ISLAMABAD — Pakistan and Turkey on June 17 signed an air force pilot training exchange agreement to help further improve bilateral relations, during the opening ceremony of the Multinational Military Flight Crew Training Centre (MMFCT-C) in Izmir, Turkey.

The agreement was signed by the head of Pakistan's air force, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman.

According to a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) press release under the terms of the agreement both air forces will exchange two pilots every year.

"The main purpose of [MMFCT-C] Multinational Military Flight Crew Training Centre (MMFCT-C) is is to provide comprehensive training solutions to Fighter Pilots of Allies and to develop flight training tactics and techniques in line with NATO's operational requirements. It would also hone the interoperability amongst Allies and partners for future operations and exercises. It is pertinent to mention that two fighter pilots from PAF are already performing instructional duties at MMFCT."

Analyst and former Pakistan Air Force (PAF) pilot Kaiser Tufail, who has maintained a close association with the Turkish Air Force (TuAF) since his retirement, said says efforts to date have been stifled by differences in teaching methods.

"So far the stumbling block has been that TuAF cadets undergo a 4-year training program which involves only studies for a bachelor's Bachelors degree in one of four engineering disciplines (Aeronautical, Electrical, Industrial, and Computer). There is no flying training at the academy (except 10-odd orientation flights spread over four years). Flying training starts at Izmir after graduation from the Academy."

"In the PAF, on the other hand, flying cadets undergo a combined flying and studies training course, culminating in a bachelor's Bachelors degree along with award of flying wings."

He understands these have now been reconciled.

"I am told that this issue has been resolved and TuAF's newly-graduated officers would join PAF Academy as Under Training Officers (UTOs) and undergo flying training for about 18 months. On the other hand, PAF's UTOs (already well-versed in aero-science studies) would join the flying training facility at Izmir for an 18-month flying training course,", he said.

"In addition to all of the above, there is a likelihood of a few cadets of TuAF and PAF undertaking short internship programs on an exchange basis at the respective academies; this program has not yet been finalized."

Though analyst, author and former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, points out that the present agreement is only for two pilots, and that the "PAF is world-class in its pilot training," it's with this therefore currently presently "largely a symbolic arrangement, bringing the countries closer in overall cooperation.", The agreement does it lays the groundwork for further co-operation.

"I'm sure that there will be more cooperation in many fields. As I said, this is a small move, but part of the big picture,", he said.

The PAF has garnered much experience using precision guided munitions during counter insurgency operations against the Pakistani Taliban and its allies since 2007, but as to whether some of this experience may be of use to the TuAF that has faced similar operations against the Kurdish PKK, and as to what may be expected in the future however, Cloughley is uncertain.

"I can't think of any other specialized training that would be especially beneficial to either. But almost all exchanges of skilled personnel are beneficial to both sides. Much can't be quantified, but there is no doubt that there is always mutual benefit", he said.

He does point out, however, that there may still however be potential to explore co-operation at more advanced stages of flight training.

"One of the best courses of instruction in world air forces is the RAF's Fast Jet Advanced Training Course, and both Turkey and Pakistan have similar programs which are recognized as being world-class,", he said. "They could both benefit from exchanges, as no doubt there are refinements that could be included in each other's training."

In the meantime the PAF and TuAF have been building on established joint training endeavors.

During Air Chief Marshal Aman's stay in Turkey, he met with the head of the TuAF, General Akın Özturk, to discuss professional matters of interest, but was also heading the PAF contingent participating in 'Anatolian Eagle,', the multinational air force exercise hosted by Turkey of which Pakistan is regular attendee.

This is the PAF's ninth attendance since 2004, and the PAF contingent consisted of 86 personnel and six F-16 fighter aircraft. Air Chief Marshal Aman flew in one of the F-16s alongside the other participating pilots.

The accompanying PAF press release said, "Participation in a multi-national air exercise in Turkey shall be an interesting as well as challenging task for Falcons of the PAF. Besides Pakistan, leading air forces from United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Qatar, NATO and Turkey with their latest aircraft and platforms are orchestrating air battle scenarios in demanding operational environments."