Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman said on Monday that with the induction of F-16 (Block 52) fighter jets and AVACS surveillance aircraft in its fleet, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was now more capable to counter any external aggression against the territorial integrity of the country.
“We have received the last batch of 18 F-16 (Block 52) jets which have better technical and operational capabilities as compared to our neighbouring air force,” he said while talking to journalists on the occasion of completion of delivery of F-16 (Block-52) and upgradation of Shahbaz Airbase.
He said that the 14 F-16 (Block 15) fighter aircrafts had arrived from the United States after complete overhauling. Rao Qamar Suleman said that the PAF had also acquired one AVACS, out of four aircraft, from China which had enhanced its air surveillance capability.
Under a Mid-Life Upgradation (MLU) agreement, Turkey would upgrade 45 F-16 old version aircraft to the level of F-16 (Block 52) by equipping them with modern avionics and radar systems till 2013.
About upgradation of Shahbaz Airbase, he said that the airbase was fully under the PAF command and control and the reports regarding presence of foreign air force were baseless.
“Some US trainers are imparting training to our pilots and engineering staff under PAF command and control system”, he added.
The PAF Chief said that it was first in the history of the country that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) together flew in the fighter aircraft.
Responding to a question regarding air defence cooperation with Russia, he said that it would take at least two years to purchase any particular aircraft from Russia.
Pakistan, he said, was also manufacturing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) simply known as Drone aircraft but they were not capable to fire missiles or rockets. “We will be able to manufacture UAVs which can have weapon firing capability.”
When his attention was drawn about Indian preparations and purchase of heavy weapons, he said that the PAF was ready to meet challenges and thwart any aggression.
Responding to a question about the US operation in Abbottabad, he said, “The US and allied forces were our partners in war against terrorism and we could not imagine that they would violate our airspace.”
Earlier, briefing a group of journalists who flew from Islamabad to attend the ceremony, Deputy Chief of Air Staff (Operations) Air Marshal Waseem Uddin said the PAF cooperation with the US was still continuing.
About the PAF’s participation in war on terror, he said that the PAF was not conducting operations at its own rather it provided support to the army in Swat and Bajour operations.
He said that the Shahbaz Airbase was upgraded in record two-year time.
Air Marshal Waseem Uddin expressed the confidence that F-16 (Block 52) aircraft would bring a lot of stability in the region and shift the balance of air power in Pakistan’s balance.
To another query, he said that several countries had shown interest in Pakistan JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft as “this aircraft is cost effective and capable of all manoeuvres”.
Regarding professional capability of Pakistani pilots, he said, “We should be proud of the capability of our pilots as the entire world is appreciative of their skills.”
About refueling of F-16 in mid air, he said the PAF was evaluating a possibility to acquire this technology.
He said that the PAF plans were ready to counter Indian war doctrines and it would not let the nation down in this regard.
To a question, he said that Shahbaz Airbase remained under use of the NATO forces from 2002 to 2004. However, it was got vacated from the NATO forces by the government in 2004.
Meanwhile, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman reviewed a F-16 (Block 52) aircraft and went to its cockpit.
They were briefed by PAF pilots and other officials regarding functions and technical and operational capabilities of F-16 (Block 52) aircraft. Both the chiefs also had 45-minute flight on two separate F-16 (Block 52) aircraft.
The journalists were also taken around different installations and facilities at the PAF Shahbaz Airbase including the runway, tarmac, engineering and maintenance blocks, engine test cells, weapons stores, residential area and base headquarters building.
A PAF official briefed the journalists that all the Pakistani resources, including workforce and firms, were employed to upgrade the airbase which had all the facilities of a frontline airbase.
About security of the airbase, he said that all internal and external security measures had been taken for safety and protection of all the assets and facilities.
Earlier, welcoming the journalists, Director General, ATSC, Air Vice Marshal Ashfaq Arayen briefed them about the reconstruction and development of Shahbaz Airbase into a modern airbase.
He said that 4,000 skilled and unskilled local people had been recruited by the PAF at the airbase.
He said that 104 officers, 342 airmen and 675 civilians had also been inducted into PAF from Balochistan province.