PAF’s ‘ACES Meet’ exercise has been held annually since 2017. Over the years, it has attracted a large number of nations and taken their cooperation and collaboration to new heights. As always, the editorial team takes the reader by the hand and gives them a first-hand account of the two-week long exercise that saw allied air forces churning out their best.
E arlier in April this year, residents around an operational Pakistan Air Force base noticed an increase in military aircraft activity. Even the roar in the air sounded different. It was the Saudis, in their Tornados, who had come to join the big boys club. Pakistan Air Force officers stood on the flight line to welcome the pilots of Royal Saudi Air Force that had come to take part in the PAF’s premier joint exercise “ACES Meet 2021-1”. Warm welcome, exchange of pleasantries and souvenirs were the order of the day. Tornados, parked alongside their counterparts including F-7Ps, JF-17s, veteran Mirages and the F-16s presented a scene seldom seen at a PAF airbase. Observers from various allied countries also rallied together to learn from each other’s experiences which remained the hallmark of this premier international exercise orchestrated by PAF ACE (Air Power Centre of Excellence).
ACES Meet 2021-1
Every “ACES Meet” exercise is unique and this one in April was no exception. While the USAF, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan air forces sent their teams of international observers, this year the RSAF showed staunch support by participating with their Tornados. Over the period the exercise has promoted long lasting friendship and deepened understanding of cultural values between the peoples of the supporting countries.
“The combined exercises give us an opportunity to work together and show how closely aligned we are in terms of our objectives across the spectrum of joint operations,” said Air Cdre Ahsen Yousuf, Commandant ACE, at the inauguration ceremony of the exercise.
The two-week long training exercise provided aircrews the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment.
The goal of the PAF’s premier combat training operations was to subject airmen as well as ground troops to the most extreme environments. It prepared the pilots, for taking up complex missions and also to familiarize them with the capabilities and problems of the forces around them. The joint missions were planned meticulously so that life-threatening mistakes were reduced. The highlight for this year’s exercise was its scenario based build up which simulated conflict escalation from insurgency to all-out war. The exercise commenced with CT (Counter Terrorism) phase with increasing difficulty level leading to employment of large force.
Tornados, Thunders, F-16s streamed low and fast while ground forces comprising PAF SSWs, Saudi and USAF Special Forces carried out military drills across the Thal desert. Variety of missions saw F-16s and the JF-17s combat jets working hand in hand with the Saudi Tornados. PAF’s EW assets and force multipliers also remained the key component of the exercise.
A separate day during the exercise was kept for a visit by various dignitaries. Air Marshal Syed Noman Ali, Vice Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force along with Major Gen Eid Bin Barrak Al-Otaibi, Commander King Abdul Aziz Air Base visited and reviewed the exercise on 5 April. The dignitaries visited the operational areas and witnessed the air ops being carried out by combat crew. They also remained with participating airmen for some time and appreciated their professionalism. Earlier on their arrival, Air Commodore Ahsen Yousaf, Commandant Airpower Centre of Excellence gave a comprehensive brief about the salient features and progress of the exercise. The Vice Chief expressed his satisfaction over the operational preparedness of the participating units and the overall conduct of the exercise.
This was not the first time that this premier exercise was conducted by PAF. Its history dates back to 2015 when the PAF leadership realised the need to formulate a formal mechanism; first to ascertain threat tactics and then develop an effective counter-tactics in present day technologically savvy and fluid environment. To achieve this prime objective, a new setup named ‘ACE’ (Airpower Centre of Excellence) was established in 2017 with a mandate to develop and disseminate tactics, procedures, techniques and solutions to PAF combat units. Besides, the role and task of ACE also included enhancement of the combat potential of PAF crew through near realistic, role specific and objective oriented training. The mandate given to ACE was creation of an integrated environment, governed by tough training standards, in order to evolve tactics & counter-tactics through a continuous process of analysis, research & development.
Another important task entrusted to ACE at the time of inception was to conduct international exercise by the name of ‘ACES Meet’, annually. For this purpose, allied countries gather every year at a PAF operational base on the invitation of ACE. The exercise mainly involves Composite Air Operations by assets of allied participating nations in synergy with PAF fighters and combat support assets simulating joint action against conventional and sub-conventional threats. Successes achieved by PAF’s in eliminating asymmetric threat during operations Rah-e-Nijat, Rahe-Rast and Zarb-e-Azb while achieving minimal collateral damage remained the guiding principles for the conduct of exercise. That’s why, to share its experiences with friendly countries, ACES meet includes a valuable CT phase. This important phase involves Intel build up, employment of fighter aircraft, ISR platforms utilizing precision munitions through assistance of JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) and C2 (Command and Control) platforms for successful mission achievement. The phase is curated in near-realistic environment through integration of ground manoeuvres simulating the Blue forces and terrorists. This year’s exercise saw seamless joint operations in terms of coordination and integration and the air and ground forces operated in complete synergy.
Culmination of Exercise
The multi-national international air exercise “ACES Meet 2021-1” concluded at an Operational Base of Pakistan Air Force on 8 April, 2021. A closing ceremony was held in this regard. Air Commodore Ali Naeem Zahoor, Base Commander of an operational base was the chief guest at the occasion. His Excellency Nawaf Saeed Al-Malky, Ambassador of KSA to Pakistan graced the ceremony as guest of honour. Air Vice Marshal (Pilot) / Staff Awad Abdullah Al Zahrani, Defence Attache KSA and Colonel Wallin David, Air Attaché USA were also present in the ceremony along with observers from Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan.
Addressing the participants of the exercise, the chief guest said, “PAF is happy to share its experiences and expertise in the field of Counter-Terrorism Operations with RSAF and USAF. At the same time, Exercise ACES Meet has also provided a good opportunity for us for mutual learning.” He further said, “With the successful and meaningful conduct of exercise, we have consolidated our resolve that we stand by each other as allies and friends.” He said that the exercise boosted readiness to fight and improve interoperability alongside friendly nations. “ACES demonstrates the responsiveness and commitment of partner air forces to regional security in the region,” he stressed.
His Excellency Nawaf Saeed Al-Malky, Ambassador KSA to Pakistan while sharing his views with the audience thanked Pakistan Air Force for arranging the joint operations, especially in Covid-19 situation. He said that such exercises increase the comradeship and professional excellence of the participants. Colonel Wallin David, Air Attaché USA also congratulated Pakistan Air Force on successful completion of the exercise.
Friendships were made at the individual levels during the ACES Meet, while the air forces developed long term strategic alliances needed to address future challenges and ensure security and prosperity of the allied nations. It would be justified to say that through ACES Meet, the PAF has become an extremely effective instrument of foreign policy.