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Brent Sims
Brent Sims

The History and Achievements of the Pakistan Air Force

Pakistan Air Force: History, Aircraft, Ranks and Insignia

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is the aerial warfare branch of the Pakistan Armed Forces, tasked primarily with the aerial defence of Pakistan, with a secondary role of providing air support to the Pakistan Army and Navy when required, and a tertiary role of providing strategic airlift capability to Pakistan. As of 2021, as per the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the PAF has more than 70,000 active-duty personnel and operates at least 970 aircraft.

pakistan air force

The PAF has a proud history of defending the nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as participating in various international missions and humanitarian operations. The PAF has also achieved several notable feats and distinctions in the field of aviation and military technology. In this article, we will explore the history, aircraft, ranks and insignia, challenges and plans of the PAF.


The history of the PAF began when it was established on 14 August 1947 with the independence of Pakistan from British India. The PAF inherited a small number of aircraft and personnel from the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF), which were mostly obsolete and inadequate for Pakistan's diverse terrains and threats. However, by 1948, the PAF acquired better aircraft such as the Hawker Sea Fury fighter-bomber and the Bristol Freighter. These new aircraft gave a much-needed boost to the morale and combat capability of the PAF.

The PAF saw its first action in the 1947 War in Kashmir against India, where it performed supply drop missions and air strikes. The PAF also bombed Afghan-sponsored militant camps in border areas in 1949 to curb an unrest led by Ipi Faqir propagating independent Pashtunistan. In 1959, the PAF intercepted an Indian Air Force (IAF) Canberra reconnaissance aircraft over Pakistani airspace and shot it down with an F-104 Starfighter. This was the first aerial victory for Pakistan and also for any Asian air force using a supersonic jet fighter.

In 1965, the PAF played a decisive role in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, where it achieved complete air superiority over the battle area from the second day of operations. The PAF claimed to have shot down 104 IAF aircraft while losing only 19 of its own. The PAF also conducted successful interdiction missions against Indian ground forces and infrastructure. The PAF's performance in this war earned it international recognition and respect.

In 1971, the PAF faced a two-front war against India during the Bangladesh Liberation War. The PAF was outnumbered by more than five to one by the IAF on both fronts. Despite this disadvantage, the PAF fought valiantly and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. The PAF claimed to have shot down 75 IAF aircraft while losing 75 of its own. The PAF also provided close air support to Pakistani troops in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) until they surrendered on 16 December 1971.

In 1988, the PAF participated in Operation Zulu Pearl to assist Afghan mujahideen fighters against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The PAF flew F-16s from Pakistani bases to provide air cover for C-130 Hercules transport planes dropping supplies to Afghan resistance groups. The operation was successful and no Pakistani aircraft were lost or damaged. Drones

The PAF's drone fleet consists of the following types:

  • NESCOM Burraq: An unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) jointly developed and built by Pakistan and China. The PAF has an undisclosed number of Burraqs, which are capable of carrying laser-guided missiles named Barq. The Burraq was used for the first time in a live military operation in 2015, when it struck a terrorist compound in the Shawal Valley.

  • Baykar TB2 Bayraktar: A UCAV developed by Turkey. The PAF has reportedly ordered 30 TB2 Bayraktars, which are expected to be delivered in 2022. The TB2 Bayraktar has been used by Turkey and its allies in various conflicts, such as Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. It can carry various types of munitions, including anti-tank missiles and precision-guided bombs.

  • Baykar Akinci: A UCAV developed by Turkey. The PAF has reportedly shown interest in acquiring the Akinci, which is Turkey's most advanced drone to date. The Akinci can carry a payload of up to 1,350 kg, including air-to-air missiles, cruise missiles, and electronic warfare systems. It can also operate at high altitudes and long ranges.

  • CAIG Wing Loong II: A UCAV developed by China. The PAF has reportedly ordered 48 Wing Loong IIs, which are expected to be delivered in 2022. The Wing Loong II can carry a payload of up to 480 kg, including air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs. It can also perform reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

  • GIDS Shahpar: An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Pakistan. The PAF has an undisclosed number of Shahpars, which are used for tactical reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The Shahpar can carry a payload of up to 50 kg, including electro-optical and infrared sensors.

Ranks and insignia

The ranks and insignia of the PAF are primarily based on the ranking structure of the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force. The insignia for PAF officer ranks underwent an extensive change in 2006, whereby British-influenced rank insignia were dropped for the adoption of Turkish-style insignia, while the British ranking style was maintained. The following table shows the ranks and insignia of the PAF officers and enlisted personnel:

Rank group

General/flag officers

Senior officers

Junior officers

Officer cadet

Junior commissioned officers

Non commissioned officer


Pakistan Air Force

Marshal of the Pakistan Air ForceAir Chief MarshalAir MarshalAir Vice Marshal

Air CommodoreGroup Captain

Wing CommanderSquadron LeaderFlight LieutenantFlying Officer

Pilot Officer

Warrant OfficerAssistant Warrant Officer

Senior TechnicianCPO TechnicianJunior Technician

Aircraftman 1st ClassAircraftman 2nd Class

Challenges and plans

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