1.Equip its fleet with better Air Intercept Radars, All Aspect WVR (Within Visual Range Missiles) and BVR (Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missiles);
2.Replace the old F-6s, A-5Cs and Mirages with a new high performance fighter aircraft procured in large numbers;
3.Induct at least two squadrons of 4.5th generation high tech fighter aircraft to supplement the F-16 squadrons.
Thus PAF started a modernization program which was aimed to narrow the gap between PAF and IAF. The PAF Mirage ROSE (Retrofit of Strike Element) was underway at a rapid process and the first batch of Mirage ROSE-I was completely operational in 2000. One of the major features of the ROSE-I Mirages was the installation of the Italian Grifo-M radar, which is a copy of US APG-68 radar, thus making them capable to fire BVR missiles.
|Mirage ROSE I|
The JF-17 program was also rushed into action, and in June 1999 the contract to co-develop and produce the JF-17 was signed during a visit to Beijing by then Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif and Chinese premier Zhu Rongji. The project was to be a 50-50 partnership with the air forces of both Pakistan and China being committed to ordering the fighter. JF-17 was expected to deploy advanced WVR missiles, BVR missiles, jamming and targeting pods, FBW (Fly-By-Wire), PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) and Standoff Air to Surface Weapons. It was a potential replacement for the F-6s, A-5Cs, Mirages and F-7MPs.
Artist’s concept of the JF-17 Thunder
Since this program required at least ten years to materialize additional F-7PGs were ordered to replace the last remaining F-6s. F-7MPs, along with the brand new F-7PGs were re-equipped with the Italian Grifo-7MG radar providing them with the capability to utilize BVR missiles along with the all-aspect Sidewinder missiles.
PAF F-7PG flight trials over
PAF F-16s were maintained and slightly upgraded with the help of Turkish and Egyptian Airforces, due to which PAF F-16s retained their powerful punch, and their position as the premier air defence fighter.
PAF F-16A Block-15 aircraft on Air Defense Alert
All rear aspect Air to Air missiles were replaced with the all aspect American AIM-9L, French Magic-II and Chinese PL-9C heat seeking Air to Air missiles. Due to the US arms embargo, and the non availability of any notable Chinese BVR missile, PAF faced difficulty in obtaining a high performance BVR missile. Along with PAF testing the Raptor I and II precision guided munitions and obtaining them for the Mirage ROSE-II aircraft it was rumored that PAF has also obtained R-Darter Medium Range Air to Air missiles from South Africa for its Mirage ROSE Is and F-7PGs, however it still remains classified, whether PAF had obtained that missile in 2001 or not.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Mushaf Ali Mir evaluated the Russian Su-27, the French Rafale as well as the Swedish JAS-39 Grippen. In a statement he said that PAF might go for the Swedish JAS-39 Grippen, since Rafale is too much costly and the Su-27 requires heavy modifications to fulfill PAF’s operational requirement. When asked regarding the Indian acquisition of the Su-30K, he replied that if India is able to upgrade the fighter it will turn out to be a highly capable fighter, but if India fails, then it is nothing but a piece of junk, with a very low structural airframe life.
In 2001, PAF carried out a massive fire power display in which all PAF fighters fired an array of Air to Air and Air to Surface missiles, and dropped iron bombs, PGMs, and Durandels. A unique feature of this display was the launching of a Magic II WVR from a FT-5 aircraft, at very low level. PAF was thus proceeding well in its path of modernization unaware of the Indian motives.
IAF on the other hand was involved in the upgradation of 125 MiG-21Bis aircraft to the MiG-21-93 standards, as well as the acquisition of the highly deadly Su-30MKI aircraft. Though there were some breakthroughs in its Tejas Light Combat Aircraft program, as the first prototype took to the air in late 2000s, a lot was slated to be done for its development. Nonetheless, IAF still had a feeling that its Mirage-2000, MiG-29 and Su-30K aircraft are enough to suppress the PAF as it quietly prepared for another confrontation with PAF.
OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (2001)
After the 9/11 attacks, the United States decided to launch Operation Enduring Freedom, to remove the safe haven of Al-Qaeda and its use of the Afghan territory as a base of operations for terrorist activities. Pakistan was once again approached by the US to provide its airspace, territorial waters, airbases and logistic support for the coalition forces. Initially Pakistan was reluctant as it was a major supporter of the Taliban regime, not because it supported extremism. The only reason that Pakistan favored the Talibans was that they kept the Indian supported Northern Alliance away from the Durand Line which ensured safety of the western borders from Indian infiltrators. As a last ditch effort, Islamabad arranged a press conference in the Afghan Embassy in which the Taliban government officials denied all the charges placed against them.
India decided to cash the situation and offered all the support it could provide to the coalition forces, with a major motive to establish Pakistan as a rouge state, and that it should also have to face the wrath of the US led coalition forces. Islamabad was compelled to act fast and finally had to make a decision to side with US led coalition forces and to end the diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime. The Indians were enraged as they never expected Pakistan to side with the Americans, since Americans have ditched Pakistan several times in its times of crises.
USAF F-15E over