INTERVIEW WITH AIR VICE MARSHAL NIAZ HUSAIN, DCAS(ENGG), PAF
Q 1: In a recent interview with Defence Journal, the Air Chief had stated that ‘Air Power is pivotal to the defence of Pakistan. It is vital for the success of defence strategy and national security.’ How do you envisage the role of the Engineering Branch in attaining this vital task of PAF ?
A: The Engineering Branch’s ambit of work is fairly extensive, and encompasses the maintenance and upkeep of all aircraft in the PAF’s inventory, the air defence network, automation system, munitions and missiles systems, ground-based electronic and navigational equipment, mechanical transport, both specialist and common user, and all supply and logistics functions including spares procurement, stocking and provisioning. We, therefore, bear a heavy responsibility and are well aware of it in ensuring the operational preparedness of the PAF to meet any eventuality. Basically, I envisage the role of the Engineering Branch as continuously maintaining and ensuring enhanced operational preparedness through two means : First, maximum availability and serviceability of all our weapon systems and assets, i.e. combat and transport aircraft, air defence assets, ground support equipment, alternate mission equipment, etc. And second, ensuring the highest operational reliability of these weapon systems, to certify mission accomplishment.
Our base line for serviceable and reliability of our weapon system is high and, as far as I know, it is comparable or even better than contemporary air forces in the West. And, definitely far better than other regional air forces. These base line figures that we have set ourselves, for weapon system serviceability and reliability, are not just theoretical figures. They are regularly verified through operational exercises and other contingencies, and have stood the test of time.
Q 2: With the tilting of the balance of air power heavily in favour of IAF, how do PAF’s engineers plan to offset some of the numerical and qualitative edge of the adversary ?
A: Basically, we plan a work towards offsetting the adversary’s numerical advantage through better and quality training, and superior maintenance practices. The idea is to preserve our assets to the maximum, and ensure their operational reliability through a band of quality trained personnel.
The emphasis is on all aspects of training from abinitio training to specialisation, continuous and refresher training. The complete spectrum is addressed by specifically examining the requirement and then tailoring courses to meet all training divisions.
We also firmly believe in the dictum of being perpetually prepared for operations. This means ensuring the timely accomplishment of all safety and operational modifications throughout the life cycle of our assets. The prime goal is preserving our assets by good flight and ground safety practices. Our continuous efforts are aimed at reducing our accident rate from the present figure of 1.37 to 1, or below, per 10,000 flying hours. This programme is jointly conducted by the Operations and Engineering branches and is given the highest priority by the Air Staff. I must, however, clarify that our emphasis on flight safety in no way undermines our programmes of operational preparedness.
To retain the qualitative edge, the Engineering Branch undertakes periodic upgrading of our weapon systems based on operational requirements. These upgrades are meant to maintain relevance in contemporary air operations.
An important factor in partially offsetting the numerical advantage of the IAF is achieving and sustaining higher mission rates with the same assets. We regularly train for this, both pilots and engineering personnel, and through our weapons loading and standardisation programmes constantly strive to achieve faster turnaround times. Through routine and regular time-limit exercises we ensure our technicians’ competence in this field, which are then periodically verified by the Inspector General who reports directly to the Chief of the Air Staff.
Q 3: You have mentioned that PAF offsets some of the numerical and qualitative edge of the adversary through better training and superior maintenance practices. Could you briefly touch upon the training system of PAF’s Engineers/Technicians and what opportunities are provided for higher studies and specialization ?
A: First, the officers. All officers in the engineering branch are graduates of the College of Aeronautical Engineering at the PAF Academy, Risalpur, which is affiliated to the National University of Science and Technology (NUST). Entrance to the college is governed by stiff selection criteria based on a competitive examination. The students (cadets) undergo a 31/2 years degree course, on successful completion of which they are awarded a Bachelor’s degree of engineering either in the field of avionics or aerospace. We are very proud of this institution which is of world repute, and has maintained its very high standards of education ever since its inception, 33 year ago.
After graduation and commissioning the young engineering officers go through a specific training programme lasting one year, which forms the basic building block for subsequent work in the branch. This training programme consists of specialised education, both theoretical and practical, at Field Training Detachments (FTDs) on a particular weapon system of the PAF, either at an operational flying Base or at the Air Defence School. Weapon system specialization at the FTDs (approx. three months) is followed by ‘On the Job Training’ (OJT) on the weapon system for another nine months. During this latter phase the engineering officer works under supervision and is coached on all aspects of maintenance and repair activities of that particular equipment or weapon systems. Additionally, officers are groomed in Management techniques through specialist courses and seminars conducted at leading institutions in the country like PIM, LUMS, PIQC, and our own CAE. Deployment on any weapon system mandatorily requires pre-qualification through that weapon system FTD. As a rule of thumb, officer will do engineering duties at a maximum of two different types of weapon before promotion to senior ranks __ an engineering officer specialises in his particular field.
Postgraduate engineering training is open to all officer of the branch, and as a rule, approx. 10% of all engineer officers undergo higher studies leading to postgraduate degrees. A competitive selection system is formulated for the purpose, and officers are sent for MS and Ph.D courses at universities in the UK, USA, China and now at NUST colleges in-country. All in all, therefore, the engineer officer in the PAF is a very qualified person suitably groomed and trained for specific engineering duties whether it be system maintenance, repairs/rebuild at depots or factories, research and development, and even instructional.
A similar training path is followed by the technicians at diploma level, and going into details on the subject would make this discourse very lengthy. The major difference is that whereas an officer may work on one or more weapon systems in his career, the technician is restricted to only one. That is, if a technician after abinitio technical training of 31/2 years is deployed on the F-16 weapon system (after necessary FTD training), he will work on the F-16s throughout his career in the Air Force. This ensures specialization and distinctive weapon system skills for the technicians. During the course of his career in the PAF which spans 25 years, the technician will also regularly undergo ‘continuation’ and ‘refresher’ training. In the latter programme, he spends two hours every week formally refreshing his working knowledge of the weapon system, within his own work centre. The idea is that every year each technician would have spent at least 3% of his available manhours on refresher training. Of course, during his career the technician undergoes other specialist training courses peculiar to his task, like non-destructive inspections, PME, structural repairs, etc.
Broadly speaking, the engineering officer and technician in the PAF are highly qualified and undergo specialised and higher training suited to a vibrant and dynamic service like the PAF. Learning new technologies and keeping abreast with technological developments is part of our business, so that whenever a new generation weapon system is inducted in the PAF or planned for, we are equal to the task and never found wanting. Examples are induction of our air defence network and automation system in the late 70s, and then the F-16 weapon system in the early 80s, which earned us the admiration and commendation of manufacturers abroad.
Q 4: Research and Development (R&D) and Indigenization are two very important consideration for a progressive air force. Is adequate weightage being given to these essential factors in PAF ?
A: Self reliance has been the keyword in the PAF ever since its formation over 50 years ago. Our peculiar circumstances have also dictated so. Therefore, deliberate planning towards this objective has been the underlying factor in all PAF programmes. The very fact that the PAF established its own College of Aeronautical Engineering in the mid 60s, and follow a very aggressive programme of higher specialised education is indicative of the weightage and importance given to this aspect. Over the years we have built up a nucleus of very professional and learned personnel who are now dedicated to career tracks in research and development. Specific R&D units in the fields of avionics, aerospace, ground electronics/radar and munitions exist in the PAF, which have proved their worth. The absence of any aviation industry in the private sector has also been a catalyst to spur us on in our self reliance programmes. Furthermore, lessons learnt post-’65 when the US government imposed embargoes and sanctions, and then again in the early Ô90s, has only proved us correct in following a very aggressive self reliance programme within the PAF. Self reliance can only come about with adequate technical expertise, (which we now have), positive R&D programmes (which are in place), and eventually indigenisation. To give you an example of the latter, the engineering branch held a seminar at Air Headquarters in April, 1998, which was chaired by the Chief of the Air Staff. The seminar reviewed all past, on-going and future indigenisation programmes, and it may please you to know that over the last 30 years, our indigenisation programmes have yielded a savings to the national exchequer of over Rs.2.5 billion and a recurring amount of US$.3.0 million annually ! Factual and verified.
I would like to emphasize, however, that PAF’s self-reliance programme is not oriented towards making an aircraft or a radar system, per se. That is neither our business nor vocation. Our aim has been to achieve self reliance in maintenance of our assets, and to reduce or offset dependence on beyond-country repairs. We do, however, sponsor indigenization of support equipment equipment, parts, and equipment of specific nature to meet our operational requirements.
Finally, to give you an idea of the weightage given to these factors of R&D and indigenisation, the CAS annually gives monetary awards to those officers and technicians who make major contributions in this field. This is in addition to CAS commendation certificates specifically awarded for the purpose.
Q 5: In 1990, various technical branches of PAF, namely the Maintenance, Electronics, Munitions and Supply were amalgamated into one main branch of Engineering. In this age of specialization, what was the rationale behind this move and how has this helped the PAF ?
A: At the outset, let me remove any misconception that by amalgamating its technical branches into one main engineering branch the PAF did away with specialization. Not so. We just got them to work together in a cohesive manner, unified in the common role of maintaining all assets, and to do away with any possible inter Ôbranch’ rivalries insofar as career tracks, promotions, etc. were concerned. As I have said earlier, specialization is still rigidly maintained up to the middle management level, and even after that, where necessary, permanent specialised tracks are adhered to.
Amalgamation was not an outcome of only the 90s. It was first studied for possible implementation in 1970, but then shelved because at that period of time only 10% of the officers in the PAF’s technical branches were graduate engineers. In 1990, the situation was reversed, when over 80% of them were graduate engineers. Amalgamation at this stage was possible because of the 40% common base in the technical training curriculums of avionics and aerospace engineers, and the fact that a wider spectrum of engineering officers would be available for various PAF engineering tasks with an eventual broader outlook. To give you a pertinent example, the munitions officer, even before amalgamation, was either an avionics or aerospace engineer. After commissioning he became a ‘munitions’ officer only after specialised weapons training, which he does today also, as do the aerospace or avionics engineers. Truly speaking, broad based amalgamation only takes place after 17/18 years of service, when the engineering officer moves to senior management levels.
Q 6: PAF’s engineers played a vital role in the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex achieving the distinction of being awarded the ISO-9000 certification. Could you elaborate on this achievement and also discuss how PAF keeps its engineers abreast with the latest developments in technology?
A: I have spoken at length on our specialised and post-graduate training programmes with a view to keep abreast of technological developments. Additionally, PAF engineers regularly interface with industry both at home and abroad, attend technical seminars, undergo specialist technological training, and even work at specialist R&D organization in the public/private sectors, all this to keep pace with technology, and to be ever ready to induct new generation systems, which we do every10/15 years, and never be taken by surprise insofar as technology is concerned.
Answering the first part of your question will be my pleasure. Because I was there, in the thick of it, when ISO-9000 certification was first awarded to one of the factories at PAC Kamra.
I was the Managing Director of the Mirage Rebuild Factory (MRF), and in December, 1993 decided to implement the ISO-9000 Quality Management System within the Factory. The reasons for doing so were many. Simply, it was to ensure that meeting a new enhanced requirement in the production of overhauled Mirage aircraft and Mirage engines did not compromise on quality of production.
The ISO-9000 series were generic standards for quality management and quality assurance and applied to all types of companies or organisations. Furthermore, the ISO-9000 series had become an internationally recognized common language for quality, aimed at increasing the confidence of customers in the quality system of their suppliers. What was more important, the ISO-9000 series established a complete system and documented it, so that if management changed at whatever level the new incumbents just had to read the procedures, follow them and go. Taking all these factors into consideration, an important reason for implementation was that it was a very strong motivational factor for the men and officers to incorporate an effective Quality Assurance Programme. At that period of time there was not a single company or organisation in Pakistan that had achieved ISO-9000 certification. (A host of them were striving for it). It set MRF a goal to reach, a prideful landmark to achieve. Once embarked on the programme we could not afford to fail. And in the bargain MRF would have established a viable Quality Assurance Programme. That, after all, was the end objective.
It was a long haul all the way from implementation to certification. But we did it. It was team work that accomplished a task many thought could never be done. Yes, it was PAF’s engineers at MRF that achieved this distinction, but it was not them alone. It was the combined work of the engineers and all the technicians at the Factory who laboured days and nights, over eighteen months, to become the first defence organisation in the country, and the seventh overall, to obtain international certification to the ISO-9000 system.
Giving any details of the implementation or certification process would take too long. Let it suffice to say, that August 1995 (when MRF achieved the historic certification) proved that PAF’s engineers and technicians stand up front in their commitment to excellence.
Q 7: In modern management principles, the concept of ‘Line and Staff Management’ clearly demarcates each cadre’s role. In PAF, the Combat pilots form the ‘Line’ while the rest form the ‘Staff’ or support elements. How does it work out practically in forging cohesion to mould the PAF in a single solid and effective fighting force ?
A: We have never experienced any cohesion problem. Each officer in the engineering branch recognises his own role and plays his part to achieve the overall mission. Of course, we are well aware of the fact that along with officers of other ground branches we form the support elements or ‘staff’ of the PAF. And we are proud of being part of the supporting elements of this great Air Force. As I had said earlier, we bear a great responsibility in ensuring the operational preparedness of the PAF, and we are well aware of it. We have a job to do, and we do it as a team. Let me give you an example which will help illustrate the cohesion that exists amongst all in the PAF both ‘line’ and ‘staff’ elements. We work and train in peace as we would work in times of exigencies or operations. The operational flying squadron is the single most important entity that exists in the PAF; an independent unit with in-built features of flexibility and mobility for operations. And yes, the squadron is composed of both line and staff elements. They are a team, and they work as a team, each proud to be the pillar of the unit. The important thing to remember is that we all recognise that each one is a professional in his own field, and we respect each other for that. Cohesion ? We know nothing else !
Everyone is imbibed with enthusiasm of (and for) his own task, with a nationalistic spirit and religious fervour to remain united and make the PAF a potent arm for defence of our homeland. We also offer thanks to Almighty Allah for the opportunities given where this cohesive spirit has been displayed.
Q 8: How do you compare PAF’s Engineering Branch with that of other contemporary air forces in the region, specially the IAF where the technical branches were recently involved in a mutiny ?
A: I am convinced we are the best. I do not say this just because I am a member of our own engineering branch. Facts and figures vindicate my assertion. We maintain over two dozen different weapon systems, both air and ground based, from 7/8 different countries, and we maintain them to very high standards. With particular reference to the IAF, I have stated earlier that to the best of my knowledge our base line for serviceability and reliability of all our weapon systems is much higher, and we meet the standards set.
The PAF’s engineering branch is constituted of highly educated and motivated officers. They are technically qualified for all levels of maintenance activities, and are bothered only about accomplishing their tasks with speed and efficiency. Frankly speaking, what happened to the engineering branch in the IAF, we do not see happening here. There is no reason for such stupidity. The PAF has tremendous welfare schemes for both in-service and retired officers, applied equally across the board to all branches. A very solid and practical system exists for redress of grievances, if any, and all officers get their due share whether it be welfare, awards, housing, etc. No distinction is made, with the result that officers are satisfied both mentally and materially. Each one has his economic needs well covered. The most important factor, however, is our in-built discipline, something we can never think of violating. To top it all, our religious and cultural teachings and values inhibit any such action. Let me conclude by saying that we are an educated, highly motivated and disciplined branch. We are, because Pakistan Air Force is ! And we will never forget it.
INTERVIEW WITH AIR VICE MARSHAL