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.
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. The PAF claims to have had complete air superiority over the battle area from the second day of operations. While, Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh of the Indian Air Force claimed, despite been qualitative inferior, IAF achieved air superiority in three days in the 1965 War.
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. According to Air Cdre (retired) Sajad Haider, the F-86 Sabre was inferior in both power and speed to the IAF's Hawker Hunter.
According to Air Commodore (retired) Sajjad Haider who flew with No. 19 squadron, the F-104 Starfighter did not deserve its reputation as "the pride of the PAF" because it "was unsuited to the tactical environment of the region. It was a high-level interceptor designed to neutralize Soviet strategic bombers in altitudes above 40,000 feet." Nevertheless, the IAF is believed to have feared the Starfighter although, it was not as effective as the IAF's Folland Gnat. According to Indian sources, the F-86F performed reasonably well against the IAF Hawker Hunters but not as well against the Folland Gnat, which was nicknamed Sabre Slayer by the IAF.
According to Indian sources most aircraft losses of IAF were on ground while PAF lost most in aerial combat. 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. The PAF had achieved far more in terms of enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground but without doubt, the IAF had achieved much more in the close support role.
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 104 IAF planes and lost 19 of its own, while the IAF claimed it shot down 73 PAF planes and lost 59. According to the independent sources, the PAF lost some 20 aircraft while the Indians lost 60–75. Despite the intense fighting, the conflict was effectively a stalemate.
1971 India–Pakistan War
By late 1971, the intensification of the independence movement in erstwhile East Pakistan lead to the Bangladesh Liberation War between India and Pakistan . 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. 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. The Indian Air Force was quick to respond to Pakistani air strikes, following which the PAF carried out mostly defensive sorties.
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.
1973 Arab–Israeli 'Yom Kippur' War
During the war, 16 Pakistan Air Force pilots volunteered to leave for the Middle East in order to support Egypt and Syria but by the time they arrived Egypt had already agreed on a cease-fire. Syria remained in a state of war against Israel so the PAF pilots became instructors there and formed the A-flight of 67 Squadron at Dumayr AB. One of the PAF pilots, Flt. Lt. Sattar Alvi flying a MiG-21 shot down an Israeli Air Force Mirage and was honoured by the Syrian government.
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.
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.
Between May 1986 and November 1988, 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). 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. One F-16 was lost in these battles during an encounter between two F-16s and four Soviet Air Force MiG 23s on 29 April 1987. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Shahid Sikandar Khan, ejected safely.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In mid-1994 it was reported that the Russian manufacturers Sukhoi and Mikoyan were offering the Su-27 and MiG-29. But Pakistan was later reported to be negotiating for supply of the Dassault Mirage 2000-5. 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.
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. 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).
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,"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Prior to the PA's offensive into South Waziristan the PAF attacked militant infrastructure with 500 lb and 2000 lb bombs.
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. 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. 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.