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No wonder, Gen Bajwa was shaking and perspiring

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Abhishek Mishra
Abhishek Mishra
Strategic analyst and political commentator with two decades of experience in Security & Investigations industry currently leading a multinational at S Asia

After the Balakot airstrikes and mid-air skirmish the next day, the clash between PAF and IAF was publicised as one meant out to be between US F16 and Russian MIG 21 Bison. A close examination between the strengths of the two air forces reveal the contrary.

Fighter planes were used effectively by the German Air Force Luftwaffe in World War II. In its primitive years, there were three sets of planes – First were the Bombers with large fuel tank and ability to strike deep inside enemy territory with heavy payloads of bombs and Air to Surface missiles.  Second were the Interceptors, light in weight and armed with air-to-air strike capabilities with design suited for air-to-air dogfights. The third types were the reconnaissance aircraft for air surveillance.

Modern fighters have all three capabilities built into one and hence are known as multirole fighters. They can switch roles between a bomber to that of a dogfighter depending on the assigned mission. However, even in case of multirole aircrafts, the distinction remains between Light Combat Multirole whose basic function is interception and short-range air raids, medium multirole combat planes which can do both at ease and then the costly to maintain heavy multirole combat fighters with twin engine , two pilot multirole with heavy fuel tank load. Heavy multirole fighters are mainly meant to attack deep for long hours but have the aero design for air-to-air dogfight.     

The biggest lacuna of Pakistan Airforce is that it is a force of only Lightweight Multirole aircrafts. Both F16 and JF17 are light combat aircrafts. They do not have the capability to take long missions as Light weight aircrafts have lesser fuel capacity and carry less payload. The former means they cannot continuously fly for long duration while the latter means they cannot strike heavy. In other words, PAF has no capability to carry long sorties or strike deep into India.   They do have some third-generation vintage medium role fighters which are to be again being replaced by Light combat fighter planes JF-17 by 2030. Notably, Dassault Mirage III and Mirage 5 are vintage models bought as second-hand aircrafts by cash starved PAF under project Rose and shall have no use in modern warfare. Overall PAF fleet has limited fire power with limitations of payloads and armaments of these LACs. PAF also has a smaller fleet of fighters as compared to World’s fourth largest India Air Force.          

On the other hand, the mainstay of Indian Air Force is Sukhoi 30 MKI. It is a heavy weight multirole aircraft. The maximum take-off load of Sukhoi 30 MKI is twice that of F-16 and thrice that of JF-17. Its fuel capacity is also thrice that of its adversaries. To top it all, it is a twin engine twin crew aircraft wherein one crew is tasked with air-to-air superiority role while the other can quickly switch to air-to-ground attack operations in a single sortie mission. Interestingly, Sukhoi 30 MKI are powered by forward facing Panther Bar electronically scanned array radars which can simultaneously function in air-to-air and air-to-land sea mode. LCA F-16s and JF-17 are no answer to Heavy Multirole Indian Sukhoi.

To complement Sukhois, Indian Air Force has medium combat multirole 4th and 4.5th generation Dassault planes namely Mirage 2000 and Rafael respectively. While PAF has 3rd generation second-hand Mirage III and Mirage 5, IAF has the best that Dassault offers today. To further complement these latest potent multirole bombers, IAF maintains a strong fleet of British Jaguars which are meant for air to ground attack operations. IAF also possess in equal number of Russian MIG 29s which are cold era Russian answer to American F-16s. During Kargil war, MIG 29s fulcrum provided impenetrable top cover keeping PAF F16 at bay while other aircrafts especially Mirages carried out ground sorties and attacks. The addition of Tejas LCA in future shall be a bonus to IAF in a conflict with PAF. Tejas is in the same league as Pakistan China’s JF-17.

No wonder, General Bajwa perspired, his legs shaking as he unlike social media trolls was fully aware that it will not be F16 versus MIG 21 Bison! The fact that better trained Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan shot down F-16 with his Bison when air-to-air kills is the least probability in aerial warfare would have added to his worry!

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Abhishek Mishra
Abhishek Mishra
Strategic analyst and political commentator with two decades of experience in Security & Investigations industry currently leading a multinational at S Asia
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