High Mark 2010: The Biggest War Games in the History of Pakistan

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By S.m. Hali :

The PAF’s five yearly ‘Exercise High Mark 2010’ has commenced to test its professional skills, capabilities and combat readiness. The countrywide exercise, which will last for nearly 60 days, will also be dovetailed with the Pakistan army’s exercise named Azm-e-Nau III and Naval operations to make it a tri-service test of mettle under realistic conditions. PAF is a support arm for the other two services, in addition to defending the aerial frontiers of Pakistan. The military exercises are organised as paper war games that may entail heavy expenses but provide authentic lessons, thus they are dispersed over a few years. ‘High Mark 2010’ comes in the backdrop of a clear threat to Pakistan, both externally and internally.

Undoubtedly, the regional environment is fraught with multiple threats. Although the Pakistani armed forces have been engaged in a war against terror for the last eight years, the counterinsurgency operations gained momentum in the last two years. Combined with the threat from extremists, our eastern neighbour has evolved a Pakistan specific new war doctrine named ‘Cold Start’, which it is in the process of testing and adapting for all the three services. The threat has compounded in the post-Mumbai attacks scenario, where Indian hawks have been propounding the conduct of surgical strikes against selected targets within Pakistan. Hence, Pakistan’s nuclear assets have been under a threat from external forces, who would like to deprive the country of its strategic weapon under one pretext or the other.

Simultaneously, terror organisations are keen to steal or hijack a nuke or two from Pakistan’s arsenal and destabilise the world by posing a nuclear threat. Whereas Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority’s efficacy and effectiveness is beyond the shadow of doubt, and its nuclear assets have been stored, deployed and dispersed in a manner where the most sophisticated countries have not been able to get even an inkling of their location, what to talk of any rag-tag militia. Yet, cognisance must be taken of the various war games conducted by the west and India in an effort to neutralise Pakistan’s nukes.

In this backdrop, ‘Exercise High Mark 2010’ is a formidable task for its planners as well as executants. To test its concepts and conduct of operations of the PAF personnel for a broad spectrum of conflict, the force has been divided into the traditional Blueland and Foxland with a realistic force ratio to obtain the best optimised and rational results. For the first time, PAF is conducting the exercise with a major reliance on IT (Information Technology) at the command, as well as field level, to provide real time inputs of communication, man, machine, weapons and employment of effort tactics.

The PAF’s recent successful interaction with the army’s counterinsurgency operations in Swat and South Waziristan, the lessons learnt from internal security operations, diverse terrain and time sensitive targeting and supporting Pak army’s ridge line operations must have enhanced its orchestration methodology for joint operations. The exposure of PAF to the high ‘tempo ops’ and least collateral damage must have raised the level of confidence of its air and ground crew. The multiple threat scenarios with near realistic exposure are likely to pay rich dividends to the force which has always operated under the handicap of a numerically superior adversary.

The freshly acquired and operationally inducted squadron of JF-17 Thunder, the Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW & CS), the air-to-air refueller, use of advanced UAVs and the more sophisticated precision guided munitions added to the PAF’s inventory will all come into play in both offensive and defensive roles. Operating under the enhanced threat of electronic warfare and employing electronic countermeasure techniques through various platforms must be definitely receiving due consideration. Therefore, the Indian threat of surgical strikes have already been shrugged off by Pakistani defence planners because PAF possesses the capability to strike back with extreme vigour, and inflict heavy damage to the aggressor, in a matter of hours provided there is political will. The enemy will have to think hard before undertaking a foolhardy operation like the one the Indian air chief was rearing to undertake in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

Indeed, defending its high value assets and vulnerable points would any way form an essential part of PAF’s ‘Exercise High Mark 2010’. A number of fire power demonstrations have been planned by PAF during the current high level war games since the force plans to expend all the weapons in the PAF’s inventory and test their delivery, efficacy, accuracy and effectiveness under realistic conditions. Operations from forward bases, as well as activating road runways by utilising portions of the Motorway, to practise take offs and landings from selected locations would add to the options available to the executants of the ‘exercise’.

In the recent past, PAF has had a rich exposure of exercising with other air forces, in addition to the Pakistan army and navy. Last month PAF concluded a local exercise ‘Saffron Bandit’, it participated in ‘Bright Star 2009’ in organised Egypt, ‘Anatolian Eagle 2009’ in Turkey, joint exercise with UAE and following ‘High Mark 2010’, it will participate in the US exercises ‘Red Flag and Green Flag’.

‘Exercise High Mark 2010’ is expected to provide valuable lessons from the full spectrum of air operations that, after evaluation and validation, are likely to improve PAF’s weapon employment techniques and enable it to implement fresh tactics to meet the challenges facing Pakistan with renewed vigour. An informal chat with the current Air Chief, ACM Rao Qamar Suleman, revealed his thoughts that he is proud of the air force he inherited from his predecessors and is keen to take it to greater heights of glory in guarding the aerial frontiers of Pakistan. Regarding the objective of ‘Exercise High Mark 2010’, he stated that it is achieving “peace with honour” qualifying that “peace comes with strength.”

Certainly, strength must be tested in times of peace to deter any would-be aggressor.

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