Columnist Gp Capt. SM HALI gives a historical review of the famous STARFIGHTER in the PAF battle fleet.


Pakistan, which remained an important ally of the United States   throughout the cold war was the first non-NATO country to equip with the   F-104 Starfighter. The F-104 As and Bs provided to the Pakistan Air   Force (PAF) under the US Mutual Defence Assistance Programme entered   service in 1961 and continued to fly until 1972 when dwindling spares   support forced their early retirement.   In all twelve F-104As and two F-104 Bs were transferred to Pakistan   (table below):

Serial Model  Tail # Date Received
1-12 F-104 A 56-803 August 5, 1961
56-804 August 5, 1961
56-805 August 5, 1961
56-807 August 5, 1961
56-868 August 5, 1961
56-874 August 5, 1961
56-875 August 5, 1961
56-877 August 5, 1961
56-879 August 5, 1961
56-773 June 8, 1964
56-798 March 1, 1965
13-14 F-104 B 57-1309 August 5, 1961
57-1312 August 5, 1961

At PAF’s request, all its F-104As were refitted with the M-61 Gatling 20   mm gun, whereas its counterparts in the USAF had been divested of their   guns on the assumption that all post-Korea air combat would occur at   high speeds where only the wing tip-mounted Sidewinder missiles would be  effective. The PAF’s foresight was amply rewarded in actual combat and   the USAF too reverted to having machine guns as mandatory equipment on   all its fighters in due course. The newer GWE- J-79-11 engine was also   installed on the aircraft. This made the Pakistan F-104s somewhat   unique: they had the gun and being the lightest of F-104 series with a   more advanced J-79 engine enjoyed the best thrust-to-weight ratio.

The only PAF unit to be equipped with the F-104 was No 9 Air Superiority   Squadron. The squadron flies the F-16 today. The in-commission rate of   the F-104 during the first five years of service was over 80 % and all   its systems performed with high reliability. The fighter was employed in   the air-to-air role by the PAF and was used extensively for aerial   gunnery against both banner targets and the Dart targets with excellent   scores. In strafing attacks the M-61 gun was superbly accurate.

The F-104 Starfighters remained in service with Pakistan Air Force for   twelve years and flew 11,690 hours. During the 1965 Pakistan-India War,   the F-104s flew a total of 246 hours and 45 minutes while during the   1971 War, the F-104s flew a total of 103 hours and forty-five minutes.

1965 Pakistan-India War

During the 1965 War, PAF was forced to rely on its small force of F-104A   Starfighters as high altitude interceptors and in its night fighting   role, using the radar of its AN/ASG-14T1 fire-control system, in   conjunction with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.

After 1 September, the F-104s were extremely active in Air Defence and   Air Superiority Operations, but of the 246 missions flown by F-104s   during hostilities, 42 were at night against the IAF Canberras. The   rudimentary fire-control radar met the Soviet high altitude bomber   threat of the Cold War era for which it was designed but it could not   illuminate small targets against ground clutter. The standard high speed   intercept tactic employed by PAF’s F-104 pilots was to approach their   targets from below, with a typical height differential of 2-3,000 feet,   against a target they wished to acquire at a range of 10-15 kilomenters.   This limitation was well known to the Canberra jet bomber pilots of IAF   who attacked targets in Pakistan during the 1965 war. They adopted a   standard hi-lo-hi profile to minimize the threat of interception. During   most of their inbound and outbound flight over Pakistani territory the IAF Canberras would stay below about 1000 feet during their approach and  exit phases. This posed a difficult night intercept problem. The PAF’s   F-104s had in these circumstances to be used in an unconventional   low-altitude intercept profile that severely challenged the capabilities of its airborne radar. To pick up the low flying bombers on their scope   the F-104 pilots had to get down to about 300-500 feet above the ground   to point their radars upward and clear of ground clutter at the enemy   bombers. The problem was aggravated by the Canberra’s tail warning audio   alarm that would go off the moment an F-104 got to a near astern position, and enable the bomber to take timely evasive action to shake   off its pursuer.

The F-104s were highly dreaded by the Indian Air Force (IAF). On 3rd September, 1965, even before the War began, an Indian Gnat surrendered to an F-104 which forced it to land at the abandoned airfield of Pasrur (in Pakistan). Its pilot Squadron Leader Brijpal Singh Sikand became a   POW.

On 6 September, two Starfighters were sent on dawn patrol from   Sargodha. They were vectored by Sakesar Radar towards 4 IAF Mysteres   engaged in bomb and rocket attacks against a stationary passenger train   at Gakkhar railway station. One of the F-104 pilots was forced to return   to base with a radio failure but the other pilot, Flight Lieutenant   Aftab Alam Khan dived his F-104 with full after burners, going supersonically through the Mysteres formation which promptly scattered. The Indian aircraft tried to escape at about 50 feet above the ground   but they were no match for the Starfighter. Aftab destroyed one Mysteres with his Sidewinder missile thus achieving one of the world’s   first air victories by a mach 2 combat aircraft.

The other F-104 pilot, Flight Lieutenant Amjad Khan, who had missed his chance the previous day, made amends on 7 September. He was scrambled in   an F-104 at about 05:15 hours and directed by Sakesar radar towards an   incoming raid at Sargodha. He made visual contact with the IAF   Mysteres and headed towards them. By the time he caught up with them,   the Indian aircraft were 6-8 miles away from Sargodha, flying at 150-200 feet on a south-easterly heading towards India. As the Mysteres jettisoned their drop tanks, Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain positioned   himself behind one of them and released a GAR-8 missile, which went   straight into the ground. The Mystere then began to dogfight with the   Starfighter, which used its superior climb and acceleration to lift the   combat from ground level to about 7,000 feet to gain room for manoeuvre. Hussain fired his cannons and was delighted to see the shell hit the   Mystere. The Mystere pilot showed commendable courage in staying   with the F-104, and despite being mortally wounded, scored several cannon strikes on the Starfighter. Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain   managed to eject safely and reached his Base. This was the first and   only Starfighter to be lost through enemy action in the 1965 war. The   Indian pilot Squadron Leader A.B. Devayya was posthumously awarded the   Maha Vir Chakra in 1988, twenty three years after the war, when Indian   authorities learnt of the IAF pilot’s valour through an account of the   encounter published in John Fricker’s book Battle for Pakistan,   published in 1978.

On 21 September, Squadron Leader Jamal A Khan, intercepted an Indian Air   Force Canberra at about 33,000 feet and shot it down with a Sidewinder near Fazilka, inside Pakistani territory. The bomber’s pilot, Flight   Lieutenant Manmohan Lowe ejected and was made POW while its navigator,   Flying Officer A K Kapor could not bail out and was killed in action.   The British made Canberra, unlike its American counterpart the Martin   B-57, had no ejection seat for the navigator. This was the first kill  achieved by an F-104 at night after a number of near misses due to   factors described earlier.

F-104s were also used during 1965 for low level, daylight reconnaissance   missions over the IAF air bases. The speed of the Starfighter gave the   Indians no time to react. The F-104s were also employed as escorts for   the slow Lockheed RT-33 reconnaissance fighters on photographic missions   deep into Indian territory, the presence of Starfighters virtually   guaranteeing that no air opposition would be encountered. Six F-104   pilots received gallantry awards during the 1965 War.

1971 Pakistan-India War

Air operations in 1971 Pakistan-India War commenced with a preemptive   strike by PAF. In the 1971 War the F-104 was also used for deep penetration strikes against enemy airfields and radars. Two F-104s each   attacked Amritsar and Faridkot Indian Air Force Radars. The attack on   Faridkot Radar was led by Wing Commander Arif Iqbal, who not only   damaged the Radar but also shot down an IAF Krishak aircraft.

On 4 December, Squadron Leaders Amanullah and Rashid Bhatti attacked Amritsar Radar. They met with stiff resistance but managed to shoot down   two aircraft, an Indian Gnat and an Su-7. The pilot of the Gnat, Flight   Lieutenant J Preira was Killed in Action. On 08 December, Flight   Lieutenant Manzoor Bokhari intercepted an IAF Canberra and shot it down. On 10 December, Wing Commander Arif Iqbal, while attacking the Indian Harbour of Okha, shot down an Alize aircraft of Indian Navy. Its crew  members, Lieutenant Commander Ashok Roy, Lieutenant H S Sirohi and AC O   Vijayan were killed in action. PAF lost two F-104s along with their pilots, Wing Commander Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat and Flight Lieutenant   Samad Changezi both were awarded gallantry awards of Sitara-e-Jurat  (roughly equivalent to the British Distinguished Flying Cross). Flight   Lieutenant Bharat B Soni, a MiG-21 pilot was credited with having shot down Wing Commander Middlecoat while Flight Lieutenant Arun K Dutta, another MiG-21 pilot was awarded the claim of having shot down Flight Lieutenant Samad Changezi.

The US Government imposed an embargo on arms sales to both India and   Pakistan as soon as the 1965 war began. No consideration was given to   the fact that India, a long-time ally of the Soviet Union, hardly used   any American military equipment and the sanctions exclusively degraded   the combat potential of only the Pakistani Armed Forces. The PAF fleet   of F-104s was particularly hard hit by the arms embargoes. Eventually it   became impossible to maintain a reasonable in-commission rate on the   F-104s and the PAF decided to phase it out of service in late 1972. This   ended the era of Pakistan Air Force’s first mach-2 combat aircraft.