The tale of the service that Mirage has given to PAF is nothing short of spectacular. Serving the nation for more than five decades alone is no ordinary achievement. That’s why all the unsung heroes who flew this bird in its heydays deserved nothing less than a standing ovation. And this is what they received in a dignified ceremony held in February. The President of Pakistan was present at the occasion to honour the distinguished services of the units, veterans and senior operators of this ‘Miracle Mirage’. As this rugged platform becomes 50 years strong, it continues to pose enormous threat to the adversary. Its sterling performance during Ops Swift Retort in recent past is just one of many glaring examples.
Last month, Pakistan Air Force service members paused to reflect on the history and the heritage of Mirage, the aircraft which has served the force for more than 50 years in numerous combat roles.The event was also orchestrated to recognise the services of No 22 Operational Conversion Unit and No 27 Tactical Attack Sqn for their meritorious services in a war time role. These squadrons employed this multirole fighter that could perform a wide range of missions producing enviable results. Both the operational fighter squadrons were awarded Colour at an operational air force base, where Dr Arif Alvi, President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, was the Chief Guest on the occasion. Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force was also present. A large number of serving and retired PAF officers and veterans also attended the event.
Addressing the audience the Air Chief said, “I acknowledge the vision of our predecessors for keeping the aircraft abreast to meet challenges of modern warfare through upgradation.
He emphasized, “Over the years, the Mirage aircraft has amply demonstrated its capability in the 1971 War, the two-decade long War on Terror; and recently during Operation Swift Retort. My felicitations to Mirage operators for employing 17 different variants of this legacy platform in various applications of airpower and providing Pakistan Air Force the desired capabilities in air-to-air, air-to-ground, air-to-sea or specialist roles.”
The Chief Guest, President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Dr Arif Alvi in his address, appreciated the opportunity to interact with heroes of the Nation. While commending the contributions of Air Marshal Nur Khan and Air Marshal Asghar Khan towards PAF, the Chief Guest said, “For a good air force, excellent professionalism and honest leadership is required. For leadership, the vision given by the Quaid should be followed.” He further said, “I was filled with pride on your performance on 27 February, 2019. It was a remarkable job, you are the master of your own destiny despite the fact that the aircraft on the other side were advanced. You are second to none.”
Earlier on arrival, President Arif Alvi, along with other dignitaries, was received by Air Vice Marshal Zafar Aslam, Air Officer Commanding Central Air Command and Air Cdre Gohar-ul-Hassan Syed, the Base Cdr. A smartly turned out contingent comprising PAF personnel from No 22 OCU and No 27 Attack Sqns presented the guard of honour to the chief guest. Later, President Arif Alvi reviewed the parade and awarded colours to both the squadrons for their distinguished services over the years. Wg Cdr Naveed Mehmood, Sqn Cdr No 22 OCU and Wg Cdr Hammad Khursheed, Sqn Cdr No 27 Attack sqn received the prestigious colour for their respective squadrons.
An impressive flypast of Mirage fighter jets was the highlight of the event. First to enter the scene was the formation of four Mirages in echelon formation from No 15 Sqn, ‘The Cobras’. The formation comprised Sqn Ldr Hassan, Flt Lt Ammar, Flt Lt Qasim and Flt Lt Danyal. It is pertinent to mention that No 15 sqn is the oldest unit of PAF equipped with Mirage aircraft. The squadron played an important role in Ops Swift Retort when its aircraft delivered stand-off weapons with pin point accuracy against enemy targets. With the exit of formation of the senior-most squadron of Mirages, appeared on the horizon, the youngest Mirage sqn of PAF, No 27 Sqn – ‘The Zarrars’. Flown by Sqn Ldr Ali, Flt Lt Ramish, Flt Lt Waleed and Flt Lt Waqar, the four-ship formation presented a captivating bomb burst manoeuvre over the venue.
The recognition of services of senior officers and veterans who had served the Mirage weapon system for decades was long overdue.
Golden Jubilee celebration of Mirage aircraft was the perfect forum for honouring these heroes who showed extraordinary courage and dedication while discharging their duties in various Mirage sqns. President Arif Alvi presented crests and mementoes to these senior officers. The honoured veterans included AVM Farooq Umer (Retd), AVM Saleemuddin (Retd), Air Cdre Farooq Haider (Retd), Air Cdre Safdar Khan (Retd) and Sqn Ldr Jamil Rana (Retd).
Last event of the ceremony was the inauguration of Mirage Monument, recently erected at the base to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Mirage service in PAF. President Arif Alvi inaugurated the artistically designed memorial. The overall design of the monument symbolises Mirage’s Delta wing. Centre of the monument highlights three PAF modified Mirage variants ROSE-I, II and III pulling up vertically. Three vertical wings symbolises three Mirage kills during 1971 war against India whereas ascendency of these wings depicts ever-growing contribution of Mirage workhorse over the years. The highest wing carries five horizontal strips indicating five decades of service in Pakistan. The globe in the centre is a representative of global presence of Mirage aircraft. On the base of the monument, eleven insignias are mounted highlighting PAF fighter squadrons that have the honour to be Mirage operators for so long.
Over the decades, air crews at the Mirage Rebuild Factory, with a ‘can do’ attitude and willingness to adapt quickly, made this undefeated jet even better. The key to everlasting youth and sustained performance lies in its constant routine maintenance by teams of trained PAF specialists that service this tangible piece of flying history and send them back to fighter sqns to defend our airspace. In the jet shop, trained crew of engineers strip the aircraft down to its smallest elements and then rebuild, with the efficiency of a race car pit crew.
There have been 17 Mirage variants produced over the years, each gaining some combination of updated software, avionics, engines and other enhancements, with increased numbers of weapons stations. While its impressive loadouts include a range of air to air missiles, its air to ground arsenal boasts freefall bombs, smart bombs, air to ground rockets etc.
The Mirage fighter jet and all its 17 modified variants are pilot’s aircraft. It can fly at more than twice the speed of sound, one very fascinating performance feature. Every fighter pilot in the air force would dream of flying it in its hey days between 1969 and 1983. It continues to enjoy the advantage of speed over the F-16 even today. It is a thrilling feature that impressed pilots in all the air forces wherever this aircraft is operating.
Designed around a single engine, its aerodynamic superiority, combined with its firepower, and turn rates that will put your stomach at the back of the airplane, make this elegant beast a lethal adversary. The Mirage was built as a strike aircraft. As strong as a powerlifter and as nimble as a gymnast, the Mirage really does anything a pilot wants. And it has done so for the past 50 years it has been in service in the Pakistan Air Force.