F-15 F18 Comparison Essay

 Tactics, training and luck are the determining factors in who survives within visual range aerial combat. Despite the modern emphasis on beyond-visual-range combat, the vast majority of fighter versus fighter engagements have taken place at close ranges. The following ten are the best fighters for this mission. The order is more or less arbitrary, with different aircraft having the advantage at different altitudes and air speeds. By its nature, any top ten is simplistic and should serve as the basis for discussion rather than as a conclusion.


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10.McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle

Once considered top dog, the F-15 is now making room for younger aircraft. In exercises, the type still does well, but this says more about the pilot quality than any inherent advantage of this platform in the WVR arena.  Well-armed, well-equipped and powerful, it is still an aircraft to be respected. In later exercises against India, it is reported to have been able to use superior tactics to defeat Su-30s, despite the Russian aircraft enjoying greater manoeuvrability at low speeds. Powerful and reliable, and flown by some of the best fighter pilots in the world (in USAF service), it remains an adversary worthy of great respect, especially at medium altitudes.

HMD/S: Yes

Advanced SRAAMs: Yes, AIM-9X, Python 4/5

Visual stealth: Poor

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Very good

High alpha performance: Poor

Sustained turn rates: Good (16 degree/sec)

Instantaneous turn rates: Good (21 deg/sec)

9. Chengdu J-10

Rumours from China describe the J-10 performing well in DACT exercises against the far bigger Su-27/J-11. With a maximum G-rating of +9 / -3 and a maximum sustained turn load of 8.9g, the type has demonstrated impressive performance at several public airshows. It scores highly on turn radius, low visual signature, low-speed capabilities and also has excellent pilot vision.

HMD/S: Yes

Advanced SRAAMs: No, at present only PL-8

Visual stealth: Excellent

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Good

High alpha performance: Good

Sustained turn rates: Good

Instantaneous turn rates: Good

8. General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16

The Viper remains potent at the mission it was designed for: the close-in dogfight. The Viper has grown fatter with age, so the early Block aircraft are the most spritely, this combined with JHMCS and modern missiles, like the AIM-9X, Python 5 and  IRIS-T keep it a foe to respect. It is small and hard for its opponents to keep visual tabs on, it has an impressive turn rate and has better retention of energy than larger-winged peers like the Mirage 2000. Below 10K feet the F-16 is similar in performance to the Typhoon. Most F-16 models have a better thrust to weight ratio than the Super Hornet (when similarly equipped). The Python 5 is regarded as one of the best air-to-air missiles, it has a very large weapon engagement zone (WEZ) and a high resistance to countermeasures. According to one defence writer close to the UK Typhoon force, RAF pilots had greater respect for the F-16s than the Gripens that they have encountered in wargames.


Advanced SRAAMs: AIM-9X, Python 4/5 and IRIS-T

Visual stealth: Excellent.

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Good

High alpha performance: Good

Sustained turn rates: Good

Instantaneous turn rates: Very good (26deg/sec)

(If all this is too modern for you, have a look at the Top Ten World II fighters)

Was the Spitfire overrated? Full story here. A Lightning pilot’s guide to flying and fighting here. Find out the most effective modern fighter aircraft in beyond-visual range combat. The greatest fictional aircraft here. An interview with stealth guru Bill Sweetman here. The fashion of aircraft camo here. Interview with a Super Hornet pilot here. Most importantly, a pacifist’s guide to warplanes here. F-35 expose here. 

7. RAC MiG MiG-29

Despite its age the MiG-29 remains a fiercely capable dogfighter, sharing many of the weapon systems of the ‘Flanker’.  The Indian MiG-29K/KUB with the TopOwl helmet-mounted and R-73E is the best-equipped variant in the WVR scenario, but is normally limited to 7G, whereas land-based ’29s are 9G capable. When the MiG-35 enters service it will be the most agile fighter in the world in the low-speed regime, as anyone who has witnessed the physics defying antics of the MiG-29OVT will testify. Though thrust-vectoring, post-stall manoeuvring must be used very carefully to be effective, the MiG-35’s unsurpassed power -to-weight ratio should ensure it recovers lost energy states quickly. The tough structure offers a degree of battlefield protection according to MiG who have assessed the type’s performance in actual wars. According to at least one MiG-29 pilot, the type enjoys a small, but significant advantage over the F-16 in the merge. One USAF F-16C pilot (Mike McCoy of the 510th) who flew BFM against MiG-29s noted, “In a low-speed fight, fighting the ‘Fulcrum’ is similar to fighting an F-18 Hornet…But the ‘Fulcrum’ has a thrust advantage over the Hornet. An F-18 can really crank its nose around if you get into a slow-speed fight, but it has to lose altitude to regain the energy, which allows us to get on top of them. The MiG has about the same nose authority at slow speeds, but it can regain energy much faster. Plus the MiG pilots have that forty-five-degree cone in front of them into which they can fire an Archer and eat you up.” Luftwaffe MiG-29 Oberstleutenant Johann Koeck who flew against F-15s, F/A-18s and F-16s in extensive training exercises noted,” Inside ten nautical miles I’m hard to defeat, and with the IRST, helmet sight and ‘Archer’ I can’t be beaten. Period.”

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HMD/S: Yes

Advanced SRAAMs: No, but R-73 is still highly regarded. R-74 in the pipeline.

Visual stealth: Medium (poor in early versions due to smoky engines)

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Excellent

High alpha performance: Excellent

Sustained turn rates: Good

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent (28deg/sec)

6. Saab Gripen

Lose sight, lose the fight‘ is an old dogfighting adage and it is very easy to lose sight of the tiny Gripen. Though not the most powerful fighter, it is agile, well-armed and gives its pilot good situational awareness. Some Gripen operators employ an advanced helmet-mounted sight in conjunction with IRIS-T missiles, a sobering prospect for potential adversaries. The IRIS-T is a highly regarded weapon, with excellent agility and target discrimination. The helmet-sight is an adaptation of the Typhoon helmet, the most advanced helmet in operational service. The Gripen preserves energy very well, is hard to spot and has the smallest IR signature of the fighters on this list.

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(Top Ten Swedish aeroplanes here)

Helmet Mounted Display/Sight: Yes: Cobra

Advanced SRAAMs: IRIS-T

Visual stealth: Excellent

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Good

High Alpha performance: Good

Sustained turn rates: Excellent

Instantaneous turn rates: Very good

5. Dassault Rafale

The Rafale can maintain higher Alpha manoeuvres than the Typhoon.  It is very agile, with an excellent man machine interface and the most advanced aircraft cannon. Like most carrier fighters it is docile in the low speed ranges that most within-visual-range fights take place at. Whereas The Typhoon excels at high speed high-altitude maneuverability, the Rafale excels at low speed and low altitude, though its high altitude performance has also impressed French pilots. At sea level, the Rafale is reported to have a superior instantaneous turn rate to Typhoon. One pilot who has flown Rafale, and is knowledgeable of the Typhoon’s performance, claims that below 10,000 ft it would ‘eat Typhoon’. The Rafale lacks a helmet-mounted sight and its high alpha performance is inferior to that of the Hornet family. The Rafale has reportedly done well in DACT exercises against the F-22. The Rafale is an extremely tough opponent in the WVR regime. MICA has an LOAL capability allowing targets in the ‘six o’clock’ to be engaged.


Advanced SRAAMs: Yes, MICA

Visual stealth: Medium

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Very good

High alpha performance: Very good

Sustained turn rates: Very good

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent (especially at low level)

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4. McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet

The Bug family have excellent nose authority, JHMCS  and good missiles in the form of AIM-9X (or ASRAAM for RAAF legacy birds).  At low level they are the equal of any operational fighter, but at higher altitudes (and higher speeds) they are at a disadvantage against more modern aircraft like the Typhoon, Rafale and F-22. The legacy Hornet is 9G rated as opposed to the larger Super Hornet which is stressed up to 7G for normal operations (it is really the legacy F/A-18 that deserves this high ranking but the Super Hornet is also highly regarded in the ‘merge’).  It has been noted by F-16 pilots that Super Hornets lose energy quicker than Vipers at higher altitudes. In a slow fight, no Western fighters can match either the Bug or the Rhino. One pilot who has flown the Super Hornet recommended that I mention the ‘Turbo Nose down’, a manoeuvre which utilises the aircraft’s excess power to rapidly push the aircraft out of high alpha flight. Australian Hornets have demonstrated an 180° missile shot with the AIM-132, firing the missile at a target in the firing aircraft’s 6’o’ clock in the lock-on after launch mode. The so-called ‘Parthian Shot‘ is a defensive boon, but demands a wingman with nerves of steel and faith in the technology!

Read more about flying the Super Hornet here and here.

(For the sake of brevity the two F/A-18 family members share one entry.)

HMD/S: Yes


Visual stealth: Medium

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Good

High alpha performance: Excellent

Sustained turn rates: Good

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent

3. Eurofighter Typhoon

Wild turn rates, a true 9G performance and enormous excess power make the Typhoon a hell of a dogfighter; the highly regarded G-suits worn by Typhoon pilots increase tolerance to the high forces generated by the energetic Typhoon. It also features the most advanced helmet mounted sight in service (and the newer Striker 2 is, according to one independent tester, ‘superb’), a powerful cannon and the excellent IRIS-T and ASRAAM missiles. The combination of advanced missile and helmet imbue the Typhoon with a terrifying off-boresight missile shot capability. Testing of the Aerodynamic Modification Kit, which includes modified strakes, extended flaperons and mini-leading edge root extensions may go some way to rectifying Typhoon’s main limitation – a pedestrian high alpha performance. But the Typhoon is not an ‘angles fighter’ like the F/A-18 which relies on risky (as they drain energy quickly) but startling attacks in the merge; the Typhoon is an ‘energy fighter’ using its phenomenal ability to preserve energy in a dogfight to wear its opponents out. In short, if an opponent doesn’t get a Typhoon on his first attack he is in a very dangerous position as a large amount of excess thrust makes the aircraft a very energetic adversary.

In exercises against Indian Air Force, RAF Typhoons used their superior energy and acceleration to ‘reliably’ trounce Su-30MKIs.

F-22 pilots who ‘fought’ the Typhoon in DACT were impressed by its energy levels (especially in the first turn) and several Luftwaffe aircraft proudly displayed Raptor ‘kill’ silhouettes beneath their cockpits.  Like the Raptor, the Typhoon has such a formidable reputation that any ‘victories’ against it in training exercises make excellent boasts. At medium to high altitudes, the type is generally superior to the teen fighters in the WVR regime. According to one Typhoon pilot, its dog-fighting abilities are a close match to the Raptor’s, but Typhoon benefits from being smaller and better armed.

HMD/S: Yes


Visual stealth: Medium

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Excellent

High alpha performance: Poor

Sustained turn rates: Excellent

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent

2. Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor

The Raptor’s excellent power-to-weight ratio, low wing-loading and 2D thrust-vectoring make it a fierce opponent in the visual range dogfight. It is let down by its elderly short range air-to-air missiles, lack of helmet-mounted sight and its large size. The internal carriage of its AIM-9M limits the way they can be used, and it only carries two. According to Typhoon pilots who ‘fought’ against it, the Raptor loses energy very quickly when employing thrust vectoring. The Raptor pilot likes to keep the fight high and fast. The F-22 has never been seriously challenged in wargames or DACT exercises- though the WVR regime is not its strongest card it is still extremely hard to beat, to the point that any ‘kills’ scored by pilots against the Raptor become newsworthy. Its pilots are, outside of adversary units, probably the best in the world.


Advanced SRAAMs: No

Visual stealth: Poor

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Excellent

High Alpha performance: Excellent

Sustained turn rates: Excellent  (28 deg/sec at 20K ft)

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent

1. Sukhoi Su-35 

The Sukhoi Su-27 is no slouch in the dogfight, and this advanced derivative is even more potent; the fighter, which is now in service with the Russian air force in small numbers, benefits from an additional 7,000Ibs of thrust combined with a variety of refinements. The Su-35’s engines, at maximum reheat, generate a staggering 62,000Ibs of thrust, which when combined with the ‘Flanker’ series superb aerodynamic configuration and vectored thrust nozzles, create an aircraft unparalleled in low-speed manoeuvrability. Whereas the F-22 relies on two-dimensional thrust vectoring, the Su-35 utilises 3D nozzles and a robust flight control system that have been perfected over the last thirty years.  A Su-35 (ably demonstrated by Sergei Bogdan) held the crowds of Paris 2013 spellbound with its demonstration of dramatic post-stall manoeuvring.

The biggest question mark with the Su-35s within-range combat effectiveness is the degree to which the enormous thrust and robust engines aid energy preservation. The Su-35 unique abilities will require unique tactics – if flown by well-trained pilots, the Su-35 will prove a worthy adversary to any in-service fighter in the vicious world of the low-speed furball.

HMD/S: Yes

Advanced SRAAMs: R-73E/M

Visual stealth: Poor

Thrust-to-weight ratio: Excellent

High alpha performance: Excellent

Sustained turn rates: Excellent

Instantaneous turn rates: Excellent

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So there we have it, or do we?

I asked a fighter pilot (with experience of flying most of the ‘4.5 generation’ fighter aircraft) his opinion on my top ten selection; he was keen to dismiss such a crude approach:

“It is complicated to discuss this issue in just a few words, but in order to produce a new look analysis on WVR, you should think about gyroscopic vs needle ‘driving styles’ (and the capabilities needed to play this or that, of course). So, you will pass through power-to-weight ratio, rudder surfaces, flying characteristics across different flight levels, etc. Until you get to the crucial area of energy management (that sifts the ace from the targets). It is all a question of control of the part of the egg you want to keep the fight, and well-trained pilots with good tactics will always try to keep the fight in a corner where they have some advantage. We’re not talking about an UFC card! It is team work.

The tactical egg is an imaginary bubble that represents all possible motions of an aircraft in a dogfight, showing the effects of gravity on the aircraft’s manoeuvring. Of course, new weapons (with the ability to lock-on after launch), helmet mounted sight, etc. are making the job much more complex.

Conclusion: This question requests hours of conversation and a dozen beers! ;)”

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If this article infuriated you, try our top ten BVR fighters here

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(I won’t bore you with the standard disclaimers regarding reading too much into leaked DACT gossip).

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Written byHush KitPosted inAviation, Top Tens

"PAF" redirects here. For other uses, see PAF (disambiguation).

Pakistan Air Force
پاک فِضائیہ‎‎

Pakistan Air Force emblem

Founded14 August 1947
RoleAir force
Size70,000 active personnel[1]
883 aircraft[2]
Part ofPakistan Armed Forces
Air HeadquartersAir Headquarters
Islamabad, Pakistan
Motto(s)Urdu: قوم کے لیے فخر کی علامت
English: A symbol of pride for the nation
AnniversariesAir Force Day: September 7
EngagementsIndo-Pakistani War of 1947, 1965 Rann of Kutch Skirmishes, Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Six-Day War, Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Yom Kippur War, Soviet war in Afghanistan, 1999 Kargil Conflict, 2001–02 India–Pakistan standoff, War in North-West Pakistan
Chief of Air StaffAir Chief Marshal Sohail Aman
Notable CommandersAir Chf MrshlAnwar Shamim
Air MrshlNur Khan
Fin flash
Aircraft flown
AttackMirage 5[3]
Falcon DA-20, Saab 2000 Erieye, ZDK-03 (AEW)
FighterF-16A/B/C/D, JF-17
HelicopterAlouette III, Mi-171
ReconnaissanceMirage IIIRP, Falco UAV, Jasoos II Bravo+
TrainerFT-5, K-8P, MFI-17, MFI-395, C-12, T-37
TransportBoeing 707, Airbus A310, C-130B/E/L, CN-235, Saab 2000Harbin Y-12
TankerIlyushin Il-78

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) (Urdu: پاک فِضائیہ‬‎—Pāk Fizāʾiyah, Urdu: [pɑːk fɪzɑːɪjəɦ], reporting name:PAF) is the aerial warfare branch of the Pakistan Armed Forces, tasked primarily with the aerial defence of Pakistan, with a secondary role of providing air support to the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Navy. The PAF also has a tertiary role of providing strategic air transport and logistics capability to Pakistan. As of 2017, per IISS, the PAF has 70,000 active personnel[4]. It also currently operates 883 aircraft.[2]

Its primary mandate and mission is "to provide, in synergy with other inter-services, the most efficient, assured and cost effective aerial Defence of Pakistan." Since its establishment in 1947, the PAF has been involved in various combat operations, providing aerial support to Inter–Services's operations and relief efforts.[5] Under the Article 243[permanent dead link], the Constitution of Pakistan appoints the President of Pakistan as the civilian Commander-in-Chief. The Chief of Air Staff (CAS), by statute a four-starair chief marshal, is appointed by the President with the consultation and confirmation needed from the Prime Minister of Pakistan.[6] The Pakistan Air Force is currently commanded by Air Chief MarshalSohail Aman.[7]


1959 Indian aerial intrusion

On 10 April 1959, on the occasion of the Islamic Eid ul-Fitr festival holiday in Pakistan, an Indian Air Force (IAF) English Electric Canberra B(I)58 of No. 106 Squadron entered Pakistani airspace on a photo reconnaissance mission. Two PAF F-86F Sabres (Flt. Lt. M. N. Butt (leader) and Flt. Lt. M. Yunis) of No. 15 Squadron on Air Defence Alert (ADA) were scrambled from Sargodha Air Base to intercept the IAF aircraft. Butt attempted to bring down the Canberra by firing his Sabre's machine guns, but the Canberra was flying at an altitude of more than 50,000 feet — beyond the operational ceiling of the F-86F. When Yunis took over from his leader, the Canberra suddenly lost height while executing a turn over Rawalpindi. Yunis fired a burst that struck the Canberra at an altitude of 47,500 feet and brought it down over Rawat, near Rawalpindi. Marking the first aerial victory of the PAF . Both crew members of the IAF Canberra, ejected and were captured by Pakistani authorities and were subsequently released after remaining in detention for some time.[8]

1965 India-Pakistan War

Main article: Indo-Pakistani War of 1965

The PAF fleet at the time consisted of 12 F-104 Starfighters, some 120 F-86 Sabres and around 20 B-57 Canberra bombers.[9] The PAF claims to have had complete air superiority over the battle area from the second day of operations.[10] While, Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh of the Indian Air Force claimed, despite been qualitative inferior, IAF achieved air superiority in three days in the 1965 War.[11]

Many publications have credited the PAF's successes to U.S. equipment, claiming it to be superior to the aircraft operated by the IAF and giving the PAF a "qualitative advantage". However some Pakistanis refute this argument. As per them, the IAF's MiG-21, Hawker Hunter and Folland Gnat aircraft had better performance than the PAF's F-86 fighters.[12] According to Air Cdre (retired) Sajad Haider, the F-86 Sabre was inferior in both power and speed to the IAF's Hawker Hunter.[12][13][14][15]

According to Air Commodore (retired) Sajjad Haider who flew with No. 19 squadron, the F-104 Starfighter did not deserve its reputation as "the pride of the PAF" because it "was unsuited to the tactical environment of the region. It was a high-level interceptor designed to neutralize Soviet strategic bombers in altitudes above 40,000 feet." Nevertheless, the IAF is believed to have feared the Starfighter[16] although, it was not as effective as the IAF's Folland Gnat.[17] According to Indian sources, the F-86F performed reasonably well against the IAF Hawker Hunters but not as well against the Folland Gnat, which was nicknamed Sabre Slayer by the IAF.[18][19]

According to Indian sources most aircraft losses of IAF were on ground while PAF lost most in aerial combat.[20] Even though the IAF flew a larger offensive air campaign by devoting 40% of its air effort to offensive air support alone, according to Indian sources the majority of its losses came from aircraft destroyed on the ground through PAF air strikes.[20] The PAF had achieved far more in terms of enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground but without doubt, the IAF had achieved much more in the close support role.[20]

The two countries have made contradictory claims of combat losses during the war and few neutral sources have verified the claims of either country. The PAF claimed it shot down 104 IAF planes and lost 19 of its own, while the IAF claimed it shot down 73 PAF planes and lost 59.[21] According to the independent sources, the PAF lost some 20 aircraft while the Indians lost 60–75.[22][23] Despite the intense fighting, the conflict was effectively a stalemate.[24]

1971 India-Pakistan War

Main articles: Bangladesh Liberation War and Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

By late 1971, the intensification of the independence movement in erstwhile East Pakistan lead to the Bangladesh Liberation War between India and Pakistan .[25] On 22 November 1971, 10 days before the start of a full-scale war, four PAF F-86 Sabre jets attacked Indian and Mukti Bahini positions at Garibpur, near the international border. Two of the four PAF Sabres were shot down and one damaged by the IAF's Folland Gnats.[26] On 3 December, India formally declared war against Pakistan following massive preemptive strikes by the PAF against Indian Air Force installations in Srinagar, Ambala, Sirsa, Halwara and Jodhpur. However, the IAF did not suffer significantly because the leadership had anticipated such a move and precautions were taken.[27] The Indian Air Force was quick to respond to Pakistani air strikes, following which the PAF carried out mostly defensive sorties.[28]

Hostilities officially ended at 14:30 GMT on 17 December, after the fall of Dacca on 15 December. The PAF flew about 2,840 sorties and destroyed 45 IAF aircraft while Pakistan lost 75 aircraft.[29]

1973 Arab-Israeli 'Yom Kippur' War

Main article: Yom Kippur War

During the war, sixteen Pakistan Air Force pilots volunteered to leave for the Middle East in order to support Egypt and Syria but by the time they arrived Egypt had already agreed on a cease-fire. Syria remained in a state of war against Israel so the PAF pilots became instructors there and formed the A-flight of 67 Squadron at Dumayr AB. One of the PAF pilots, Flt. Lt. Sattar Alvi flying a MiG-21 shot down an Israeli Air Force Mirage and was honoured by the Syrian government.[30][31][32]

1979–1988 Soviet-Afghan War

Main articles: Soviet war in Afghanistan, Soviet-Afghan War, and Air Force Strategic Command (Pakistan)

In 1979, the PAF's Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief MarshalAnwar Shamim, was told by then President, and Chief of Army Staff General Zia-ul-Haq, that Pakistan had reliable intels on Indian plans to attack and destroy the Pakistan's nuclear research facilities at Kahuta. ACM Shamim told General Zia that, "Indian aircraft could reach the area in 3 minutes whereas the PAF would take 8 minutes, allowing the Indians to attack the facility and return before the PAF could defend it". Because Kahuta was close to the Indian border it was decided that the best way to deter an Indian attack would be to procure new advanced fighters and weaponry. These could be used to mount a retaliatory attack on India's nuclear research facilities at Trombay in the event of an Indian attack on Kahuta. It was decided the most suitable aircraft would be the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which the United States eventually agreed to supply after the PAF refused to purchase the F-5E and F-5G. In 1983, when the first batch of F-16s reached Pakistan, ACM Shamim informed Zia of the PAF's capability to respond to an attack on the nuclear research facilities at Kahuta.[33][34]

A letter of agreement for up to 28 F-16A's and 12 F-16B's was signed December 1981. The contracts, Peace Gate I and Peace Gate II, were for 6 and 34 Block 15 models respectively which would be powered by the F100-PW-200 engine. The first Peace Gate I aircraft was accepted at Fort Worth in October 1982. Two F-16A and four F-16B were delivered to Pakistan in 1983, the first F-16 arriving at PAF Base Sargodha (now known as PAF Base Mushaf) on 15 January 1983 flown by Squadron Leader Shahid Javed. The 34 remaining Peace Gate II aircraft were delivered between 1983 and 1987.[35][36]

Between May 1986 and November 1988,[37] PAF F-16s have shot down at least eight intruders from Afghanistan. The first three of these (one Su-22, one probable Su-22, and one An-26) were shot down by two pilots from No. 9 Squadron. Pilots of No. 14 Squadron destroyed the remaining five intruders (two Su-22s, two MiG-23s, and one Su-25).[38] Most of these kills were by the AIM-9 Sidewinder, but at least one (a Su-22) was destroyed by cannon fire. Flight Lieutenant Khalid Mahmoud is credited with three of these kills. One F-16 was lost in these battles during an encounter between two F-16s and four Soviet Air Force MiG 23s on 29 April 1987. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Shahid Sikandar Khan, ejected safely.[39]

The PAF is believed to have evaluated the Dassault Mirage 2000 in early 1981 and was planning to evaluate the F-16 Fighting Falcon afterwards.[40]


After the Pressler amendment was passed, the U.S. placed sanctions and an arms embargo on Pakistan on 6 October 1990 due to the country's continued nuclear weapons programme. All eleven Peace Gate III F-16s, along with 7 F-16A and 10 F-16B of the 60 Peace Gate IV F-16s, which had been built by the end of 1994 were embargoed and put into storage in the United States.[35][36]

Desperate for a new high-tech combat aircraft, between late 1990 and 1993 the PAF evaluated the European Panavia Tornado MRCA (multi-role combat aircraft) and rejected it. The Mirage 2000E and an offer from Poland for the supply of MiG-29 and Su-27 were also considered but nothing materialised. In 1992 the PAF again looked at the Mirage 2000, reviving a proposal from the early 1980s to procure around 20–40 aircraft, but again a sale did not occur because France did not want to sell a fully capable version due to political reasons. In August 1994 the PAF was offered the Saab JAS-39 Gripen by Sweden, but again the sale did not occur because 20% of the Gripen's components were from the U.S. and Pakistan was still under U.S. sanctions.[41]

In mid-1992 Pakistan was close to signing a contract for the supply of 40 Dassault Mirage 2000, equipped with Thomson-CSF RDM/7 radars, from France.[42]

In mid-1994 it was reported that the Russian manufacturers Sukhoi and Mikoyan were offering the Su-27 and MiG-29.[43] But Pakistan was later reported to be negotiating for supply of the Dassault Mirage 2000-5.[44] French and Russian teams visited Pakistan on 27 November 1994 and it was speculated that interest in the Russian aircraft was to pressure France into reducing the price of the Mirage 2000. Stated requirement was for up to 40 aircraft.[45]

2008 air alert

After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, PAF was put on high alert. It deployed to all its wartime locations and started combat air patrols. The speed and intensity of the deployment and PAF's readiness took the Indian Army High Command by surprise and later reports suggest was the main factor in the Indian decision of not going for cross border raids inside Pakistan.[46][47] PAF was issued a Standing Order to launch an immediate counter-attack in case of an air attack from India, after a call from the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (the call later turned out to be a hoax).[46][47][48][49][50]

2011 Abbottabad Operation

An initial investigation report revealed that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) reported the movement of some half-a-dozen planes near the Jalalabad border at 11 pm before the US helicopters entered Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden. "One aircraft was identified as a US AWACS and the remaining five were recognised as F-18 jets of the US. These planes flew near the Pakistani border, but did not cross into the airspace of Pakistan,"[51]

On detection of intrusion, PAF jets on air defence alert were scrambled and the PAF immediately took adequate operational measures as per standard operating procedure. The PAF aircraft continued their presence in Abbottabad area until early morning and later returned to their air bases.[52]

However, the fact that so many non-stealth aircraft had entered Pakistani airspace, stayed for 3 hours to carry out a major operation, and that PAF jets only arrived at the location 24 minutes after the American helicopters had left made a senior PAF official term it "one of the most embarrassing" incidents in Pakistan's history.[53]

2001–present Counter-insurgency operations in northwest Pakistan

See also: War in North-West Pakistan

The Pakistan Army faced several problems during its 2009 offensive against the Taliban in north-west Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis vacated the area when the offensive was announced and, eventually, over 2 million had to be accommodated in refugee camps. The offensive was to be completed as quickly as possible to allow the refugees to return to their homes but the army's fleet attack helicopters were not sufficient to provide adequate support to the infantry. The PAF was sent into action against the Taliban to make up for the lack of helicopter gunships. Because the PAF was trained and equipped to fight a conventional war, a new "counter-terrorist doctrine" had to be improvised.[54]

The PAF's Saffron Bandit 2009/2010 exercise focused on extensive training of combat personnel to undertake COIN operations. New equipment was inducted to improve the PAF's joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. A C-130 transport aircraft was indigenously modified for day/night ISR operations.[54][55]

Use of laser-guided bombs was increased to 80% of munitions used, as compared to 40% in the previous 2008 Bajaur campaign. A small corps of ground spotters were trained and used by the PAF, in addition to PA spotters, to identify high-value targets.[56]

Prior to the PA's offensive into South Waziristan the PAF attacked militant infrastructure with 500 lb and 2000 lb bombs.[56]

A number of civilian deaths occurred during PAF air strikes on 10 April 2010 in the Khyber tribal region. According to a Pakistani military source, the first bombing was targeted at a gathering of militants in a compound. Local people, who had quickly moved onto the scene to recover the dead and wounded, were then killed during a second air strike. There was no confirmed death toll but at least 30 civilian deaths had occurred according to the military source, whereas a local official stated at least 73 locals, including women and children, were killed.[57] A six-member committee of tribal elders from the area, tasked with finding the exact number of civilian casualties, reported that 61 civilians were killed and 21 wounded. This was not confirmed by military or political leaders but Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, gave a public apology on 17 April.[58][59] It is reported that BBC news and several other media correspondences were not allowed to take interviews from injured which makes the whole episode more mysterious.[60]



  • Air Force Strategic Command (AFSC), Islamabad
  • Northern Air Command (NAC), Peshawar
  • Central Air Command (CAC), Lahore
  • Southern Air Command (SAC), Karachi
  • Air Defence Command (ADC), Rawalpindi


Main article: List of Pakistan Air Force bases

The PAF has a total of 18 air bases, comprising 11 flying bases and 7 non-flying bases. Flying bases are operational bases from which aircraft operate during peacetime and wartime; whereas non-flying bases conduct either training, administration, maintenance, or mission support.[61]

Rank structure

Main article: Air Force Ranks of Pakistan



List of Air Chiefs

Main article: Chief of Air Staff (Pakistan)

  1. Air Vice Marshal Allan Perry-Keene (15 August 1947 – 17 February 1949)
  2. Air Vice Marshal Richard Atcherley (18 February 1949 – 6 May 1951)
  3. Air Vice Marshal Leslie William Cannon (7 May 1951 – 19 June 1955)
  4. Air Vice Marshal Arthur McDonald (20 June 1955 – 22 July 1957)
  5. Air Marshal Asghar Khan (23 July 1957 – 22 July 1965)
  6. Air Marshal Nur Khan (23 July 1965 – 31 August 1969)
  7. Air Marshal Abdul Rahim Khan (1 September 1969 – 2 March 1972)
  8. Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry (3 March 1972 – 15 April 1974)
  9. Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan (16 April 1974 – 22 July 1978)
  10. Air Chief Marshal Anwar Shamim (23 July 1978 – 5 March 1985)
  11. Air Chief Marshal Jamal A. Khan (6 March 1985 – 8 March 1988)
  12. Air Chief Marshal Hakimullah (9 March 1988 – 9 March 1991)
  13. Air Chief Marshal Farooq Feroze Khan (9 March 1991 – 8 November 1994)
  14. Air Chief Marshal Abbas Khattak (8 November 1994 – 7 November 1997)
  15. Air Chief Marshal Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi (7 November 1997 – 20 November 2000)
  16. Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir (20 November 2000 – 20 February 2003)
  17. Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat (18 March 2003 – 18 March 2006)
  18. Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed (18 March 2006 – 18 March 2009)
  19. Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman (19 March 2009 – 19 March 2012)
  20. Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt (19 March 2012 – 19 March 2015)
  21. Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman (19 March 2015 – present)[7]

Serving Air Marshals

Main article: List of serving Air Marshals of the Pakistan Air Force

Awards for valour

The Nishan-e-Haider (Urdu:نشان حیدر‬) (Order of Ali), is the highest military award given by Pakistan. Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas (1951–20 August 1971) is the only officer of the PAF to be awarded the Nishan-e-Haider for sacrificing his life to save an aircraft from being hijacked to India.[62] Other awards include:

Special Forces

Main article: Special Service Wing

Women in the PAF

Previously, women had been employed by Pakistan's armed forces in non-combat roles only, such as the medical corps,[71] and the PAF had remained all-male throughout its history.[72] However, since 2003 women have been allowed to enroll in the aerospace engineering and other programs of PAF Academy Risalpur, including fighter pilot training programmes.[71] It has been stated that standards are not compromised for women, those who do not achieve the same performance as their male counterparts are dropped from the course. A level of segregation between the genders is maintained. For example, early-morning parades are performed together but some parts of training, mainly physical exercises, are done with males and females separated. According to Squadron Leader Shazia Ahmed, the officer in charge of the first female cadets and a psychologist, this also improves confidence of the women.[72]

In 2005 it was reported that two batches in the Air Force Academy's flying wing contained 10 women, with many more in the engineering and aerospace wings. Cadet Saba Khan, from Quetta in Balochistan, applied after reading a newspaper advertisement seeking female cadets. She was one of the first four women to pass the first stages of flying training on propeller-driven light aircraft and move onto faster jet-powered training aircraft.[72]

In March 2006, the PAF inducted a batch of 34 fighter pilots which included the organisation's first four female fighter pilots. Three years of training had been completed by the pilots at PAF Academy Risalpur before they graduated and were awarded their Flying Badges during the ceremony. Certificates of honour were handed to the successful cadets by a "delighted" General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, vice chief of the Pakistan Army, who acknowledged that the PAF was the first of the Pakistan Armed Forces to introduce women to its combat units. One of the women, Flying Officer Nadia Gul, was awarded a trophy for best academic achievement. The other female graduates were Mariam Khalil, Saira Batool and the above-mentioned Saba Khan.[71] A second batch of pilots, including 3 female pilots, graduated from the 117th GD(P) course at PAF Academy Risalpur in September 2006. The Sword of Honour for best all-round performance was awarded to Aviation Cadet Saira Amin, the first female pilot to win the award. Aviation Cadet Saira Amin won the Asghar Hussain Trophy for best performance in academics.[73]

In September 2009 it was reported that seven women had qualified as operational fighter pilots on the Chengdu F-7, the first female combat pilots in the PAF's history, one of them being Ambreen Gull. Commanding Officer Tanvir Piracha emphasised that if the female pilots "are not good enough as per their male counterparts, we don't let them fly." It was noted that some of the female pilots wear the hijab while others do not.[74]

Religious minorities in the PAF

Religious minorities have served in the PAF with distinction since its inception: Air Vice Marshal Eric Gordon Hall was Base Commander of Chaklala Air Base during the 1965 Indo-Pak War; Air Commodore Nazir Latif; Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry fought in the 1965 Indo-Pak War and, later helped establish the Combat Commanders School (CCS); Wing Commander Melvin Leslie Middlecoat was Commanding Officer of No. 9 Squadron during the 1965 Indo-Pak War; Squadron Leader Peter Christy; Patrick Desmond Callaghan is another Christian officer of who rose to the rank of Air Vice Marshal. He served as Eastern Air Force Command and Deputy Chief of Air Staff.[75] Wing Commander Ronald Felix is a test pilot on the JF-17 Thunder since 2010 and was one of two PAF pilots flying the JF-17 at the 2011 Izmir Air Show in Turkey.


See also: List of retired aircraft of Pakistan Air Force and List of active Pakistan Air Force aircraft

Current inventory

Pakistani air force Mirage III aircraft drops two 500-pound bombs during Falcon Air Meet 2010 at Azraq Royal Jordanian Air Base in Azraq, Jordan.
Air Commodore MM Alam "Little Dragon". Ace in a Day of the Pakistan Air Force
A Pakistani F-16BM in flight
A Lockheed L-100 Hercules departing RIAT 2006


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