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2017 has been a tough year for all Pakistan Air Force (PAF) squadrons operating the Chinese made F-7 aircraft. There have been 3 crashes reported in a time period of just 4 months, from May to August 2017, including one which claimed the life of the commanding officer of one of the squadrons. The aircraft’s twin seat variant also suffered a blow to its reputation after a crash which resulted in the loss of Pakistan’s female fighter pilot Marium Mukhtiar on 24 November 2015. Other than that in 2016, Flight Lieutenant Omer Shahzad embraced martyrdom when the F-7PG he was flying, encountered a technical fault, resulting in a crash.

Read more: Native air warriors: JF-17 vs HAL Teja

The aircraft has done its time and the PAF realizes this since they have started to replace this interceptor with the new JF-17 multi-role aircraft, which is the result of Pakistan-China collaboration. This move, however, was not a result of safety precautions but due to the competition for air superiority over India, who planned to upgrade their fleet by 2020-2025.

The Chengdu J-7 more commonly known as the F-7 aircraft is a Chinese developed aircraft which plays the role of an interceptor in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). The F-7s were inducted into the PAF in 1988 thus marking almost 30 years in service. The aircraft has done its time and the PAF realizes this since they have started to replace this interceptor with the new JF-17 multi-role aircraft, which is the result of Pakistan-China collaboration. This move, however, was not a result of safety precautions but due to the competition for air superiority over India, who planned to upgrade their fleet by 2020-2025.

Retired Air Force officers and aeronautical engineers have elucidated some of the reasons for the increased number of accidents of this aircraft.

1. Intense training

PAF is amongst the few Air forces in the world that conduct year round, intense training which includes war games with mock air combats involving hundreds of aircraft flying thousands of kilometers which sounds like a great idea since practice makes our pilots perfect. But this takes its toll on the machine.

2. Harsh environment

Pakistan includes different landscapes from mountains to tropical regions which have an effect on the aircraft. Every environment has different factors which result in the wearing down of the aircraft. From sandstorms in Jacobabad, a desert-based city with one of Pakistan’s most important air base, to the hot humid air of the tropical regions which result in the aircraft engines producing less thrust and the wings producing less lift.

3. Lack of maintenance

Shoddy maintenance could be a factor. The PAF takes pride in its high standards but that standard implies on its Pilots who are considered to be amongst the best-trained pilots in the world. Furthermore, with the F-7 going out of service, it is very likely that the remaining few are not being properly maintained the way they should be thus resulting in numerous “technical difficulties”.

4. Smaller workforce

Though PAF has one of the largest fleets in the world, the number of missions flown by aircraft are too many. Tensions with India, Pakistan’s war on terror combined with training sorties and war games such as “Saffron Bandit” or “High mark”, this large fleet has its hands full. PAF is comparatively smaller in size which has overstretched its resources.

The Pakistan Air Force is undoubtedly one of the best Air Forces in the world. PAF has an excellent safety record. However, the recent surge in crashes and that too in a particular aircraft, have resulted in this safety record, being compromised. However, PAF’s safety record is still better than India and other regional countries.

Indian Air Force safety records

Indian Air Force has dismal safety record with 11 major crashes reported since 2016 to mid-2017. The aircraft that caught attention was the Russian SU-30 MKI which is the Indian variant of the Russian air dominance aircraft. According to various reports, the Indian Air Force (IAF) indicated technical difficulties to which the Russians responded that it was either pilot error or poor maintenance. The Sukhois, which were inducted in 2002, suffered its first loss in 2009 which means that the aircraft in its early years proved itself worthy in terms of safety. That is the very reason the Russians refused to admit to a fault in their machines. Another reason for the Russians pointing their fingers to the IAF is the statistic of crashes of the same aircraft in the Peoples Liberation Army and the Russian Air Force, which was indeed much lower. Statistically, the IAF loses one SU-30 MKI per year. Considering the cost of the Indian fighter, the IAF lost around 54.6 million dollars due to the SU-30 MKI crashes.

Read more: Pakistan’s Defense Production: More Efficient than India, Why?

The Pakistan Air Force is undoubtedly one of the best Air Forces in the world. PAF has an excellent safety record. However, the recent surge in crashes and that too in a particular aircraft, have resulted in this safety record, being compromised. However, PAF’s safety record is still better than India and other regional countries.

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