. It was decided the most suitable aircraft would be the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which the United States eventually agreed to supply after the PAF refused to purchase the F-5E and F-5G. In 1983, when the first batch of F-16s reached Pakistan, ACM Shamim informed Zia of the PAF's capability to respond to an attack on the nuclear research facilities at Kahuta.[26][27]

Rising tensions with neighboring USSR in their involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistani intelligence community, mostly the ISI, systematically coordinated the U.S. resources to the Afghan mujahideen and foreign fighters against the Soviet Union's presence in the region. Military reports indicated that the PAF was in engagement with the Soviet Air Force, supported by the Afghan Air Force during the course of the conflict;[28] one of which belonged to Alexander Rutskoy.[28]

A letter of agreement for up to 28 F-16A and 12 F-16B was signed December 1981. The contracts, Peace Gate I and Peace Gate II, were for 6 and 34 Block 15 models respectively which would be powered by the F100-PW-200 engine. The first Peace Gate I aircraft was accepted at Fort Worth in October 1982. Two F-16A and four F-16B were delivered to Pakistan in 1983, the first F-16 arriving at PAF Base Sargodha (now known as PAF Base Mushaf) on 15 January 1983 flown by Squadron Leader Shahid Javed. The 34 remaining Peace Gate II aircraft were delivered between 1983 and 1987.[29][30]

Between May 1986 and November 1988,[31] PAF F-16s have shot down at least eight intruders from Afghanistan. The first three of these (one Su-22, one probable Su-22, and one An-26) were shot down by two pilots from No. 9 Squadron. Pilots of No. 14 Squadron destroyed the remaining five intruders (two Su-22s, two MiG-23s, and one Su-25).[32] Most of these kills were by the AIM-9 Sidewinder, but at least one (a Su-22) was destroyed by cannon fire. Flight Lieutenant Khalid Mahmoud is credited with three of these kills.[33][34]

The PAF is believed to have evaluated the Dassault Mirage 2000 in early 1981 and was planning to evaluate the F-16 Fighting Falcon afterwards.[35]


After the Pressler amendment was passed, the U.S. placed sanctions and an arms embargo on Pakistan on 6 October 1990 due to the country's continued nuclear weapons programme. All eleven Peace Gate III F-16s, along with 7 F-16A and 10 F-16B of the 60 Peace Gate IV F-16s, which had been built by the end of 1994 were embargoed and put into storage in the United States.[29][30]

Desperate for a new high-tech combat aircraft, between late 1990 and 1993 the PAF evaluated the European Panavia Tornado MRCA (multi-role combat aircraft) and rejected it. The Mirage 2000E and an offer from Poland for the supply of MiG-29 and Su-27 were also considered but nothing materialised. In 1992 the PAF again looked at the Mirage 2000, reviving a proposal from the early 1980s to procure around 20–40 aircraft, but again a sale did not occur because France did not want to sell a fully capable version due to political reasons. In August 1994 the PAF was offered the Saab JAS-39 Gripen by Sweden, but again the sale did not occur because 20% of the Gripen's components were from the U.S. and Pakistan was still under U.S. sanctions.[36]

In mid-1992 Pakistan was close to signing a contract for the supply of 40 Dassault Mirage 2000, equipped with Thomson-CSF RDM/7 radars, from France.[37]

In mid-1994 it was reported that the Russian manufacturers Sukhoi and Mikoyan were offering the Su-27 and MiG-29.[38] But Pakistan was later reported to be negotiating for supply of the Dassault Mirage 2000-5.[39] French and Russian teams visited Pakistan on 27 November 1994 and it was speculated that interest in the Russian aircraft was to pressure France into reducing the price of the Mirage 2000. Stated requirement was for up to 40 aircraft.[40]

War in Afghanistan 2001–present

Kunduz Airlift in which 5,000 Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Pakistani ISI and military personnel were evacuated by the Pakistani Air Force to bases in Northern Pakistan.[41][42]

2008 air alert

After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan Air Force was put on high alert. It deployed to all its wartime locations and started combat air patrols. The speed and intensity of the deployment and PAF's readiness took the Indian Army High Command by surprise and later reports suggest was the main factor in the Indian decision of not going for cross border raids inside Pakistan.[43][44] PAF was issued a Standing Order to launch an immediate counter-attack in case of an air attack from India, after a call from the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (the call later turned out to be a hoax).[43][44][45][46][47]

2011 Abbottabad Operation

An initial investigation report revealed that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) reported the movement of some half-a-dozen planes near the Jalalabad border at 11 pm before the US helicopters entered Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden. "One aircraft was identified as a US AWACS and the remaining five were recognised as F-18 jets of the US. These planes flew near the Pakistani border, but did not cross into the airspace of Pakistan,"[48]

On detection of intrusion, PAF jets on air defence alert were scrambled and the PAF immediately took adequate operational measures as per standard operating procedure. The PAF aircraft continued their presence in Abbottabad area until early morning and later returned to their air bases.[49]

However, the fact that so many non-stealth aircraft had entered Pakistani airspace, stayed for 3 hours to carry out a major operation, and that PAF jets only arrived at the location 24 minutes after the American helicopters had left made a senior PAF official term it "one of the most embarrassing" incidents in Pakistan's history.[50]

2001–present Counter-insurgency operations in northwest Pakistan

Pakistani air force Mirage III aircraft drops two 500-pound bombs during Falcon Air Meet 2010 at Azraq Royal Jordanian Air Base in Azraq, Jordan

The Pakistan Army faced several problems during its 2009 offensive against the Taliban in north-west Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis vacated the area when the offensive was announced and, eventually, over 2 million had to be accommodated in refugee camps. The offensive was to be completed as quickly as possible to allow the refugees to return to their homes but the army's fleet attack helicopters were not sufficient to provide adequate support to the infantry. The PAF was sent into action against the Taliban to make up for the lack of helicopter gunships. Because the PAF was trained and equipped to fight a conventional war, a new "counter-terrorist doctrine" had to be improvised.[51]

The PAF's Saffron Bandit 2009/2010 exercise focused on extensive training of combat personnel to undertake COIN operations. New equipment was inducted to improve the PAF's joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. A C-130 transport aircraft was indigenously modified for day/night ISR operations.[51][52]

Use of laser-guided bombs was increased to 80% of munitions used, as compared to 40% in the previous 2008 Bajaur campaign. A small corps of ground spotters were trained and used by the PAF, in addition to PA spotters, to identify high-value targets.[53]

Prior to the PA's offensive into South Waziristan the PAF attacked militant infrastructure with 500 lb and 2000 lb bombs.[53]

A number of civilian deaths occurred during PAF air strikes on 10 April 2010 in the Khyber tribal region. According to a Pakistani military source, the first bombing was targeted at a gathering of militants in a compound. Local people, who had quickly moved onto the scene to recover the dead and wounded, were then killed during a second air strike. There was no confirmed death toll but at least 30 civilian deaths had occurred according to the military source, whereas a local official stated at least 73 locals, including women and children, were killed.[54] A six-member committee of tribal elders from the area, tasked with finding the exact number of civilian casualties, reported that 61 civilians were killed and 21 wounded. This was not confirmed by military or political leaders but Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, gave a public apology on 17 April.[55][56] It is reported that BBC news and several other media correspondences were not allowed to take interviews from injured which makes the whole episode more mysterious.[57]

2019 India–Pakistan standoff

In the early morning hours of 26 February 2019, India conducted the first airstrike in the vicinity of the town of Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan,[58] several miles inside the province's boundary with Pakistan-administered Kashmir.[59] Pakistan's military, the first to announce the airstrike on the morning of 26 February, described the Indian planes as dropping their payload in an uninhabited wooded hilltop area near Balakot.[60]

On 27 February 2019, during the standoff between India and Pakistan, Pakistan launched a counter offensive by striking six Indian targets near Indian military installations. Indian Air Force jets were scrambled to intercept. During the dogfight Pakistan's JF-17s shot down one Indian MiG-21s and one Sukhoi Su-30MKI operating in airspace over the disputed region of Jammu Kashmir.[61][62] India claimed to have lost only one MiG-21 while shooting down a Pakistani F-16.[63] The Pakistani Government's public relations spokesman rejected India's statement, stating that Pakistan used no F-16s in the whole exercise.[64] Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was piloting the Indian MiG-21 Bison warplane, was taken prisoner by the Pakistan military before being returned on 1 March.[65] On 6 April, it was claimed by a US based agency, that the U.S. performed a count on the insistence of Pakistan and concluded that all Pakistan Air Force's F-16s were accounted for and none of them were missing.



  • Air Force Strategic Command (AFSC), Islamabad
  • Northern Air Command (NAC), Peshawar
  • Central Air Command (CAC), Lahore
  • Southern Air Command (SAC), Karachi
  • Air Defence Command (ADC), Rawalpindi


The PAF has 27 air bases, comprising 14 flying bases and 13 non-flying bases. Flying bases are operational bases from which aircraft operate during peacetime and wartime; whereas non-flying bases conduct either training, administration, maintenance, Air Defense operations or mission support.[66]

Rank structure

Structure of the Commissioned officer rank of the Pakistan Air Force
OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) and student officer
Marshal of the Pakistan Air Force Air Chief Marshal Air Marshal Air Vice Marshal Air Commodore Group Captain Wing commander Squadron Leader Flight Lieutenant Flying Officer Pilot Officer Officer Cadet
Abbreviation MAF ACM AM AVM Air Cdre Gp Capt Wg Cdr Sqn Ldr Ft Lt F Off P Off
Pay grade O-11 O-10 O-9 O-8 O-7 O-6 O-5 O-4 O-3 O-2 O-1
Structure of the Enlisted rank of the Pakistan Air Force
OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
        No equivalent          
Chief Warrant Officer Warrant Officer Assistant Warrant Officer Senior Technician Corporal Technician Junior Technician Senior Aircraftsman Leading Aircraftsman Aircraftsman
Abbreviation CWO WO AWO Snr Tech Cpl Tech Jnr Tech SAC LAC AC
Pay grade OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-2 OR-1


List of Air Chiefs

  1. Air Vice Marshal Allan Perry-Keene (15 August 1947 – 17 February 1949)
  2. Air Vice Marshal Richard Atcherley (18 February 1949 – 6 May 1951)
  3. Air Vice Marshal Leslie William Cannon (7 May 1951 – 19 June 1955)
  4. Air Vice Marshal Arthur McDonald (20 June 1955 – 22 July 1957)
  5. Air Marshal Asghar Khan (23 July 1957 – 22 July 1965)
  6. Air Marshal Nur Khan (23 July 1965 – 31 August 1969)
  7. Air Marshal Abdul Rahim Khan (1 September 1969 – 2 March 1972)
  8. Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry (3 March 1972 – 15 April 1974)
  9. Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan (16 April 1974 – 22 July 1978)
  10. Air Chief Marshal Anwar Shamim (23 July 1978 – 5 March 1985)
  11. Air Chief Marshal Jamal A. Khan (6 March 1985 – 8 March 1988)
  12. Air Chief Marshal Hakimullah (9 March 1988 – 9 March 1991)
  13. Air Chief Marshal Farooq Feroze Khan (9 March 1991 – 8 November 1994)
  14. Air Chief Marshal Abbas Khattak (8 November 1994 – 7 November 1997)
  15. Air Chief Marshal Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi (7 November 1997 – 20 November 2000)
  16. Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir (20 November 2000 – 20 February 2003)
  17. Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat (18 March 2003 – 18 March 2006)
  18. Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed (18 March 2006 – 18 March 2009)
  19. Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman (19 March 2009 – 19 March 2012)
  20. Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt (19 March 2012 – 19 March 2015)
  21. Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman (19 March 2015 – 19 March 2018)[67]
  22. Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan (19 March 2018 - present)

Serving Air Marshals

Awards for valour

Air Commodore MM Alam "Little Dragon". Ace in a Day of the Pakistan Air Force

The Nishan-e-Haider (Urdu:نشان حیدر) (Order of Ali), is the highest military award given by Pakistan. Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas (1951 – 20 August 1971) is the only officer of the PAF to be awarded the Nishan-e-Haider for sacrificing his life to save an aircraft from being hijacked to India.[68] Other awards include:

Special Forces

Women in the PAF

Previously, women had been employed by Pakistan's armed forces in non-combat roles only, such as the medical corps,[77] and the PAF had remained all-male throughout its history.[78] However, since 2003 women have been allowed to enroll in the aerospace engineering and other programs of PAF Academy Risalpur, including fighter pilot training programmes.[77] It has been stated that standards are not compromised for women, those who do not achieve the same performance as their male counterparts are dropped from the course. A level of segregation between the genders is maintained. For example, early-morning parades are performed together but some parts of training, mainly physical exercises, are done with males and females separated. According to Squadron Leader Shazia Ahmed, the officer in charge of the first female cadets and a psychologist, this also improves confidence of the women.[78]

In 2005 it was reported that two batches in the Air Force Academy's flying wing contained 10 women, with many more in the engineering and aerospace wings. Cadet Saba Khan, from Quetta in Balochistan, applied after reading a newspaper advertisement seeking female cadets. She was one of the first four women to pass the first stages of flying training on propeller-driven light aircraft and move onto faster jet-powered training aircraft.[78]

In March 2006, the PAF inducted a batch of 34 fighter pilots which included the organisation's first four female fighter pilots. Three years of training had been completed by the pilots at PAF Academy Risalpur before they graduated and were awarded their Flying Badges during the ceremony. Certificates of honour were handed to the successful cadets by a "delighted" General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, vice chief of the Pakistan Army, who acknowledged that the PAF was the first of the Pakistan Armed Forces to introduce women to its combat units. One of the women, Flying Officer Nadia Gul, was awarded a trophy for best academic achievement. The other female graduates were Mariam Khalil, Saira Batool and the above-mentioned Saba Khan.[77] A second batch of pilots, including 3 female pilots, graduated from the 117th GD(P) course at PAF Academy Risalpur in September 2006. The Sword of Honour for best all-round performance was awarded to Aviation Cadet Saira Amin, the first female pilot to win the award. Aviation Cadet Saira Amin won the Asghar Hussain Trophy for best performance in academics.[79]

External video
  A news report on the PAF's first operationally qualified female fighter pilots.
  An interview with Ambreen Gul. (Urdu)

In September 2009 it was reported that seven women had qualified as operational fighter pilots on the Chengdu F-7, the first female combat pilots in the PAF's history, one of them being Ambreen Gull. Commanding Officer Tanvir Piracha emphasised that if the female pilots "are not good enough as per their male counterparts, we don't let them fly." It was noted that some of the female pilots wear the hijab while others do not.[80]

Religious minorities in the PAF

Religious minorities have served in the PAF with distinction since its inception: Air Vice Marshal Eric Gordon Hall was Base Commander of Chaklala Air Base during the 1965 Indo-Pak War; Air Commodore Nazir Latif; Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry fought in the 1965 Indo-Pak War and, later helped establish the Combat Commanders School (CCS); Wing Commander Melvin Leslie Middlecoat was Commanding Officer of No. 9 Squadron during the 1965 Indo-Pak War; Squadron Leader Peter Christy; Patrick Desmond Callaghan is another Christian officer who rose to the rank of Air Vice Marshal.[81] Wing Commander Ronald Felix is a test pilot on the JF-17 Thunder since 2010 and was one of two PAF pilots flying the JF-17 at the 2011 Izmir Air Show in Turkey.


Current inventory

A Chengdu JF-17 taking off from Zhuhai Jinwan Airport
A Pakistani F-16BM in flight
A Lockheed L-100 Hercules departing RIAT 2006
A Ilyushin Il-78 over Pisa International
A Pakistani Hongdu JL-8 trainer
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Mirage 5 France attack 5EF/F/PA 92[82] of which 2 5DPA2 variants provide training
Mirage III France interceptor IIIEP/OF/RP 87[82] of which 18 IIIBE/D/DP variants conversion provide training
Chengdu J-7 China fighter F-7PG 135[82]
JF-17 Thunder China / Pakistan multirole 107 3 on order[82]
F-16 Fighting Falcon United States multirole F-16A/C 76 [82] of which 31 B/D variants provide conversion training
Saab 2000 Sweden AEW&C 4[82] equipped with the Erieye radar
Shaanxi Y-8 China AEW&C ZDK-03 4[82]
Electronic Warfare
Falcon 20 France EW / radar jamming 2[82]
Ilyushin Il-78 Russia aerial refueling Il-78MP 4[82]
Saab 2000 Sweden transport 6[82]
Harbin Y-12 China transport 3[82]
CASA CN-235 Spain / Indonesia transport 3[82]
C-130 Hercules United States transport C-130B/E//L-100 16[82]
Bell 412 United States utility 1[82]
Bell UH-1 United States utility 5[82]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility Mi-17/171 6[82]
AH-1 Cobra United States attack AH-1F 1[82]
Aérospatiale SA330 France utility / transport 1[82]
Aérospatiale Alouette III France liaison / utility 10[82]
AgustaWestland AW139 Italy SAR / utility 12[82]
Trainer Aircraft
Super Mushshak Pakistan primary trainer 120[82]
Cessna T-37 United States jet trainer 30[82]
Hongdu JL-8 China jet trainer K-8 38[82]
Chengdu J-7 China conversion trainer FT-7 7[82]
Shenyang J-6 China jet trainer F-6 9[82] licensed built MiG-19
Aérospatiale Alouette III France rotorcraft trainer 8[82]
NESCOM Burraq Pakistan reconnaissance 12[83]
CASC Rainbow CH-4 China reconnaissance 4[84]
SATUMA Jasoos II Pakistan reconnaissance Bravo+ 45[85]
GIDS Shahpar Pakistan surveillance 5[86]
SELEX Galileo Falco Italy surveillance 25[87] co-manufacture at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex

Combat aircraft

PAF F-16s in 2010
  • General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon: The F-16 Fighting Falcon serves as the primary air superiority fighter of the PAF in addition to ground attack role. The PAF currently has 75 F-16 in active service, comprising 44 F-16AM/BM Block 15 MLU,[88][89][90] 13 F-16A/B ADF[91][92] and 18 F-16C/D Block 52+ variants.[93]
  • CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder: Developed with Chinese assistance and co-produced by PAC Kamra, the JF-17 was developed to replace Pakistan's aging fleets of A-5, F-7 and Mirage aircraft. 112 JF-17 are currently in active service with the PAF, comprising 50 Block I and 62 Block II variants.[94] A further 50 aircraft of the Block III model, incorporating advanced avionics systems, including a new AESA radar, are expected to be produced. In addition the PAF is also expected to order 26 of the two seat JF-17B variant.[95]
  • Dassault Mirage III: Having been in service since 1967, the Mirage III, together with the Mirage 5, serves as the primary strike aircraft of the PAF. The PAF operates more than 80 Mirage III aircraft, comprising multiple variants including the Mirage IIIEP, IIIEL and IIIO fighter-bomber variants, the latter of which have been upgraded under Project ROSE, the Mirage IIIRP reconnaissance variant and the Mirage IIIBE, IIID, IIIDL and IIIDP training variants, the latter of which have also been upgraded under Project ROSE.[96][97]
  • Dassault Mirage 5: The Mirage 5, together with the Mirage III, serves as the PAF's primary strike aircraft. The PAF operates around 90 Mirage 5 aircraft of multiple variants, including Mirage 5PA, PA2, PA3 and 5F ground attack aircraft, the latter of which have been upgraded under Project ROSE, the Mirage 5DR reconnaissance variant and the Mirage 5DD and DPA2 training variants.[96][97]
  • Chengdu F-7: The Chengdu F-7 serves primarily as an interceptor in the PAF. Around 140 aircraft are in service.[98] The PAF has phased out most of its F-7P aircraft from active service, with the remaining aircraft set to be replaced by the JF-17 Thunder in the coming years. The F-7PG variant remains in active service. The PAF also operates the two seat FT-7P and FT-7PG variants as operational conversion trainers.

Special mission aircraft


The PAF has been operating the Saab 2000, using the Erieye radar as its primary AEW&C platform since 2009. Out of the original four Saab 2000 in service, one was destroyed and two were damaged in an attack on PAF Base Minhas on 16 August 2012, the damaged aircraft were later repaired and put back into service. The PAF had ordered three more Erieye AEW&C from Saab with the first due to be delivered in 2017.[99] 4 ZDK-03, locally designated Karakoram Eagle, are also in service. These incorporate a Chinese AESA radar mounted on a Y-8F-600 airframe.[100]

The PAF operates 3 modified Dassault Falcon 20 aircraft in the electronic-warfare role.

Transport aircraft

The C-130 Hercules has served as the backbone of the PAF's transport fleet since its induction in 1962. 15 aircraft comprising 5 C-130B, 9 C-130E and 1 L-100 are currently in service. PAF C-130s have been upgraded with Allison T56-A-15 turboprops and extended fatigue lives.[101][102] The PAF operates 3 Indonesian-built CN-235-220 STOL transports as medium transport, in addition to 1 aircraft equipped for VIP transport operations. 3 Harbin Y-12 are operated as light utility aircraft by the PAF. A number of Saab 2000 are operated, both as VIP transports and as trainers for the Erieye aircraft. The PAF operates a number of aircraft for transporting VIPs, including the Prime Minister of Pakistan. These include 2 Gulfstream IV-SP, 4 Embraer Phenom 100[103] and 1 Cessna Citation Excel.

PAF Il-78 aircraft
External video
  A pair of Mirage III fighters are refuelled in the air by the PAF's Il-78 tanker during exercise High Mark 2010.[104]
PAF Super Mushshak Trainer

Aerial refuelling aircraft

The PAF operates 4 Il-78MP equipped with UPAZ refueling pods, procured from Ukraine, as aerial refueling tankers.The Il-78 can also be used as transports by removing fuel tanks from the cargo hold.[105]

Trainer aircraft

The PAC Mushshak serves as the PAF's basic trainer. The PAF operates 120 Mushshak aircraft, including the improved Super Mushshak variant. The PAF has operated the T-37 as a basic jet trainer since 1962, these have been supplemented over the years with additional aircraft from Turkey and the USA.[106] The K-8 is operated as an intermediate trainer, before cadets move on to conversion trainers. The K-8 is also operated by the PAF's aerobatics display team, the Sherdils. A small number of FT-6 remain in service as jet trainers.


The Alouette III served as the PAF's primary search and rescue platform since the 1960s, also serving as a liaison aircraft. Beginning in 2018, the PAF started inducting the AW139 to replace the venerable Alouette. The first AW139 unit became operational in March 2018.[107][108] The PAF also operates the Mi-171 in the CSAR role.[108]

Air defence systems

Crotale is expected to be replaced by Spada 2000.[109]

  • MBDA Spada 2000 – A low to medium altitude air defence system consisting of a radar with 60 km range and four 6-cell missile launchers. The Aspide 2000 missile can intercept enemy missiles and aircraft at a range of over 20 km. A contract for 10 batteries was signed after Spada 2000 was selected over competing systems from Raytheon, Diehl BGT and Saab AB and pre-contract firing tests in Pakistan, which were assisted by the Italian Air Force.[110] Latest reports state Pakistan is to test the Spada 2000 air defence system in July 2010, followed by deliveries of first of ten batteries. Deliveries of all 10 batteries are reported to be completed by 2013 with further orders possible.[111] Pakistan test fired the new SPADA 2000 Plus air defence missile system in July 2010. The missile system was tested by the Range & Instrumentation Division of SUPARCO (National Space Agency). Three drone planes were successfully intercepted and shot down by the SPADA 2000 Plus Missile System.
  • HQ-2 – Chinese version of SA-2 Guideline high altitude air defence system, 12 or more batteries procured circa 1970s.[citation needed]
  • HQ-9 – In October 2003 it was reported that China had closed a deal with Pakistan to supply an unspecified number of FT-2000 systems, an anti-radiation variant of the HQ-9 long range air defence system,[112] although in March 2009 a report was published stating that Pakistan was not considering importing the missile.[113] It was reported in mid-2008 that Pakistan intended to purchase a high altitude air defence and missile defence system and the FD-2000, another variant of HQ-9, was expected to be chosen.[109][114]
  • AML HE 60-20: Recently sighted at PAF Base Nur Khan. Modified Panhard armoured car with a 20mm anti-aircraft cannon. Used for on-base security.[115] At least 5 were originally in service.[116][117]

Drone technology

On 7 September 2015, Pakistan became the ninth nation to develop and use an armed unmanned combat aerial vehicle (drone) named Burraq. Pakistan first started exploring the drone technology when it acquired Falco drones from Selex Galileo of Italy for $40 million in 2008. Since then Pakistan have been developing Falco in Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in collaboration with the Italian firm. The Burraq was developed which was based on the same Falco technology. By March 2015, Pakistan was able to test-fire Burraq armed with an air-to-surface missile named Barq with pin-point precision. Burraq were used majorly during the Operation Zarb-e-Azb.[118]

Modernisation and acquisitions

The first F-16D Block 52 fighter of PAF, rolled out on 13 October 2009, undergoing flight testing in the U.S. prior to delivery.
PAF ZDK-03 AEW&C in flight

The modernisation stall ended in April 2006 when the Pakistani cabinet approved the PAF's proposals to procure new aircraft and systems from several sources, including modern combat aircraft from the U.S. and China. The AFFDP 2019 (Armed Forces Development Programme 2019) would oversee the modernisation of the Pakistan Air Force from 2006 to 2019.[119]

The Bush administration on 24 July 2008 informed the US Congress it plans to shift nearly $230 million of $300 million in aid from counterterrorism programs to upgrading Pakistan's ageing F-16s.[120] The Bush administration previously announced on 27 June 2008 it was proposing to sell Pakistan ITT Corporation's electronic warfare gear valued at up to $75 million to enhance Islamabad's existing F-16s.[121] Pakistan has asked about buying as many as 21 AN/ALQ-211(V)9 Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suite pods, or AIDEWS, and related equipment.[122] The proposed sale will ensure that the existing fleet is "compatible" with new F-16 Block 50/52 fighters being purchased by Islamabad.

After 9/11 the U.S. and Pakistan began discussing the release of the embargoed F-16s and a purchase of new aircraft. Of the 28 F-16A/B built under the Peace Gate III/IV contracts and embargoed in 1990, 14 delivered as EDA (Excess Defense Articles) from 2005 to 2008.,[123] two of which were delivered on 10 July 2007.[124]

Between 2005 and 2008, 14 F-16A/B Block 15 OCU fighters were delivered to the PAF under renewed post-9/11 ties between the U.S. and Pakistan. These had originally been built for Pakistan under the Peace Gate III/IV contracts but were never delivered due to the U.S. arms embargo imposed in 1990.[125]

To upgrade the F-16A/B fleet, 32 Falcon STAR kits were purchased for the original Peace Gate I aircraft and 35 Mid-Life Update (MLU) kits were ordered, with 11 more MLU kits optional, in . 4 F-16A/B being upgraded in the U.S. to F-16AM/BM, delivery expected December 2011.[123] F-16A/B in PAF service to be upgraded starting October 2010 by Turkish Aerospace Industries, 1 per month.[126][127]

The Peace Drive I contract for 12 F-16C and 6 F-16D Block 52+ (Advanced Block 52) aircraft, powered by F100-PW-229 engines was signed on 30 September 2006.[128][129] The first F-16 to be completed, an F-16D, was rolled out on 13 October 2009 and began flight testing.[130][131][132][133][134] The first batch of F-16C/D Block 52+, two F-16D and one F-16C, landed at PAF Base Shahbaz, Jacobabad, on 26 June 2010[135][136] and one more F-16C was received by 5 July 2010.[137]

On 13 December 2008, the Government of Pakistan stated that two Indian Air Force aircraft were intercepted by the PAF kilometres within Pakistani airspace. This charge was denied by the Indian government.[138]

During talks with a delegation from the French Senate on Monday 28 September 2009, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani stated that the PAF had used most of its stockpile of laser-guided munitions against militants in the Malakand and FATA regions and that replacements for such types of equipment were urgently required.[139]

December 2009 saw the delivery of the PAF's first Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C from Sweden and Il-78MP Midas aerial refuelling tanker/military transport aircraft from Ukraine.[140][141][142]

The PAF is reported to be considering purchasing the Hongdu L-15 advanced jet trainer to train pilots for high-tech fighters such as the FC-20. Extensive evaluations of the aircraft took place in Pakistan during December 2009.[143][144]

On 26 June 2010 the first batch of 3 F-16C/D Block 52+ fighters were delivered to PAF Base Shahbaz, Jacobabad.[145] According to Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman (the then Chief of Air Staff) the new fighters would eliminate the PAF's limitations in precision night-time strike operations,[146] the existing capability being based on around 34 Dassault Mirage 5 fighters upgraded with new avionics for night-time precision strike missions under the Retrofit of Strike Element (ROSE) programme during 1999–2004.[147][148][149] SABIR (Special Airborne Mission Installation & Response System) which is a FLIR System that has Brite Star II and Star Safire III EO/IR sensors installed on the one C130. (this a 'bolt on system' and is installed in place of the parachute door) This system was extensively used during operation in FATA.

Planned acquisitions

Mass production of PAC JF-17 Thunder A Block-3 a 4.5 generation Aircraft is about to start to replace all the vintage Aircraft, after every 3–5 years newer blocks of the aircraft will be produced by the plug and play approach. There are two possible options for a 5th generation fighter plateform for Pakistan Air force, the Shenyang FC-31 or J-31 and TAI TF-X Which are under development .

Project Azm

On 7 July 2017 the Pakistan Air Force announced the development of a fifth-generation fighter, a medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (MALE UAV) and munitions under the banner of Project Azm (resolve or determination).[150][151][152][153][154] Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman stated that the design phase for the MALE UAV was in its final stages.[150][154]


A PAF Mirage III of No. 7 Bandits Squadron alongside a US Navy F-18 and F-16s of the USAF and RJAF

The PAF sent a contingent of six F-16A/B fighters to the international Anatolian Eagle 2004 exercise in Turkey.[155][156]

After around one year of planning, in 2005 the PAF launched the High Mark 2005 exercise which lasted for one month and also involved the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Navy. The scenario saw two opposing forces, Blueland and Foxland, engaging in simulated combat involving both offensive and defensive operations. It was stated that the exercise would have 3 stages and PAF aircraft would fly 8200 sorties. Involvement of army and navy units was aimed at providing more realistic operational scenarios. High Mark 2005 followed the Tempest-1 exercise which was focused purely on air power but differed in terms of duration, intensity and complexity of air operations.[157]

A contingent of six F-16A/B fighters was sent to Turkey's international Anatolian Eagle 2006 exercise. In 2008 the Turkish Air Force sent five F-16C/D fighters and 50 personnel of 191 Kobras Filo (191 Cobras Squadron) to Pakistan to take part in the joint Operation Indus Viper 2008 exercise at PAF Base Mushaf (Sargodha).[156]

In the summer of 2005 a PAF team of 20 airmen, including pilots, navigators, engineers, maintenance technicians and a C-130E was sent to the U.S. to take part in the AMC (Air Mobility Command) Rodeo.[158] The PAF later took part in the July 2007 AMC Rodeo.[159][160]

In 2009, while undertaking combat operations against militants in FATA and Swat, the PAF initiated the Saffron Bandit exercise with the aim of training the PAF's entire combat force to undertake such anti-terrorist operations.[161][162]

In December 2009 the PAF sent six Chengdu F-7PG fighters, of No. 31 Wing based at PAF Base Samungli, to the United Arab Emirates to take part in the Air Tactics Leadership Course (ATLC), also known as Exercise Iron Falcon, at Al Dhafra Air Base.[163][164][165]

The PAF's High Mark 2010 exercise was launched on 15 March 2010, the first time a High Mark exercise had been conducted since 2005, after all PAF received their Air Tasking Orders (ATO). The country-wide exercise involved units based all over Pakistan, from Skardu to the Arabian Sea, at all Main Operating Bases and Forward Operating Bases. Joint operations involving the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Navy were also conducted, aiming to test and improve integration and co-operation between the three arms. Operations emphasised a near-realistic simulation of the war-time environment, exposure of PAF aircrews to contemporary concepts of air combat, new employment concepts and joint operations between air force, army and navy. New inductions such as the JF-17 Thunder fighter, Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C and Il-78 Multi-Role Tanker Transports also took part.[166] On 6 April 2010 the end of the first phase of exercise High Mark 2010 was celebrated with a firepower demonstration at the PAF's firing range facility in the deserts of Thal. The 90-minute demo involved the new JF-17 Thunder fighter, Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C and Il-78 MRTT aircraft. The H-2 SOW (Stand-Off Weapon) was also shown to the public for the first time, being launched from around 60 km away before hitting its target, and a mock counter-insurgency operation was performed by troops. The demo heralded the beginning of High Mark 2010s second phase where the PAF would practice joint operations with the Pakistan Army during the army's exercise Azm-e-Nau-3 (New Resolve 3).[167] During High Mark 2010 a Chengdu F-7 and Mirage 5 fighter (flown by Squadron Leader Nasir Mehmood and Wing Commander Atta ur Rehman respectively) practised landing, refuelling and take-off operations from a Pakistani motorway. It was reported that the PAF is in negotiations with the Ministry of Communications to set up all required facilities for Air Force operations on the motorways and highways of Pakistan.[168][169]

A PAF F-16 is refuelled in-flight by a USAF KC-135 tanker during Red Flag 2010.
A PAF Mirage III competes in the Alert Scramble Competition during Falcon Air Meet 2010 in Jordan.

In July 2010 the PAF sent six F-16B fighters of No. 9 Griffins Squadron and 100 PAF personnel to Nellis Air Force Base in the U.S. to participate in the international Red Flag exercise for the first time. During the exercise the PAF pilots practised in-flight refuelling of their F-16s with the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker.[170][171][172][173][174]

External video
  Mirage III ROSE fighters of the PAF's No. 7 Bandits Squadron take part in the Falcon Air Meet 2010 exercise.

In October 2010 the PAF's No. 7 Bandits Squadron sent a team of its Dassault Mirage III ROSE fighters to Jordan to participate in the Falcon Air Meet 2010 exercise at Azraq Royal Jordanian Air Base.[175][176] January 2011 saw a PAF contingent of F-16A/B and Dassault Mirage fighters take part in the Al-Saqoor II exercise in Saudi Arabia with the Royal Saudi Air Force.[177][178][179]

In March 2011 a joint Sino-Pakistani exercise, Shaheen 1, was conducted involving a contingent of Chinese aircraft and personnel from the PLAAF.[180] Information on which aircraft were used by each side in the exercise was not released, but photos of Pakistani pilots inspecting what appeared to be Chinese Shenyang J-11B fighters were released on the internet. The exercise lasted for around 4 weeks and was the first time the PLAAF had deployed to and conducted "operational" aerial manoeuvres in Pakistan with the PAF.[181]

Involvement in Pakistani society

Pakistan Air Force airmen are participating in relief operations

The Pakistan Air Force has played an integral part in the civil society of Pakistan, almost since its inception.[182] In 1996, General Jehangir Karamat described Pakistan armed forces' relations with the society:

In my opinion, if we have to repeat of past events then we must understand that Military leaders can pressure only up to a point. Beyond that their own position starts getting undermined because the military is after all is a mirror image of the civil society from which it is drawn.

— General Jehangir Karamat on civil society–military relations, [182]

In times of natural disaster, such as the great floods of 1992 or the October 2005 devastating earthquake, air force engineers, medical and logistics personnel, and the armed forces played a major role in bringing relief and supplies.[183]

The Pakistan Air Force has been involved in relief activities not only in Pakistan but also in many other countries of the world, such as the relief activities after Bangladesh was hit by floods.[183] The Air Force also dispatched relief to Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka after they were hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the resulting tsunami. The Pakistan Army, Air Force, and Navy sent ships and helicopters to assist in the tsunami relief operation.[183]

In popular Pakistani culture

In Pakistani literature, the shaheen has a special association with the poetry of the country's national poet, Allama Muhammad Iqbal.[184] It also appears on the official seal of the Pakistan Air Force logo.

The Urdu drama serials on PAF have been written, produced, directed, and televised in the television. The highly acclaimed Urdu drama serials Shahpar ran on PTV and Sherdil were televised on ARY Digital.[185]

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