Indian and Pakistani Airpower

India and Pakistan, the two major powers in South Asia, have been locked in mutual hostility ever since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in August 1947. The trauma of partition led to human carnage, bloodshed, and violence on both sides. Further, Pakistan’s forcible occupation of one-third of the Kashmir Valley in the 1947-1948 war with India turned into a root cause of their perpetual animosity. Since then, the countries have fought three wars: in September 1965, December 1971, and May 2000 (the Kargil conflict).

The perceptions of mutual threat prompted Islamabad and New Delhi not only to raise their armed forces but also to increase and upgrade airpower as an integral part of military strategy to ensure maximum security and safeguard territorial integrity and sovereignty.

At the time of partition, the nations inherited a split air force that was weak in quantitative and qualitative terms. The assets of the Royal Indian Air Force were divided on a one-third basis, under which Pakistan and India got two and six fighter squadrons, respectively. In view of India’s military advantage, Pakistan’s leaders heavily banked upon airpower while structuring the Pakistani air force on a tactical-cum-offensive strategy to counter any Indian threat to its security. Its air force got a potential boost from the United States when Pakistan joined U. S.-sponsored military alliances (SEATO in 1954 and CENTO in 1955).

As a result, Pakistan acquired F-104A Starfighters, B-57B Canberras, the highly sophisticated F-16 fighter, and AWACS from the United States. Pakistan received additional support from France (Mirage-series fighters), China (MiG-21, F-6, F- 7P), Australia (Mirage III), and Muslim countries of the Middle East.

India looked to the former Soviet Union for military hardware to meet its defense requirements. India acquired MiG-21 fighters from Moscow and Mirage 2000s from Paris in the 1970s and 1980s, in addition to Jaguars from the United Kingdom. The Indian air force added 44 MiG-27 fighters to its inventory during 1992-1993.

In view of these developments, the Pakistani government gave an advance of $600 million to the United States to purchase an additional 40 F-16 aircraft, but they were not delivered when the first Bush administration placed an arms embargo on Pakistan in October 1990 under the Pressler Amendment (1985), which prohibited U. S. military and economic assistance to any country that was engaged in building nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration amended the Pressler Amendment in January 1996, as a one-time waiver that enabled Pakistan to get military assistance and spare parts worth $368 million.

After the May 1998 nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan, both countries increased their airpower and replaced old aircraft. India acquired two AWACS A-50s from Russia; no other country in the region possesses such aircraft. India had already acquired Su-30 and MiG-29 from Russia under the defense deal. During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India in 2000, the countries signed defense agreements. Russia will deliver military hardware worth $3 billion including Su-30 fighters, the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, and two squadrons of MiG-29K fighters. Also, India will manufacture 140 Su-30MKI aircraft under license and will upgrade 50 Su-30 planes. India is trying to procure at least one airborne early warning system from Israel. The delivery of 10 Mirage 2000Hs from France at the cost of $328 million is expected to be completed by 2004. This will give India an air edge over Pakistan. India is planning to purchase 350 multirole planes and other gadgets at an estimated cost of $25 billion over 15-20 years.

In response, Pakistan is moving forward to field 150-200 S-7 multirole combat aircraft, replacing its old fleet of F-6s, A-5s, and F-7s. The S-7s will have look-down-shoot-down targeting, night-combat, and electronic-jamming capability. The S-7 is a multirole, multimission project commenced by Pakistan as far back as 1991. Pakistan is in the process of acquiring the latest F-7MG aircraft from China.

The defense budgets of India and Pakistan for fiscal year 2000/2001 show that India’s defense outlay is more than four times greater (R587.87 billion) than that of Pakistan (R133.5 billion). But in terms of gross domestic product, India spends 3.2 percent on defense, whereas Pakistan spends more than 4 percent. The above table illustrates the comparative strength of the nuclear-capable high-performance strike aircraft of India and Pakistan until 1999.

India and Pakistan will continue modernizing their air forces as a counteroffensive strategy and will keep readying their fighter aircraft for the delivery of nuclear weapons, in addition to upgrading various missile systems.

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