Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), talks to IDEAS show daily correspondent Alan Warnes.
Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) knows a thing about pressure. He previously served as the Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations) which is probably the second most demanding job in the PAF.
The PAF is on a constant state of alert along all of its borders. In the west, it has been supporting the Army against the terrorists Pakistan is trying to eliminate, while on the northern, eastern and southern boundaries comes a threat from its bigger neighbours.
There have been two wars with India and several serious stand-offs since Pakistan was founded in 1947 and the threats are growing more sophisticated through newer technologies.
The CAS’ role is to provide stability, leadership and vision for the PAF, which is regarded as one of the most professional air forces in the region. “My main role is to ensure continuity of policies and operational preparedness,” he explained at the Zhuhai Air Show in early November.
”But I am trying to build a broader and longer vision – Building a Next Generation PAF for 2047 when the PAF will be 100 years old”.
Next Generation Fighter
Spearheading that vision is the development of a 5th Generation aircraft. “We can’t afford to lag behind others”.
Regional stability is undoubtedly the focus of his concern. “The geo-political and geo-strategic situation means that we have to maintain a strategic balance in the region and we need to be build it up now”.
We know that when other countries have inducted new generation fighter aircraft, they have been badly prepared for the training. Developing a new generation aircraft is always a difficult proposition, but over the years the PAF has succeeded in facing these challenges.
“I want to make sure that we have certain potent capacities and capabilities right across our aircraft, battle systems and our training too. Education will play a big part in that. It might seem a long time away but with technologies continuing to evolve at such a fast pace we have to remain focused on what that could be.
The PAF has been working on a 5th Generation fighter for almost a year now and it is likely to take at least a couple of years before it is flying. “It is indigenous at this time – we will be self-reliant and not dependent upon western or eastern partners”.
That is a tall task, considering the Chinese have struggled to develop indigenous power plants for their own fighters, but the Chief is adamant and aware of the huge challenges the PAF faces on this project. It will of course have to be ITAR-free, because Pakistan has suffered so many times in the past from United States sanctions.
“It will be collaborated with private industry and our academia. Our Aviation City is being built up now, that will one day work towards building a brighter future for our aerospace industry. Aviation education is almost non-existent in Pakistan and we need to fix that. We are setting up our own aviation hub and now formulating our vision which will cover manufacturing facilities and laboratories”.
“We have recently opened up a new university too, albeit in a make-shift location and we will link all of this to developing our own 5th Generation fighter and commercial aircraft”.
Right now the PAF fulfils its training requirements on the elderly Cessna T-37 and Hongdu K-8s. But the Chief needs something more modern. “We are upgrading the T-37s with a glass cockpit, just as we have the Super Mushshak previously”.
That’s the futuristic approach – we have to adapt them to our needs. It’s the first step.
“For future lead-in fighter training, we have evaluated certain aircraft which included the Hongdu L-15 and Leonardo M346. There might be shortfalls in some aircraft, but if they can fulfil our air staff requirements”.
“Pakistan is a third-world country, and it might not have the same resources and finances that others might have in the region. So when the PAF does evaluate something, it is evaluated thoroughly”.
Everyone in the industry knows that the PAF are hard taskmasters, and if they want to sell to the PAF, it will evaluated from every angle. “But once we have bought something, the companies are usually very keen to market our acquisition”.
On the future, the CAS finished, “We know where we are going and we know what we need to get there”.