Written By: Wing Commander Bahroni
In recent history, nature and dynamics of warfare have changed dramatically. Gone are the days of conventional warfare between two organized forces under established Military Rules and Laws of War. Weapons of mass destruction and aversion of masses towards destruction and misery caused by wars, as witnessed in two great wars, has made conventional conflicts less and less likely. Nations, jostling for power and influence, now resort to low intensity conflicts to achieve their objectives. Similarly, small groups within a state, who resort to armed struggle for their perceived rights or to enforce minority views on the majority, cannot wage a conventional battle against regular armies. Such groups resort to terror tactics and when supported by external entities pose a significant threat to the host nation.
Unfortunately, our nation has lately been targeted by such foreign funded terror groups. We have suffered enormously by the loss of precious lives of our brave soldiers and civilians, and by the loss of economic opportunities to the tune of trillions of rupees. Despite all odds, our Armed Forces have fought valiantly along with law enforcement agencies of our country. Results achieved in the past were commendable, but it was later realized that better synergy of tri-services would have resulted in increase efficiency in terms of achievement of objectives. As a result, PAF enhanced its counter-terrorism effort, with its unmatched attributes of Height, Speed and Reach. Better synergistic effort has acted as a force multiplier and PAF was able to deliver a lethal blow to anti-state terrorist elements who no longer find any safe havens to conduct their subversive activities in Pakistan.
There is an assortment of collectives and individuals with a vested interest in terrorism and they have defined the term in the form that suits their bias or perspective. They include organisations and alliances of nations, academics and researchers, the legal profession, the health profession, counter-terrorism and law enforcement agencies, governments that wish to protect their citizens and even governments that wish to repress their citizens, terrorist groups and the media. Nevertheless, the most accepted definition, that characterizes the monster of terrorism, states that: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force/violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”.
Counter-terrorism on the other hand incorporates the practice, military tactics, techniques, and strategy that government, military, law enforcement, business, and intelligence agencies use to combat or prevent terrorism. Counter-terrorism strategies also include attempts to counter the financing of terrorist outfits. The methods adopted to counter terrorism will thus be a combination of political, social, economic and military measures. When applied collectively, they are called counter-terrorism operations and are undoubtedly comprehensive civilian and military efforts, designed to defeat and contain the terrorism and to address its root causes.
Role of Air Power in Counter-Terrorism Operations
Air power, by virtue of its characteristics of Height, Speed, Reach, Flexibility and Responsiveness supplements and overcomes inherent limitations of land forces. The terrain which prohibits reach of ground forces, the operations which demand quick response and the targets which warrant precision engagement make air power the first choice of arm. Air Force’s primary role in counter-terrorism operations is to employ real-time target intelligence and accurate target engagement for providing opportunity to friendly ground forces to attain their aim thus ground forces take charge of the area of operation after air power has softened the desired targets.
Control of Air
Control of air is the pre-requisite of any air as well as ground military operation. Mostly, in military operations against terrorists, the control of air is inherently available with the state’s air force. However, in-case terrorists possess aircraft or anti-aircraft weaponry then gaining control of airspace would be the first step towards military action in CT air operations.
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Missions
The second yet important role of air power is actionable intelligence and target identification which is a vital aspect of CT military campaigns. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions flown by ISR platforms provide accurate real-time target location, identification, early warning and physical disposition of targets allowing for subsequent engagement of assigned targets from air. The information gathered through actionable intelligence and ISR platforms is then put to use in counter land operations. Availability of real-time targeting picture and precision guided munition enables air power to engage targets with greater accuracy and minimal collateral damage. Through well-coordinated and knitted CT airstrikes, air power can effectively engage targets with precision, reach and speed as compared to ground forces. Employing UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) in CT operations doubles the advantages; long endurance and less operating cost further improves upon persistence and cost-benefit ratio of any military action. With application of air power, terrorist elements can be hit discreetly and proactively. The responsiveness enables commanders with initiative, flexibility and negligible exposure to dynamic threat environment.
In the modern world whenever a military operation is planned, it is highly coordinated and involves assets from all services. They appoint a Joint Force Commander who is overall incharge of a CT campaign. Under him, there is a Joint Force Air Component Commander who is responsible for the proper employment of the air power. Then there is a qualified officer called as Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC).
Joint Terminal Attack Controller
JTAC term is used in the modern Armed Forces for a qualified service member who directs the action of combat aircraft engaged in close air support and other offensive strikes from a forward position. JTAC coordinates the entire CT air operation from the start till the very end i.e., from target engagement till the fighters vacate the ops area airspace.
PAF and CT Operations
No two CT campaigns can be the same in terms of reasons/counter measures. Pakistan Armed Forces had to come up with a procedure tailored to best suit the terrain and demography which was being exploited by terrorist elements. Our ground forces have fought with commitment, courage and dedication in extremely difficult and unfriendly terrain in north-western region of Pakistan. They were faced with an adversary who was equipped with sophisticated warfighting arsenal and posed difficulties for our ground combatants. PAF was thus brought into action to engage the targets with precision and effectiveness thereby softening the ground for friendly forces. The core of CT operations is equally understood and professionally executed by Pakistan Armed Forces through tailor-made procedures acclimatized to meet our own environment. Pakistan Armed Forces have not only exhibited their strong arm in conventional wars with commitment, courage, dedication and professionalism but also have evolved the tactics and strategies to fight unconventional warfare.
The fundamental rule governing all air operations jointly with sister services in PAF is directed against personnel and objects that are declared and identified as hostile. The operational planning cycle is mainly based on keeping in view home ground and consideration of zero collateral damage.
Target generation and identification is initially carried out by tactical soldiers and other intelligence agencies, whereas, aerial platforms are also being utilized for identification procedure through onboard ISR capabilities.
Verification and Approval
The next step involves verification of the targets which is done initially at GHQ through ground intelligence alongside PAF through ISR images and coordinates of targets to confirm their authenticity. After verification, these targets are then allotted to Pakistan Air Force for effective engagement. PAF, AHQ has established a separate Directorate which after allocation of designated target and approval by competent authority assigns the target to the Fighter Squadrons in the field for mission planning, consideration and timely execution.
Mission planning is initiated on the receipt of an air request. Detailed analysis of the task target is carried out during planning of this mission. Meticulous operational planning ensures safety of mission and desired results. Due to cost, limited availability and implications on war reserve material, strict adherence to the principle of economy of effort is maintained by PAF. Specifically, in sub-conventional warfighting, economy of effort for precision guided munition is being calculated as One Target, One Bomb. All assigned targets are studied to ascertain the possibility of collateral damage. This involves taking into consideration the type of weapons, fuse settings, target composition, and terrain. It is imperative to ensure that the Forward Line of Own Troops (FLOT) stays clear from debris of the weapons dropped by the friendly fighters, therefore, FLOT distance is kept on weapon simulation.
Safe Conduct of Operations
In order to ensure safe conduct of operations all the missions are co-ordinated with Air Defence Command/other ground agencies so as to ensure that the airspace in the vicinity of target area becomes exclusive and no other traffic transits or shares this operational airspace.
Upon indication of a possible air strike, the group of terrorists might change their location therefore intelligence agencies and ISR pictures are utilized to reconfirm their location and thus the dynamic targets are engaged by fighter aircraft. As a pre-requisite to receive real-time target Full Motion Video (FMV) for the conduct of Time Critical Targeting, an ISR asset with fully functional telemetry is deployed on station throughout the DT process. This in turn reduces sensor to shooter decision cycle time.
PAF has been at the forefront, shoulder to shoulder with sister services to uproot the menace of terrorism from Pakistan’s soil. May it be Balochistan unrest in the past or recent military actions like Operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, PAF has turned out to be a major instrument in breaking the backbone of militants through joint operational methodology. Since intelligence is a key attribute of CT operations, PAF actively undertakes ISR operations in the area of interest for provisioning of real-time target information to own fighters as well as to Pakistan Army. For effective deployment and subsequent engagement, the ground troops require a detailed assessment of target which is also met by PAF through launching ISR missions in the area of interest, providing accurate geo-location, identification of target and detailed picture of terrain. Assessment of damage and confirmation of target engagement is also undertaken by PAF through ISR platforms. The battle damage assessment missions provide useful information for effective engagement of target, specifically by ground forces. The activities of terrorist elements along the porous western border made it crucial to destroy their focal point and leadership which has been achieved through precision strikes by PAF on terrorists’ concentration, training camps, leadership and logistic reserves in support of Pakistan Army. PAF’s instant response and application of precision guided munitions have ensured in-time and accurate engagement of targets with negligible collateral damage.
Analysis of the subject reveals the following points:
• Contemporary model of CT Operations reveals wholesome utility of knitted assets exploiting full spectrum network centricity.
• Current operations have unprecedented synergy among tri-services at operational and tactical levels which may further be cemented through inducting procedural, technological and training measures.
• Popup threats can be efficiently neutralized through dynamic targeting by PAF fighters, exhibiting unmatched flexibility and responsiveness.
• Persistent ISR is the cornerstone of CT operations; Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force are working to further synergize the ISR efforts.
• PAF’s application in CT operations has ensured quick response, accurate target engagement with minimal/no collateral damage.
• PAF can lethally raze assigned targets, however for permanence of effects, Pakistan Army holds ground without giving breathing space to violent actors.
The success of CT operations is deeply rooted in the level of expertise, training, technology and most importantly, synergy. Although PAF is not a substitute for boots on ground, yet its unique capabilities of being a force multiplier combined with lethal firepower, ability to strike rapidly and maintaining diligence makes it an indispensable part of CT operations. Employment of Air Force in CT operations has gained unequalled dividends with minimal collateral damage. Pakistan Air Force has cut its teeth in the challenging anti-terrorism operations and has provided Pakistan Army invaluable support in the combat against the terrorists. No matter what the challenges are; a full scale aggression or counter-terrorism operations, PAF has maintained its professional image throughout its existence. Officers and men of the PAF are proud inheritors of a legacy of warriors who have left a permanent imprint on history. With the hallmark of courage and compassion, spurred on by its proud heritage as an efficient and hard hitting force, PAF shall remain committed to meet any challenge with dedication beyond the call of duty. No wonder that PAF has come up to the Quaid’s expectations of being Second to None.