ISLAMABAD — According to a report by the Senate’s standing committee on defense released Thursday, the Pakistan Air Force has suspended its upgrade and development plan due to a lack of funds.
The report quoted Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique, head of the air force, that no funds had been received from the federal government for the Air Force Development Plan 2025 (AFDP2025) since the 2007 election of the Bhutto clan’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), whichrecently suffered a landslide electoral defeat.
Rafique also said the air force has only received 60 percent of it its allocation from the defense budget.
As a result of cash shortages, the air force was forced to abandon a number of projects involving upgrades to aircraft, bases and other facilities.
The AFDP2025 was launched in 2003/2004 by the then-President Pervez Musharraf to modernize the Air Force after over a decade of suffering under sanctions.
Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said the AFDP2025 was supposed to bring the “PAF to a par with US/NATO and [Gulf Co-operation Council] forces in the arena of equipment, training and doctrine as employed during US/NATO operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Khan suspects the former PPP government never intended to fully fund the military’s wider upgrade program, citing the 2009 decision by then-Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani to extend the program from 2015 to 2025 to mask its intentions this and deflect any immediate criticism from the military.
Khan said that “initially, 2015 estimates were $15 billion, but the 2025 estimates went up to $30 billion.” This money did not exist.
Former Air Force officer Kaiser Tufail has watched the situation with a degree of concern.
Blasting the former government for its ineptitude and corruption, he said it “just did not have the acumen and professional capability, or the inclination to chart out cogent development plans, both in the civil and military sector.”
He says the financial situation has hit the Air Force and the Navy particularly hard.
“In the armed forces, the situation has been of considerable concern in general, but for the [Air Force] and [Navy], it is particularly worrisome, as their hardware and the associated wherewithal requires very large financial outlays.”
The Navy’s submarine acquisition, corvette and frigate programs have ground to a halt.
Under the present circumstances, Tufail thinks there are a number of drastic but effective options the Air Force has to reduce its expenditure.
These include “scaling down manpower with a focus on improving the teeth-to-tail ratio, temporarily closing down at least one Main Operating Base (reverting it to a satellite base) and distributing its assets to other bases, and conducting a major cost-benefit analysis and disposing off assets that are too costly to operate vis-a-vis their utility (eg, executive transport jets, aerial tankers etc).”
He said the savings “would have to be re-appropriated through the Ministry of Defence and the saved money reallocated to the PAF,” though “this may entail an amendment to the existing rules.”
Tufail believes the situation is not irredeemable, but the years of neglect cannot be easily reversed.
“It is hoped, however, that the new government will turn around the poor condition of the economy, though the effects ... wouldn’t be beneficial to the [Air Force] for at least five years,” he said.