Pakistan Air Force: Undoubtedly ‘Second to None’!

Author Name: Hassan Tahir      18 Oct 2021     Airforce

In the era of advance technologies, the character of warfare has also revolutionized and air forces across the world have assumed centerstage in guarantying National Security. In its 75-year history, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has proven this assertion at various crucial junctures, especially during the 1965 War with India. Numerically small, PAF has always outfought the hostile Indian Air Force (IAF) during different air battles and exhibited its robust capabilities.

Beginning with the 1965 India-Pakistan War, the first IAF attack came on the morning of 1st September, carried out by four Indian Vampire aircraft, which targeted Pakistani ground forces. These attacking Vampires were surprised by PAF’s two F-86 Sabres that successfully engaged and shot down all four Indian aircraft in the ensuing air combat. This shows that PAF has always stood next to the other defense forces and played an integral part in protecting sovereignty of the motherland.

PAF airstrikes on Pathankot Air Base was one of the ‘most successful air raids of contemporary history, destroying 13 aircraft’ on the first day of the aerial battle during the 1965 War. ‘Overall, PAF annihilated 22 Indian jets including C-119s, Mysteres, Gnats and MiG-21s’, on that single day. Another Mystere was shot down by air-to-air missile at Rahwali near Gujranwala. Likewise, on the next day, India suffered ‘heavy blows on all fronts. PAF destroyed ‘31 enemy aircrafts that day, bringing the total to an embarrassing 53 with several others rendered unserviceable.’ These results are the manifestation of professionalism, initiative, aggressiveness and will of the PAF and is remembered as a hallmark of its pilots.

Subsequently, in 1971, PAF effectively manifested its strategy of pre-emptive neutralization of enemy air capability by carrying out Operation Chengiz Khan and struck Indian Forward Airbases and radar facilities. The action was designed to serve a surprising shock to the enemy and shook their morale. PAF’s performance was widely commended even by international experts. According to retired US Air Force Brigadier ‘Chuck’ Yeager, head of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group in Islamabad during the 1971 war, ‘the Pakistanis whipped the Indians’ asses in the sky… the Pakistanis scored a three-to-one kill ratio, knocking out 102 Russian-made Indian jets and losing 34 airplanes of their own.’

In the recent history, Operation Swift Retort on 27th February 2019 is another practical demonstration of PAF’s supremacy. The action came in the wake of IAF’s belligerent strikes inside Pakistan’s Balakot district in the early hours of 26th February allegedly in retribution against perpetrators of the Pulwama incident, in which 44 Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldiers were killed. Responding to IAF’s offensive action inside Pakistan, PAF restored strategic equilibrium in broad daylight and re-established its resolve to protect the sovereignty of Pakistan’s borders. PAF, while staying inside own airspace, engaged four open spaces in close vicinity of critical military targets. It demonstrated its capability to engage any target inside Indian-controlled territories and airspace, at the time of its own choosing. In the ensuing dogfight, India lost two of its fighter jets and one pilot was captured. Wing Commander Abhinandan was later returned as a gesture of peace and goodwill on direct orders of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Later, India attempted to distort facts by concocting numerous false claims but PAF’s response was so evident and explicit that it was corroborated even by neutral international experts. In fact, a staunch anti-Pakistan and pro-Indian US scholars Christine Fair, while negating claims made by retired Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, affirmed ‘with 100% certitude that there was no (Pakistani) F-16 struck down.’ Her words confirm that PAF’s credibility and professionalism has always given it an edge over larger hostile forces that dare to enter Pakistani airspace.

Similarly in last two decades, the Pakistan Armed Forces have fought a long war against terrorism inside our own borders in which PAF played an instrumental role. The counterterrorism strategy was centered on the principle of ensuring that zero innocent casualties while wiping out terrorists. PAF did a remarkable job while conducting precision strikes to facilitate ground troops. It is generally recognized that strikes carried out by PAF had almost zero collateral damage as compared to US drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal region.

Such remarkable performance by PAF gives the entire nation confidence that any future challenge to Pakistan’s security will be met with the same resolve. 6th September is a reminder of Pakistan Armed Forces’ heroic acts and demonstration of the bravery of our countrymen and women against a bigger and more belligerent enemy. On this day, we pay tribute to those who defended Pakistan till their last breath. Their memories and sacrifices breathe everlasting strength into the nation and PAF.

Hassan Tahir is  a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies, Islamabad, Pakistan. The article was first published in Regional Times on 7 Sep. 2021. He can be reached at


Image Source: Haider, S. 2018, "Straight shooting on the 1965 war." DAWN, 6 Sep.

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