Comparison between Pakistan Air Force vs. Indian Air Force (PAF vs IAF) and who will win the next War is a hot cake topic for internet warriors – I aim to resolve that.
Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunder and F-16 Falcon Comparison
My comparison is based on PAF vs IAF designated roles during the War.
This opinion piece is also based on the realistic presumption that whichever Air Force manages to acquire a sharper sword, whether physically, doctrine-wise, or training-wise in executing their designated role, will achieve a decisive victory in the air.
This will shape the outcome of the campaign as well.
I will only conclude which gunslinger would be left standing after a Mexican standoff, at high noon.
A victory in War is based on achieving political objectives, which is another ball game altogether.
So, let’s get started.
PAF vs IAF War Doctrines
Pakistan Air Force is a defensive air force, only limited to operations within its borders.
Whereas, Indian Air Force, with its new inductions, is slowly building capacity to expand its offensive umbrella beyond its borders.
Pakistan Air Space, unlike the Chinese PLA Air Force, is particularly vulnerable to this new doctrine of India – and I will explain why.
PAF vs IAF Fighter Jets Comparison
First, let me list down PAF vs IAF front line fighters for your reference.
|Air Craft Category||PAF Number of Aircraft||Available numbers (90% reliability)||IAF number of aircraft||IAF available numbers (60% reliability)|
|F-16 A/B/C/D||Rafale(8)/SU-30MKI (260)/Mirage 2000 (49)|
|Air to Air Refuelers||4||6|
|SAAB-2000, ZDK-03||EMB-145,Beriev A-50|
|Armed Drones||None with Air Force||***10|
|Burrak, CH-4||IAI Heron Drone with Harpy Loitering Munition|
*I would categorize PAF F-16 as the only front line fighters, with their proven Avionics, Weapons, and Reliability capable enough to implement PAF’s vision of denying IAF freedom over-friendly land operations. The 100 JF-17 Block I/II are not there yet to achieve this objective as SD-10 BVR in tandem with KLJ Radar has never scored a verifiable combat kill.
** IAF Mirage 2000, SU030 MKI, and Rafale can enforce their will in their designated area of operation –and hence they are in my opinion – front-line fighter jets. All of these jets, with their advanced Radar, Avionics, Targeting systems, and weapons, complement each other’s weaknesses.If these are all concentrated on the Pakistan border, IAF will run through Pakistan’s defenses, and that would be a nightmare scenario.
Mig-29, on the other hand, is chronically unreliable for the envisaged high-intensity battle between IAF and PAF.
*** IAF armed drone numbers are not publicly available, and this may alter the course of battle India’s way singlehandedly.
PAF vs IAF who will win the War?
Straight up looking at this ratio of front line combat jets, we can see that India will not be able to enforce its will or even dominate a theater, even inside their territory – for the time being.
So, IAF cannot win the War against PAF, for now.
It is roughly a 3:1 ratio of front line combat planes between India and Pakistan, means that Pakistan just might inflict embarrassing kills on IAF that would be too much for the ego of the Indian elephant. So, the deterrent holds for now.
PAF on the other hand, cannot even think of wandering across the fence line and supporting any offensive operations.
Pakistan Air Force’s real weakness
Pakistan, hamstrung by a consistent political doctrine for PAF, has presently lowered its bar to just deny Air Dominance to IAF in Pakistan’s Air Space areas of significance.
This is a marked scale down from the heydays when Pakistan struck Indian installations relatively deep in Indian territory, both from West and East Pakistan.
India, on the other hand, has consistently upgrade IAF’s political objectives of War and backed it up with resources to now reach a stage that they can somewhat impose their will on weaker border countries.
India has played their Anti-China and Anti- Political Islam card well, to strengthen their political machinery to churn out one strategic gain after the next.
The series of US-India Defense Deals and Strategic deals with all Western countries is a manifest of the same.
This means that whatever gains IAF achieves in case of War will be accepted as legitimate spoils of War for India, by the World community, which is dominated by their Western Partners.
Pakistan on the other hand is chugging along reluctantly on the Islamic Ummah track, with hardly any nuts and bolts plan to fuel it, and with no clear destination in sight.
PAF will never be able to achieve War victory – without a consistent narrative of political objective – that every Pakistani supports.
This can only happen with solid political institutions back with intellectual inputs.
Why Political Institutions win Wars?
How can PAF even think of winning in this scenario? I mean, what will PAF aim for, if the political and intellectual institutions don’t guide them towards the Promised Land?
This is also reflecting in the way the Pakistan Air Force, in the absence of domestic political inputs, has been scaling back its offensive doctrine.
This scale back is hastened based on the level of support available from the USA. That support is non-existent now, and PAF’s battle teeth are getting less sharper, every passing day.
Pakistan’s chief edge against India has been the quality of front-line aircraft that have been part of PAF’s inventory since the first dictator Mr. Ayub Khan aligned the country tightly with the USA’s interests.
Pakistan fending off the Indian Army’s thrust in the 1965 war was made possible by the highly reliable and agile F-86 sabre, the only significant tactical victory Pakistan has to show against India.
All small scale victories PAF has achieved over the years have been tactical battle victories, the Wars have been lost.
IAF vs PAF War fighting Concept
Over here, we must also discuss the war fighting concept of India and Pakistan, so that we get a fair enough idea, what the adversarial Air Force commanders are planning.
First of all, both military planners know that Pakistan is looking for bang-for-the-buck, because of its frail economy – and cannot afford any grand designs of sustain operations beyond its borders. The Indian government has outflanked Pakistan in this area.
Pakistan Air Force aims to reasonably deny free reign to Indian Air Superiority and Ground Attack Fighters in Pakistan’s Air Space to give enough room to Pakistan Army to hold ground against Indian military offensive operations.
PAF keeps shopping for western fighter planes, weapons, training, and Radars to achieve this aim. The sources have now dwindled to a trickle.
India, on the other hand, with a burgeoning economy and the western world falling over each other to get a piece of the Indian market, aims to inflict punishing raids into Pakistan’s territory that decimates Pakistan’s offensive capabilities to deter military attacks, if the need arises.
Whenever IAF feels they have all their Rafale in ready, their SU-30MKi upgraded with western targeting and weapon systems, Indian political machinery will give them go-ahead to conduct offensive raids to target Pakistan’s leading Combat Aircraft, Force Multipliers Platforms like AEW&CS / Refuellers and Armed Drones.
The rest of the PAF’s aircraft will be a cakewalk.
With PAF out of the way and the Pakistan Army mortally vulnerable, the purpose will be to bend Pakistan politically to Indian will.
There is even talk of the Indian Air Force creating Air Superiority over a bridgehead inside Pakistani territory, right at the border that blunts whatever thrust Pakistan makes towards dislodging it – thereby expending Pakistan’s resources completely.
PAF vs IAF Political Support
Indian Military thought process has now moved away from their stop-gap military purchasing from whoever lend political support, to a more coherent national doctrine for IAF.
India is now moving towards a more reliable western fleet.
PAF has in the past exploited IAF’s weaknesses when it comes to Russian Planes and Weapons – but that seems to be ending.
Indian political government has the option to cherry-pick Fighter Jets, and targeting systems from their client of choice.
India has sufficient support from the USA to make that happen.
A lot of IAF’s rise is attributable to solid political oversight by quality political institutions.
So, the military strategists on both sides of the fence want different things and the scales are tipping in IAF’s favor rapidly.
PAF’s complete dependence on Chinese military technology and its reliability issues will not cover the current Pakistan vulnerabilities because of incompatible key national statistics.
Indian government realizes this and has recently signed a slew of defense deals with the USA on using other ground facilities, Satellite imaging, targeting information, and even co-producing western quality weapons – to keep Pakistan out of the procurement loop.
PAF vs IAF Weapons
I would estimate, IAF would be just about there when they get their full delivery of 36 Rafale jets and upgrade SU-30MKI with western weapons and avionics.
MICA (better close-in Weapon at 50km), METEOR (better Beyond Visual Weapon at 150km), SPICE-2000 (better Penetration Weapon at 50km), Brahmos (Better Air Launched Supersonic Cruise Missile at 300 km), weapons will be tip the scales in the conventional weapons parity equation towards India, big time.
I haven’t even mentioned the sheer numbers of aircraft undergoing weapons upgrades that can overwhelm Pakistan’s perimeters.
Indian Air Force already has perfect target imagery, accurate target coordinates, Satellite real-time visuals, Drone footage, radio intercepts, Diplomatic umbrella, and a sympathetic world audience to cream Pakistan Air Force.
Then they will be in a position to impose their will on their independent-minded neighbor by coercion.
PAF needs a complete overhaul
PAF will have to think long and hard whether it wants to stick to the old ways of cajoling Western capitals for top-line weapons or create a new doctrine of necessity.
France, the USA, Britain have shown several times that they are unreliable in weapons supplies when India comes into the frame.
Pakistan might have to drastically change its doctrine of war from precision strikes at concentration nodes, to one of several damaging waves of raids with its weapons.
PAF might need to consider Clausewitz’s scorched earth deterrent offensive doctrine to keep the giant at bay.
Pakistan might have to alter the structure of its military from a WW2 styled all-inclusive manpower to one with high mobility, maximum firepower, and precision. This will require letting go of dead-weights.
Let the private sector build the aircraft and weapons that you need – there seems to be no other way.
Modernize, Modernize, and Modernize should be the catchword for PAF.
The PAF should have only combat aircraft and allied systems that support direct offensive action and nothing else.
This involves correcting the rank structure, career profile, and numbers of the human resource in PAF.
PAF will have to restrict itself to projecting firepower only and inflicting unacceptable economic damage on IAF and subsequently Indian economic machine.
Pakistan will have to privatize its Aeronautical Complex and Weapons Development Agencies so that meaningful and result-oriented research takes place there, the kind that attracts the right people.
Pakistan Air Force must incorporate MALE Armed Drones in huge numbers so that the job of low altitude targeting can be sublet to them and also to swarm IAF Air Defense network.
For this modernization in PAF to take place, there are only 10 years available.
If PAF does not heed to IAF’s rapid modernization, there is a big chance the whole air arm would become irrelevant in the coming decade – as an instrument of national political power.
IAF 2019 Balakot Air Strike and PAF’s response
The recent skirmish in Kashmir that Pakistan Air Force won, cannot be repeated whenever the fundamentals do not allow it.
PAF F-16 managed to shoot down a Mig-21 and scare away the formidable SU-30MKI because of the surprise of releasing BVR AMRAAM at its maximum range of 100 km, something that Russian R-77 Missile could not do because of its 80 km closure distance.
This allowed the PAF’s formation to go cold and break away early.
The SU-30 were left scrambling to evade the incoming missiles.
This left the IAF Mig-21 vulnerable and they walked straight into PAF’s trap.
Wing Commander Abhinandan of IAF was shot down in the Pakistani territory for everyone to see.
Pakistan claims another kill, but without evidence, nothing can be confirmed.
IAF vs PAF pilots
Although PAF vs IAF Pilot to Plane ratio of 2.1 to 1.4 is better, and maybe also in quality, this will not last forever as the fleet size increases to achieve parity.
What about IAF vs PAF other promising Aircraft?
India has piled up quite an impressive array of Recon planes, Gunship Helicopters (Apache), and Troop carriers (C-17 & C-130) but the IAF vs PAF war would be decided in a few days, long before these planes to join the fray.
Tejas and other domestic platforms have still not matured enough to prove decisive in War.
The remaining luxury transporters, troop carriers, helicopters mean nothing in an intense India Pakistan standoff because the sharpest weapon will win the final round.
What IAF does not have is accurate and long-distance western offensive weapons for the time being.
But that is about to change.
Indian Air Force currently does not enjoy the dominance they so desperately crave against Pakistan Air Force, so they cannot win a war against PAF for now. This is mainly because of unreliable Russian Planes and Weapons. The moment India completes its acquisition of Western weapon systems and Armed Drones, in the next decade, Pakistan Air Force and Ground Forces will be in a huge fix. Pakistan policymakers need to work fast – now!
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