Q 1: What is a PAF F-16 pilot doing in Turkey?
A: The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) have a long-standing pilot exchange programme, which goes back a couple of decades under which, at any given time, two PAF pilots are in Turkey and two TuAF pilots are in Pakistan. Since the PAF and the TuAF share two common aircraft – the T-37 trainer and the F-16 – both countries exchange pilots on the each of these aircraft. So right now we have one PAF pilot flying TuAF T-37s and another PAF pilot flying TuAF F-16s in Turkey and one TuAF pilot flying PAF T-37s and one Tu-AF pilot flying PAF F-16s in Pakistan.
Q 2: How long is the duration of the secondment?
A: The average secondment is 2 years, but it could be less or more depending on various factors.
Q 3: What is the basis for PAF’s selection of a pilot for secondment to the TuAF F-16 squadrons?
A: The selection is done by the PAF and is based purely on merit. They start with your academy reports and the final report is given by your squadron commander. The TuAF requirement is that the pilot must have a minimum of 250 hours on the F-16 before joining the TuAF F-16 squadrons.
Q 4: What is the PAF criterion for selecting a pilot for its F-16 squadrons?
A: A pilot must have an outstanding record and a minimum of 500 hours on either the F-7 or the Mirages or both aircraft. Additionally, he must have the right aptitude and the ability to learn and apply his learning. The F-16 is not a simple aircraft to fly. Usually, most pilots go from the F-7 to the Mirages before coming to the F-16. This route washes out the weaker pilots.
Q 5: Which route did you follow?
A: I went straight to the F-16 after logging 450 hours on the F-7P.
Q 6: Which PAF F-16 squadron were you flying with before secondment to the TuAF?
A: No. 9 Squadron “Griffins”.
Q 7: What squadrons and what airbases do you fly out of in Turkey?
A: I have flown from different airbases with different squadrons on different F-16 types and this depends on the mission training that is being undertaken at a given time. I have served at two air bases – Mirzofen and Balekesir.
Q 8: What F-16 Blocks have you flown in Turkey?
A: I have flown all three TuAF F-16 Blocks - the Blocks 30, 40 and 50. I am the second PAF exchange pilot to have flown the TuAF Block 50 as previously the Turks did not give PAF pilots access to the Block 50.
Q 9: Why was that?
A: US restrictions. However, once the sanctions were lifted and talks began to purchase Block 52s for the PAF, it no longer remained an issue because we would be flying a more advanced version than the Turks. That’s when the US allowed the Turks to give us access to the Block 50. The Turks have been very cooperative with the PAF.
Q 10: What kind of mission training did you get on the TuAF F-16s?
A: We are trained for all types of missions since most TuAF F-16s squadrons are multi-role. However, I was primarily trained for air-to-air combat in the air defence role.
Q 11: Any BVR training?
Q 12: Which BVR missile?
A: The AIM-120 AMRAAM “Charlie”.
Q 13: What are the differences in training methodologies between the PAF and TuAF?
A: There are substantial differences. TuAF follows the US and NATO training methodologies where everything is written down and you have to follow set procedures. This is not necessarily bad because these procedures are based on experience. They learnt this after their experience in air-to-air combat in Vietnam. However, the downside is that you tend to get bogged down into following procedures and you become predictable. In the PAF, pilots are given more freedom to come up with their own solutions. Our training approach is more similar to the Israelis than NATO. We do more “seat of the pants” type of flying and are required to be more creative.
Q 14: Have you taken part in any Anatolian Eagle exercise?
A: PAF has been participating in the annual Anatolian Eagle exercises since 2004. I have participated in three Anatolian Eagles – one national and two international.
Q 15: What is the difference between national and international?
A: TuAF conducts annual Anatolian Eagle exercises - one version is national, for TuAF only and the other is international, with friendly air forces. TuAF has honoured the PAF by also letting its pilots fly in the national Anatolian Eagle exercises under Turkish command and wearing Turkish flags and badges. This is a unique honour given only to PAF pilots. The exchange pilots also get to fly TuAF F-16s in the Anatolian Eagle international exercises. So you could have 6 visiting PAF pilots flying their own PAF F-16s and the one PAF exchange pilot flying with the Turks in a TuAF F-16.
Q 16: Any memorable experiences that you would like to share?
A: On one occasion – in one of the international Anatolian Eagles - PAF pilots were pitted against RAF Typhoons, a formidable aircraft. There were three set-ups and in all three, we shot down the Typhoons. The RAF pilots were shocked.
Q 17: Any particular reason for your success?
A: NATO pilots are not that proficient in close-in air-to-air combat. They are trained for BVR engagements and their tactics are based on BVR engagements. These were close-in air combat exercises and we had the upper hand because close-in air combat is drilled into every PAF pilot and this is something we are very good at.
Q 18: Israel has also participated in some Anatolian Eagles. Any opportunity to fly with or against the Israelis?
A: Turkey ensures that the Israeli AF and the PAF are kept as far apart from each other as possible and this has more to do with the Israeli AF’s reluctance to be part of any military exercise involving the PAF than vice versa. The Israelis have told the Turks that they don’t want any Pakistani on or near a base in which the Israelis are stationed.
Q 19: What are the Isrealis afraid of?
A: What they fear most is that we might learn about their tactics, especially BVR countermeasure tactics, which they have mastered.
Q 20: I heard a rumour that the TuAF once gave PAF pilots the opportunity to fly with and against the Israelis in A. TuAF F-16s pretending to be Turkish pilots – even letting them sit in the Turkish-Israeli ACMI de-briefs?
Q 21: Are the Turks interested in the JF-17?
A: They are intrigued by it and very happy with what Pakistan has been able to achieve.
Q 22: Any chance of them placing orders?
A: There is no indication of that. They are not in the same situation as us. Being NATO members, they have many choices. They are producing the F-16, so while they are happy for Pakistan, I don’t think they will be purchasing the JF-17 as their requirements are already fulfilled by the F-16.
Q 23: What about replacing their ageing F-5?
A: They will probably replace the F-5s with F-16s and go for the F-35 as their hi-tech fighter.
Q 24: What’s after Turkey?
A: I will transfer to PAF Shahbaz, Jacobabad this summer for conversion to the Block 52s.
Q 25: Who will do the conversion training?
A: The conversion will be done by PAF pilots who are currently undergoing conversion training in the USA and will be returning to Pakistan in a few months time.
Q 26: Do you think you will have an edge over other PAF pilots are being picked from local squadrons?
A: Not only will I have an edge, I will be responsible for assisting the Block 52 instructors based on my experience with the Block 50.
Q 27: The publicly-available videos and photographs recently released by Lockheed Martin show the first PAF Block 52 C/Ds without conformal fuel tanks (CFTs). Can you confirm whether the PAF aircraft are coming with CFTs?
A: Yes. All 18 Block 52s will be fitted with CFTs when they are released to the PAF, which is expected to be in June this year. The CFTs are detachable “add-ons” and it is not necessary for the PAF to always fly with them. The CFTs can be attached and detached to suit PAF’s needs at any given time.
Q 28: One of the stories going around is that the Block 52s are coming with strings attached: (i) the PAF can only base them in one airbase, Jacobabad; (ii) they cannot be used for offensive operations beyond Pakistan’s borders; (iii) some sort of monitoring mechanisms will be put in place to monitor the location of each aircraft and (iv) PAF cannot take them outside Pakistan without the permission of the US. Are these correct?
A: To some extent, yes. However, it is important to understand the background to these conditions.
When the PAF asked for the Block 52, the initial US reaction was “no”. Their main concern was that if this potent technology could be released to Pakistan, sooner or later, it would end up in the hands of the Chinese who would reverse engineer it. It was the PAF that offered a solution. We could place the Block 52s in a separate airbase where the Chinese would have no access. This meant an airbase that had no Chinese aircraft. We could not base them in Sargodha because we would not deny the Chinese access to our most important airbase. Jacobabad was a forward base which had been revamped by the Americans for Operation Enduring Freedom, including a new first-class runway, so it was the first choice. The US agreed to this proposal provided that it would have the right to monitor the aircraft.
To recall an interesting little story: soon after the first F-16s were delivered to Pakistan in the mid-80s, the PLAAF Chief visited Sargodha. The Americans were there as well. As a gesture of courtesy, the PAF showed the PLAAF Chief one of the F-16s and let him sit in the cockpit. Some US technicians were there looking on. As soon as the PLAAF Chief sat in the F-16 cockpit, the first thing he did was to start measuring the HUD with his fingers, you know, when you extend your little finger and thumb to measure something? This worried the Americans.
Q 29: What are the monitoring mechanisms? I have heard they will have US personnel stationed at Jacobabad?
A: The US personnel stationed at Jacobabad will be transitional. They will be training PAF aircrew on the maintenance of the Block 52. Most of these US personnel will be from Lockheed Martin. The US does not need to have personnel physically present in Jacobabad to monitor the Block 52s.
Q 30: Could you elaborate?
A: They have ways of keeping an eye on the Block 52s without being personally present. The main concern is the transfer of cutting-edge technology – the avionics and radar, the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) the Sniper pod. They have put digital seals all the sensitive technologies, which can only be opened via a code, which only they know. If there is a malfunction or these parts need to be serviced, they will be taken out of the Block 52s and shipped back to the US for repairs/servicing. If we try to pry open these systems without the codes, inbuilt alarms will be relayed to the Americans, which will be a breach of the contract.
Q 31: Will the Americans be able to track the locations of the Block 52s through some sort of tracking devices hidden inside the aircraft?
A: If there are tracking devices then they will be inside the sealed systems, like the avionics suites or the sniper pods because we will not have the ability to look inside. If their Predator and Reaper drones are transmitting their GPS locations via satellite so can a Block 52 F-16.
Even though Turkey produces the F-16, there are some components that are manufactured in the US and only come to Turkey for the final assembly. In one incident, a Turkish Block 50 crashed and the pilot was killed. They salvaged the wreckage and laid it out in hanger and started putting together the pieces to find out the cause. They found a piece of sealed equipment which had cracked open and inside they found some device that looked like a bug. Upon inquiry, it turned out to be a tracking device.
Q 32: Doesn’t that worry the PAF?
A: I’m sure it does. However, the PAF considers the Block 52 a “bonus” aircraft. We are not depending on it for our entire air defence. It is a temporary force multiplier until we have enough squadrons of JF-17s and FC-20s. The opportunity to know what the latest technology is capable of is enough justification to purchase these aircraft.
Q 33: If the PAF cannot cross the border with these Block 52, what is the purpose of the Sniper pods and the air-to-ground munitions that we are getting?
A: Those are for use against terrorists who are waging a war against Pakistan. The fact is that the Block 52s will give us the capability to mount successful counter insurgency operations against terrorists in the tribal areas.