Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 82

While American and European airspace is crisscrossed with commercial aircraft, Eurasia’s airspace is increasingly resounding to the roar of military aircraft. Last week the Commonwealth of Independent States held its “Ariel” exercises stretching from the Polish border to the Pacific, while in Afghanistan International Security Assistance Force aircraft carry out daily raids against the remnants of the Taliban.

Now the Pakistani and Turkish air forces are carrying out a joint aerial operation, “Operation Indus Viper 2008,” in Pakistan’s skies.

Operation Indus Viper 2008 began on April 21 and is scheduled to last for 10 days. The operation is based at the Pak Faza’ya (Pakistan Air Force, or PAF) facility at Mushaf in Sargodha at the Mushaf in Sargodha base in eastern Pakistan’s Punjab province. Five Turk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force, or TuAF) F-16 C/D fighters and 50 personnel from 191 Filo are participating in the joint exercise (Zaman Gaztesi, April 22).

The deputy chief of the air staff, Air Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, said, “The event will not only give an opportunity to the combat crews of both air forces to interact more closely but will also help in strengthening the brotherly relations that the two nations enjoy” (www.paf.gov.pk). Suleman added that Operation Indus Viper 2008 marked the beginning of a new era with the air forces of the two countries and that the TuAF had consistently maintained its historic traditions, earning a well-deserved name in the ranks of modern air forces.

Turkey’s Ambassador to Pakistan Rauf Engin Soysal and TuAF Deputy Commander, First Air Force Command Major General Sirin Unal of the First Air Force Command Eskisehir, visited the PAF Mushaf Airbase to observe Operation Indus Viper 2008 exercises (Associated Press of Pakistan, April 26). While there, Mushaf Soysal and Unal attended a briefing on Indus Viper 2008 arranged by PAF’s Combat Commanders School, and they subsequently met with the pilots and staff of both the air forces involved in the exercise.

Operation Indus Viper 2008 is not the first joint air exercise carried out by the two nations. At the Operation Indus Viper 2008 concluding ceremony, PAF Acting Chief of the Air Staff (ACAS) Air Marshal Shahid Lateef reminded his audience that contacts between the two air forces went back more than a decade and said, “It was indeed a great honor for the PAF to have Turkish Air Force F-16s participate in our 50th anniversary celebrations in 1997. The Indus Viper exercises … are indeed an extension of the 1997 co-operation. We are thankful to the TuAF for providing our aircrew and combat controllers the opportunity of gaining useful experience. This will go a long way in helping the PAF to prepare for inter-operability with other air forces of the world” (Daily Times, April 30). Lateef concluded his remarks by lauding the PAF’s current transformation, noting that “in a few years we will be a modern combat outfit ready to undertake integrated operations with any other air force in the world” (The News International, April 30).

The two Air Forces share a number of common characteristics, not least of which is that both are engaged in operations against indigenous terrorism and that they both operate substantial numbers of American aircraft. Security concerns may well have been behind the fact that when the PAF issued a press release on April 14 about the forthcoming exercise, it omitted the operation’s specific dates and duration, saying only, “To benefit from each other’s expertise and professional experiences, the PAF and TuAF are conducting a joint exercise in Pakistan this month. The exercise will benefit both participants, hone their professional skills and further enhance existing brotherly relations between the two nations and their Air Forces” (www.paf.gov.pk).

An interesting aspect of the joint operation is what strengths the two Air Forces bring to the exercise. Besides its recent aerial operations over northern Iraq, the TuAF has had a lot of air combat interdiction experience over the Aegean against Greece’s Hellenic Air Force (HAF), which flies both F-16s and Mirage 2000s.

Furthermore, outside of the United States, the TuAF is the only NATO Air Force that has facilities and training apparatus matching what the USAF has at Nellis Air Force Base for the Red Flag exercises, which provides a substantial body of experience for the PAF to tap. TuAF pilots are used to the tactics of the Israeli Air Force because of joint training scenarios, most notably, the “Anatolian Eagle” exercises, which have been held annually near Konya since 2001.

Besides USAF, TuAF and IAF aircraft, the PAF sent six F-16s to participate in the Anatolian Eagle exercises in 2004 and 2006, but the PAK has more limited experience than the TuAF with Israeli aircraft and tactics (www.tsk.mil.tr). The PAF’s strategic vision is “India specific,” designed and equipped to meet the threat from India, and TuAF pilots will undoubtedly be interested in learning more about the tactics that the PAF has developed to neutralize such a numerically superior potential enemy.

The most interesting post-op discussions will undoubtedly occur in the PAF Mushaf officers’ mess, when PAF and TuAF pilots exchange their stories. A likely topic will be America’s reliability as an arms supplier, especially inasmuch as both nations have suffered F-16 embargoes, Turkey after its 1974 operation in northern Cyprus and Pakistan in the wake of its 1999 nuclear tests. As interesting as these conversations will be, it seems rather unlikely that they will ever appear in print.