Thursday, January 3, 2013

Pakistan Air Force : Fighting a tough battle of high attrition

Pakistan Air Force is losing nearly two percent of its 900 aircraft each year to accidents. This is more than ten times the rate of Western air forces. These losses are caused by aircraft that are too old and a budget that is too small to properly train new pilots and maintain the old aircraft. 

Around 350+ fighters of Pakistan Air Force are over 20 years old. This includes 150+ French made Mirages, 180+ MiG-21s (the Chinese F-7 version) and 30+ U.S. made F-16s. 

Pakistan Air Force has been steadily inducting new aircraft into service. Since 2000, Pakistan Air Force has received 46 F-16s and 100 Chinese made JF-17s (similar to the F-16). These planes are pretty safe and reliable. But the problem is Pakistan has not got enough money to buy enough new aircraft to replace all those old aircraft that are becoming inoperable because of age. You can refurbish old aircraft and keep them flying for half a century or more, but that is also a costly affair and Pakistan has not got the money for that either. 

F-7 Aircraft of Pakistan Air Force ( Image Courtesy - )

Across the border, Indian Air Force made a mighty effort to make their MiGs safer to fly, though the accident rate was still higher than that of Western aircraft. Still, it came down significantly. F-15s and F-16s of US Air Force have an accident rate of 3-4 per 100,000 flight hours. NATO Air Forces have an accident rate of 4-5 per 100,000 flight hoursIndia, using mostly Russian aircraft, has an accident rate of 6-7 per 100,000 hours flown. Pakistan’s accident rate is at least three times that of India.

India is solving the MiG problem by retiring all the older (bought before the 1990s) MiGs. Only the 67 MiG-29s, air superiority multi-role combat aircraft, are being kept in service. These aircraft were among a new generation of Russian combat aircraft, appearing at the end of the Cold War, that were far sophisticated then older MiGs and were built to Western standards. This made a big difference in the accident rate but IAF felt it was still on a higher side. 

Hence, India went for a massive upgrade for the whole Mig-29 fleet. The IAF awarded the MiG corporation a USD 900 million contract to upgrade all of its 69 operational MiG-29s. These upgrades include a new avionics kit, with the N-109 radar being replaced by a Phazatron Zhuk-M radar. The aircraft is also being equipped to enhance beyond-visual-range combat ability and for air-to-air refueling to increase flying time.

Indian Air Force can spend close to billion dollars for upgrade of just Mig 29 alone, something which Pakistan Air Force can not afford as of now. Therefore Pakistan Air Force would need to come up with innovative ideas as how to minimize the accident rate of old aircraft and also how to quicken the rate of replacement of these old aircraft with new aircraft acquisitions from either US or China or through indigenous efforts.

News Courtesy -

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