The Royal Air Force (RAF) recently concluded an important visit to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), giving Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sir Stephen Hillier, the RAF’s chief of the air staff, a wide-reaching overview of the PAF’s capabilities.
After ACM Hillier’s arrival at the PAF headquarters on 30th March, he was briefed by his PAF counterpart ACM Sohail Aman on the PAF’s ongoing counter-insurgency efforts under Operation Zarb-e-Azb being waged in north-west Pakistan against Islamist elements.
The second day saw ACM Hillier visit the newly-named PAF Academy Asghar Khan in the north-west of the country where, as chief guest he oversaw the graduation parade of the PAF’s 118th Combat Support Course and 39th Basic Learning Pilots Course. In his speech AVM Hillier spoke of the: “RAF’s valuable contribution towards the development of PAF especially in its early years, a contribution that has been deeply appreciated.” He went on to add: “the relations between two countries and of course, the two air forces would continue to strengthen even further.”
Evidence of this expanding cooperation was seen during a visit to Mushaf airbase in the east of Pakistan when it was announced that the PAF’s 9 ‘Griffins’ squadron, which flies Lockheed Martin F-16A/B fighters would twin with the RAF’s 9 ‘Bats’ Squadron currently flying the Panavia Tornado-GR4 fighter.
It is unclear what the twinning will mean, given the high level of operational activity that the two units are involved in but it is believed to be more symbolic. Both squadrons are participating in ongoing operations against political violence; the PAF in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) of north-west Pakistan, and the RAF over Syria and Iraq as part of the ongoing US-led coalition battling the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) insurgent movement. ACM Aman stated that: “Both of the 9 squadrons have a rich legacy and have been frontline squadrons since their inception. The twinning of these squadrons would help us in learn from each other and strengthen our cordial relations.” During the visit to Mushaf, both the ACMs flew a mission in separate F-16Bs, making it the first time a foreign CAS had participated in a joint mission with a PAF CAS.