Pakistan Air Force (PAF) suffers from several shortcomings that tend to ensure that in a future round of all-out hostilities against the IAF, the PAF will succumb within a period of eight days. These include:
1) The unavailability of the required quantum of spares-support from the OEMs of the Dassault Mirage-III/V and Chengdu F-7P/PG fleets of combat aircraft, since these are no longer in series-production and they have also been phased out of service in both France and China. Consequently, fast-moving rotables and consumables are quite hard to come by on short-notice, due to which the PAF has no choice but to conserve the flightworthy lives of such aircraft by reducing their peacetime training flight sorties and this in turn reduces aircrew proficiency. Thus, the PAF can today mobilise no more than 17 full-strength flightworthy combat aircraft squadrons at short notice.
2) Series-production of the JF-17A Thunder L-MRCA by China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corp (CAC) continues at an excruciatingly slow rate due to greater priority accorded by CAC to the series-production of the J-10B M-MRCAs for both the PLA Air Force and the PLA Naval Aviation.
3) The refusal by the US to supply air-to-ground all-weather precision-guided munitions (PGM) like AGM-65 Maverick or Brimstone or sensor-fuzed cluster munitions or AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARM) for the PAF’s F-16s—all of which can be used with devastating effect during battlefield air-interdiction missions.
4) The US refusal to supply Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder within-visual-range air-to-air missiles for the PAF’s P-16s, which renders the Boeing-supplied Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System totally worthless.
5) China’s surprising unwillingness to supply the PAF with the more advanced PL-8 or PL-9C within-visual-range air-to-air missiles for the PAF’s JF-17As.
6) The PAF’s unsuccessful efforts to service-induct MR-SAMs like the LY-80E and its reluctant approval for the PA’s desire to operate such MR-SAM Regiments.
7) The PAF’s unsuccessful efforts to date to procure twin-engined M-MRCAs required for mounting low-level deep-interdiction sorties.
8 ) The PAF being forced to deploy its AEW & CS platforms as far west as possible (especially in Balochistan) in order to acquire some depth, due to Pakistan’s peculiar elongated geography. This prevents the PAF from conducting offensive airborne battle management taskings deep within Indian airspace, thereby forcing its AEW & CS platforms to perform only air-defence-related airborne battle management taskings.
9) Lastly, and most importantly, Pakistan’s steadily sliding economic condition and its growing expenses on securing the Durand Line along its western frontier, both of which have forced Pakistan’s armed forces to reduce their war wastage reserve (WWR) stockpiles that will not last beyond EIGHT days of intense, multi-front warfighting in an all-out war scenario.
And it is with all of the above that the PAF will have to confront an IAF that, by 2020, will comprise 32 combat aircraft squadrons and 39 Helicopter Units. Presently, the IAF can boast of three Sqns with MiG-29s now being upgraded to UPG standard, nine squadrons with MiG-21 Bison (reduced to seven by 2020), two squadrons with MiG-21Ms (to be decommissioned later this year), four squadrons with Jaguar IS of which 64 are being upgraded to DARIN-3 standard, one squadron with Jaguar IM for maritime strike, 15 squadrons with Su-30MKI H-MRCAs, three squadrons with Mirage 2000H/TH that are now being upgraded, two squadrons with MiG-27UPG, one squadron with MiG-27Ms, and half-a-squadron with Tejas Mk.1 L-MRCAs. By 2024, all the MiG-21 Bisons, MiG-27UPGs and MiG-27Ms will be decommissioned, while one additional Tejas Mk.1 and two Dassault Rafale M-MRCA squadrons will be raised, thus leaving the IAF with 30 combat aircraft squadrons against a 20-squadron combat aircraft fleet strength of the PAF.
The IAF’s force-mix is quite lop-sided today and will remain so till the end of this decade, since close to 40% of IAF’s authorised combat force will be comprised of Su-30MKI H-MRCAs, 20% of upgraded M-MRCAs like the Mirage 2000Is and MiG-29UPG, and the rest with platforms like the Jaguar IS, MiG-27UPGs, MiG-27Ms and MiG-21 Bisons. The shortfalls are particularly critical in the tactical interdiction and battlefield air-interdiction arenas.
The shortfalls could well have been non-existent had the IAF in 2005 decided to undertake a deep upgrade for its 125 licence-built MiG-27Ms (equipping five squadrons) and 95 imported MiG-23BNs (equipping three squadrons) by re-engining each of them with AL-31F turbofans and equipping them with DARIN 3-type mission avionics, which would have extended their service lives by 20 years.
In terms of force-multiplier combat-support systems, the IAF presently possesses only three A-50I PHALCON and two EMB-145I ‘Netra’ AEW & CS platforms, plus six IL-78MKI aerial refuellers. For standoff recce, two ELBIT Systems-built CONDOR-2 LOROP pods were procured in Februaty 2009 for the Jaguar IS, followed by another two worth $82 million in April 2017 for the Rafales. Each CONDOR-2 system includes the pod itself, a wide-band data-link, and fixed and transportable image exploitation stations and their support equipment. Also acquired in 2007 were four ELTA Systems-built EL/M-2060P SAR pods for the Su-30MKI, and two RecceLite pods for the Tejas Mk.1.
As for target designation pods, the MoD concluded a contract in November 1996 for procurinmg an initial 15 RAFAEL-supplied Litening-2s at a cost of Rs.95 crore ($27.11 million (for fitment on 30 Jaguar IS and five Mirage-2000H/TH aircraft at a total cost of Rs.125 crore. Of these, 10 pods were later transferred for use by the Su-30MKIs. In 2015 another 164 Litening-G4I pods were ordered for use by Rafale (14 for the 36 Rafales), Su-30MKI, Mirage 2000N and Jaguar IS/DARIN-3 aircraft. and Tejas Mk.1/Mk.1A.
As for EW pods, the MoD ordered 10 THALES-supplied Barem pods for the Mirage-2000H/TH fleet in 1988. In February 1996, the MoD contracted ELTA Systems for the procurement of 92 EL/L-8222 pods (82 for the IAF and 10 for the Indian Navy), at a total cost of $84.84 million, or Rs.280 crore. Of the 82 systems, 50 were contracted for the MiG-21 Bison and 32 for Jaguar IS (as internally-mounted suites). Another 90 pods were ordered in 2009 for the Su-30MKI fleet.
The IAF’s 36 Rafales, built to F3-04T-standard, will each incorporate two RAFAEL-built X-Guard fibre-optic towed-decoys that can be released when the aircraft approaches an area saturated with ground-based air-defence weapons, or when threats from inbound SAMs or AAMs are detected by the Spectra EW suite. In the latter case, the most suitable countermeasure will be transmitted to the X-Guard by the Spectra. The X-Guard will then lure the attacking missiles away by creating an attractive false target signal that will divert the homing missile from the Rafale. The X-Guard is designed to defeat advanced tracking techniques, including modern ‘Monopulse and Look on Receive-Only’ (LORO) techniques. The decoy is retrievable and can be deployed several times during a mission.
Coming to PGMs, the IAF has to date received 200 of the 17km-range, 520kg KAB-500Kr TV-guided rockets, 2,500 Griffin-3 LGBs, 1,500 KAB-1500LG-FE LGBs, 300 of the 690kg 30km-range Kh-29TE TV-guided missiles, 100 of the 1,130kg, 150km-range PopeyeLite missiles with imaging infra-red seeker fire-and-update mode plus 20 Pegasus data-link pods, 250 of the 550kg, 65km-range Spice-1000 (Smart Precise Impact and Cost Effective guidance kit) missiles, 200 of the 600kg, 110km-range Kh-31P Krypton ARMs, and 200 of the 40km-range, 315lg Kh-25MP ARMs.
Slated for delivery in future are 400 of the 100km-range SAAW gliding directed-energy weapons mounted in quad-racks; 50 BrahMos-A supersonic multi-role air-launched cruise missiles; 150 of the 1,300kg, 550km-range SCALP-EG subsonic LACMs and 100 of the 268kg, 93km-range ALARM ARMs (the last two for the Rafales); and more than 6,000 locally-developed 500kg Precision Guided High-Speed Low-Drag (PGHSLD) bombs (whose flight-qualifications began on May 22, 2017). Two PGHSLDs, one with sensors, telemetry, data logger for carriage trials and anoother with GPS and telemetry were carried out by the IAF’s 32 Wing AF Station in Jodhpur. Using guiding fins and a GPS-aided and FOG-based inertial navigation system, a PGHSLD can land within 13 metres (42 feet) of its target. In future the PGHSLD will be equipped with wings that unfold in flight to triple the range from 15 miles (24km) to over 45 miles (72km). The modular nature of such a smart kit means that it can be easily upgraded as technology improves and options such as improved laser sensors, GPS jamming immunity and an all-weather radar sensors can be added.
The air-launched BrahMos-A and its successor, the BrahMos-NG (now under development and slated for service-entry by 2023), when used in conjunction with the SIVA HADF pod, are the principal weapons to be employed against hostile AEW & CS platforms. Equipped with an imaging X-band SAR seeker, such missiles when launched from two different directions at any airborne AEW & CS platform, can cruise at altitudes higher than those of such platforms and can zero in on their targets through a lofted trajectory in the terminal flight phase, almost in a top-attack mode.
By early 2021, the IAF will begin receiving the first of more than 4,000 Nirbhay ground-launched LACMs. They will be joining the IA’s existing one Regiment of BrahMos-1 Block 1 and two Regiments of BrahMos Block 2 supersonic LACMs, plus a single Squadron of BrahMos-1 Block 3 top-attack LACMs of the IAF. Each BrahMos-1 Battery includes five mobile autonomous launchers (MAL) each with three vertical-launch cannisters, and four Batteries make up a Regiment, accounting for about 70 missiles.
The IA’s 861 Regiment (with BrahMos-1 Block I was raised on June 21, 2007 at a cost of $83 million, while the 862 Regiment (BrahMos-1 Block 2) was raised in March 2012, and these were followed by the 863 Regiment (BrahMos-1 Block 2) and 864 Regiment (BrahMos-1 Block 2) at a cost of Rs. 4,300 crore ($644 million). All these Regiments are an integral part of the IA’s 40th and 41st Artillery Divisions.
The procurement of more than 200 ground-launched BrahMos-1 Block-3 LACMs for the IAF was cleared by India’s Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCS) on October 19, 2012 at the cost of $919 million. On December 9, 2014 the IAF service-inducted the BrahMos-1 Technical Position00a centre that will house the missiles and launchers for the IAF. While the IA’s BrahMos-1s are to be used against static/fixed installations like transportation nodes and battlefield POL and weapons storage dumps (with target selection being done by the Surveillance and Target Acquisition Fire-Control Centres (SATA-FCC) by the Artillery Division HQs, the IAF’s BrahMos-1 Block 3s and Nirbhays will be employed for the destruction of air bases and storage areas/launch-pads of ballistic/cruise missiles deep inside enemy territory, such as the PA’s 1st Strategic Missile Group at Mangla, 2nd Strategic Missile Group at Sargodha, and the 3rd Strategic Missile Group at Khuzdaar.
In fact, this is exactly what former Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon had alluded to in his book, titled Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, where he had opined that “Circumstances are conceivable in which India might find it useful to strike first, for instance, against a nuclear weapon state that had declared that it would certainly use its weapons, and if India was certain that an adversary’s nuclear weapons launch was imminent.”
What this means in reality is that if the enemy’s declared intent is of using the nuclear weapons option not at the last moment or as a last resort, but when the IA’s integrated battle groups (IBG) begin entering Pakistani territory, then to India this means that her military forces will have to strike, with superior conventional force, at Pakistan’s nuclear warhead-armed ballistic/cruise missile storage/launch bases first, and destroy them, simultaneously or even before the IA’s armour-heavy Strike Corps can reach their wartime staging areas. But unfortunately, Menon’s opinions were totally misinterpreted by the likes of a certain Dr Vipin Narang of the US-based MIT, who have wrongly and perhaps mischievously claimed that Menon’s opinions are proof of India’s abandonment of the ‘No First Use’ policy with regard to strategic nuclear deterrence.