Skip to content Skip to footer

That Time When Pakistan Sought The A-7 Corsair II

Though the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) relied on China and France for combat aircraft through the 1970s (via the Shenyang F-6 and Dassault Mirage III/5, respectively), it still sought new fighters from the US. While it did not succeed in this endeavour until the 1980s with the acquisition of the F-16s, the PAF spent a major part of the 1970s negotiating with the US for a suitable replacement for its North American F-86 Sabres.

In 1974, the PAF shortlisted its options to the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter/Tiger and the Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) A-7 Corsair II. It selected the A-7 Corsair II, and made a formal request to visit LTV Aerospace Corporation to evaluate the aircraft that same year.[1] By 1977, the US and Pakistan were working on a deal of up to 110 A-7s for $500 million US ($2.49 billion US today).[2]

However, the Jimmy Carter administration cancelled the potential deal on the grounds that the sale could destabilize the balance of power in South Asia. Washington also hoped to leverage the A-7 as a means to encourage Pakistan to scale back its then clandestine nuclear weapons program.[3] The US viewed the A-7 as a potent attack asset, one that should assuage Pakistan’s concerns of India’s nuclear program.

Interestingly, not only did the US keep its offer of F-5Es to Pakistan on the table (irrespective of Pakistan’s nuclear program), but to ensure India did not widen the gap too much, prevented Sweden from selling its JA-37 Viggen aircraft to the Indian Air Force (IAF).[4] The US also continued speaking to Pakistan on the sale of combat aircraft, but under the Carter administration’s stricter arms export framework, i.e., restricting access to systems equivalent in capability to those used by the US.

Through the 1970s, the US was consistently of the view that a natural successor to the PAF’s F-86s would be the F-5E Tiger II. By 1979, the US offered 40+ F-5Es for $450 million US (with the possibility of boosting the offer to 70-80 aircraft).[5] In addition, the US was also willing to entertain the possibility of selling AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles (AGM) with the F-5Es.[6]

It was unclear how talks were progressing for the F-5Es, but in lieu of its own advanced aircraft (e.g., the F-16), the US was also prepared to encourage other countries to provide financing support should the PAF request aircraft from them (e.g., France).[7] However, by 1981 the situation would change entirely with the US relaxing its export restrictions and, in turn, the PAF signing onto 40 F-16A/B Block-15s.

One interesting detail with the PAF’s insistence on the A-7 is that the PAF actively sought a capable ground attack asset. In a sense, the US was correct in its assessment that a natural replacement to the F-86 would be the F-5E, yet the PAF insisted on a vastly different type of platform.

Why the PAF Sought a Stronger Attack Capability

It is obvious that its pursuit of 110 A-7 Corsair IIs was a play at building a sizable ground attack capability, not just for close air support (CAS) for land operations, but deep-strike.

The A-7 was designed for strike operations. Not only did it offer a payload capacity of 6,800 kg, but it was also configured to carry a range of new guided weapons at the time. These included the AGM-65 Maverick AGM, the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile (ARM), and the Paveway-line of laser-guided bombs (LGB).

Though the F-5E could carry the same types of munitions, its payload was much lighter at 3,200 kg. The A-7 also provided more range than the F-5E, i.e., 1,981 km against the F-5E’s 891 km. The A-7 was clearly an offensive deep-strike asset, while the F-5E was a more defensive or localized platform.

Finally, the A-7 would have also introduced new technologies to the PAF. First, the A-7 relied on an Allison TF41-A-2 non-afterburning turbofan engine (in contrast to the turbojet engine-equipped fighters already serving in the PAF). Second, it had a far more robust on-board electronics suite, one comprising of a head-up display (HUD), an integrated navigation suite, and terrain following radar.

It was also a rugged airframe, so when combined with its payload, weapon integration options, and its on-board electronics, the A-7 was clearly meant to cause significant damage on the ground.

So, what could have driven the PAF to seek such a large strike force?

The PAF’s request came in about three to four years after the conclusion of 1971, which resulted in the loss of East Pakistan. To the PAF, it might not have been enough moving forward to simply replace the F-86 with another lightweight fighter. Rather, it may have looked to build a large deep-strike capable force to serve as a deterrent. Granted, some A-7s were likely earmarked for supporting the Army via CAS.

However, the PAF might have also sought the A-7 to directly counter India’s interest (and purchase) of the SEPECAT Jaguar from the UK and France. With the Jaguar, the Indian Air Force (IAF) was clearly building a similar long-range dedicated attack element. But with a potential sale of 110 A-7s, the US was, at least for a limited time, interested in letting the PAF build, arguably, a disproportionate strike element.

Pakistan had generally maintained a smaller military force than India across every front (and locked to a ratio). With the A-7 carrot, the US was willing to let Pakistan build a strike element that would have been two-thirds the size of what India was building (instead of one-half, one-third, or a quarter of the size).

If brought to fruition, the PAF would have built an offensive nucleus of 110 A-7s and up to 90 Mirage III/5s by the late 1970s. Moreover, the purchase of the A-7s would not have precluded the PAF from ultimately seeking the F-16 as a replacement for the F-6 in the 1980s (which is what ultimately happened).

The US might have viewed a sizable deep-strike element was a satisfactory trade for freezing the nuclear weapons program. However, since Pakistan persisted with its nuclear program, the A-7 would have been a potential nuclear delivery asset, thus forcing the US to cancel the deal. Despite withdrawing the A-7 from the table, the US was still open to selling F-5Es. Thus, the concern with the A-7 was that if Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons, the US would have given the PAF a potent nuclear bomber force.

In the 1980s, the PAF pivoted to the F-16 and greatly revised its ground attack goals. Instead of procuring a long-ranged asset with a sizable payload, the PAF opted for the much lighter weight Nanchang Q-5.

This change might have occurred due to a number of factors. First, the Army was building out its own CAS capability through the AH-1F Cobra attack helicopter. Second, many stand-off range attack elements were now, or at least in the near future, deployable from land, such as guided rockets. Third, the PAF may have viewed the F-16 as its future main strike platform, especially as it wanted to build a large fleet in the 1990s

But the PAF’s plans did not come to fruition due to the Pressler Amendment (which resulted in sanctions on the sale of arms to Pakistan). Moreover, the availability of ballistic missiles lessened the need to utilize aircraft for nuclear deployment. However, the 2019 skirmish over Jammu and Kashmir may have renewed the PAF’s interest in developing a large deep-strike force.

Strike Aircraft Have Been Elusive

It is evident that the PAF has not been successful in acquiring a deep-strike platform from overseas, and if it can procure them, certainly not in sizable numbers or with the flexibility it needs to configure them at will (e.g., with its choice of long-range munitions).

Cost is certainly a restraint, but Quwa was also told by PAF officials that it is not uncommon to find defence suppliers walk away from dealing with Pakistan. Be it pressure from the US or a desire to secure lucrative contracts in India, the PAF generally has trouble procuring “strategically important” systems.

However, as part of Operation Swift Retort in February 2019, the sent a strike package comprising of F-16s and stand-off weapon (SOW)-equipped Mirage III/5s. Interestingly, Quwa had discussed (in December 2017) how the F-16s and Mirages formed the nucleus of the PAF’s offensive element.

But those are aging platforms. Moreover, they are constrained in various ways, such as the Mirages lacking range and payload, or the PAF being unable to integrate SOWs to the F-16. It is unlikely those configuration constraints would subside with any other imported platform, especially from Europe, Russia and the US.

It appears that the PAF is working to resolve both problems by developing its own aircraft through Project Azm, the centerpiece of which is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).

Under its Air Staff Requirements (ASR), the PAF wants a twin-engine design with supercruising. It is clear that its main goal is to acquire a deep-strike platform, and ensure that it is not constrained or derailed by external factors, such as the reluctance of overseas suppliers. This would also explain why the PAF insists on manufacturing the fighter on the turn-key basis, i.e., free of western or eastern suppliers.

[1] WikiLeaks. 16 November 1974. URL:

[2] WikiLeaks. 03 June 1977. URL:

[3] Ibid.

[4] WikiLeaks. 03 August 1978. URL:

[5] WikiLeaks. 24 October 1978. URL:

[6] WikiLeaks. 12 January 1979. URL:

[7] WikiLeaks. 24 October 1978. URL:

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment