Like all progressive air forces, PAF (Pakistan Air Force) too conducts various exercises and war games, besides training for conducting night and day offensive and defensive air operations. The enhancement of operational preparedness of PAF’s combat units is an ongoing task, which is incorporated through training in applied tactics, planning and execution of exercises at various levels. “Saffron Bandit” is a triennial command level exercise, which was first conceived in 1994. Since then, five such exercises have been conducted, with each session being reviewed and refined to not only incorporate fresh developments but also take cognizance of the latest threat environment.
Currently PAF is involved in the sixth sequel of “Saffron Bandit”, which commenced on 22nd October 2012. The whole exercise is spread over six to seven months. The exercise is planned to culminate on 27 April 2013. It is aimed at standardizing the tactics and provide near-realistic ‘Role Oriented’ training to PAF combat crew in a controlled environment, with the exposure of integrating combat support elements in synchronization with modern concepts and emerging tactical scenarios.
Presently the Surface Attack Phase of the second cycle is in progress. The Chief of Army Staff and the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) have separately visited the exercise area and been briefed regarding the concept and conduct of the exercise. A unique feature of the “Saffron Bandit” under progress is that all the modern weapon systems and capabilities of PAF as well as the Army’s Air Aviation and Air Defence System are operating under one umbrella for the first time orchestrating modern tactical environment. State-of-the-art data links and communication systems have been integrated, along with the employment of beyond visual range weapons as well as standoff capabilities operating under the umbrella of electronic warfare, are being activated.
The CJCSC was afforded the opportunity to fly in an AEW&C Aircraft to observe the complexities of aerial warfare and the professional handling and employment of integrated air and ground combat elements by the aircrew. Simultaneously, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force, set a personal example by actively participating in the exerciseand examining the war preparedness of PAF Combat Squadrons, flying an F-16 Block 52. Overwhelmed by the experience of flying on board the SAAB 2000 aircraft fitted with the Erieye Airborne Radar, the CJCSC while interacting with the participants after the mission, stated: “The opportunity to interact with the skilled Air Warriors and to practically fly with them in ExerciseSaffron Bandit has afforded me an insight into the high quality of training standards maintained by the PAF. This Exercise, with the mandate of providing exposure and training to PAF’s Combat Crew in near-realistic environment, certainly serves well for enhancing war preparedness in the hi-tech scenario of aerial warfare. It is heartening to see PAF stepping into the future with its newly acquired capabilities and emerging concepts of employment.”
Keeping up with the emerging challenges, PAF has come a long way in operating in tandem with the Pakistan Army in tackling with the miscreants in the war on terror. The current “Saffron Bandit” has incorporated anti militant operations and practicing effect based operations through precision weapons. The aim is to familiarize participants with different tactical aspects of the anti-terror operations in support of the national military effort. The training exercise focuses on tactical level peculiarities of kinetic engagement of militant targets using precision ordinance, with special emphasis on avoiding collateral damage. The Air Defence Environment has not only been enhanced but taken a step into the future with the employment of airborne early warning and control platforms as well as the use of both active and passive sensors including UAVs.
Learning from the experience of the allied forces’ operations in the ongoing war in Afghanistan and recently concluded war in Iraq, PAF has ventured into a new dimension of “combat search and rescue” for the first time through this “Saffron Bandit” exercise. The aim is to validate the concept and efficacy of “combat search and rescue” operations with the assistance of Pak Army aviation. The timely search and ultimate rescue of soldiers and men, requiring assistance and extraction from hostile conditions, even in the face of enemy fire is essential for the confidence and morale of own troops. In accordance with prescribed practice, each training cycle commences with classroom lectures on combat related topics to consolidate academic knowledge of the combat crew before commencing the flying operations, which are conducted in two phases i.e. air superiority and surface attack phase. The degree of difficulty in flying missions progressively increases in scope and complexity, so that a complete threat scenario is simulated towards the final stages of each cycle. In order to accrue maximum benefit from this comprehensive exerciseeffort, an all-inclusive analysis and feedback mechanism in the form of an ‘Analysis Cell’ to bisect the exercise continuously thoroughly in order to remain focused in the exercise pursuits, remains active. Whereas realism is essential in any military exercise and near realistic scenarios are created, the parameters of safety are also essential. The planners of “Saffron Bandit” ensure this essential aspect. Thorough analysis of the exercise enables the PAF Think Tank to not only critically evaluate PAF’s combat readiness but also recommend future course of action in terms of tactical employment.
PAF remains cognizant of the possibility that any future conflict in the region will be short and intense, characterized by overwhelming employment of air power. PAF thus has to maintain its cutting edge to meet any future threat to the utmost of its capabilities. “Saffron Bandit” provides this opportunity in a wholesome manner.
—The author, a retired PAF Group Captain, served as Air & Naval attaché at Riyadh and is currently a columnist, analyst and TV talk show host.