WASHINGTON, Oct 10: Pakistan is seeking beyond-visual-range missiles and new fighter aircraft to counter the threat posed by India’s acquisition of new, sophisticated weapons, says Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat.

In an interview with the Jane’s Defence Weekly published this week, the air chief said: “The changing balance of power tilting dangerously in India’s favour” has forced Pakistan to look for new and advanced weaponry.

India announced on Friday that it has signed a deal with Israel for buying three Phalcon airborne early warning radar systems.

New Delhi plans to mount Israel’s Phalcon surveillance radar on a Russian IL-76 aircraft and also has signed a separate deal with Moscow for the aircraft.

India is also negotiating another deal with Israel to buy Arrow — an anti-missile system that could neutralize part of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

Although India already has a larger fleet of sophisticated aircraft and outranks Pakistan in the sea, it continues to expand both its air and sea fleets.

In a bid to neutralize the threat posed by such deals, Pakistan is also looking for sophisticated weapons from foreign sources.

A top near-term priority is the acquisition of beyond-visual- range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMS), Mr Saadat told the Weekly, which is the world’s most prestigious journal of military hardware and strategies.

The air chief said that although Pakistan would prefer to buy the missiles from suppliers in the United States or Western Europe, since “that option is not yet open I guess ultimately it will have to be the Chinese”.

Pakistan has been working with China on developing the SD-10 BVRAAM missile, which could be ready for operational use “in less than a year”, the air marshal said.

The PAF plans to mount the missiles on its existing fleet of fighter jets but is also looking for new aircraft, he added.

The air chief described the purchase of new fighter jets with “F-16 and above capability” as another primary need.

Pakistan is already negotiating with three countries — the United States, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates — to acquire the planes.

Pakistan had signed a deal with the United States in late 1980s to buy 32 F-16 fighters, but the US government stopped their delivery in late 1990 following a dispute over Islamabad’s nuclear programme.

In June this year, President Gen Pervez Musharraf raised the issue again with President Bush when the two leaders met at Camp David. Pakistan reiterated its request for the aircraft late last month as well, when a Pakistani delegation visited Washington to attend a meeting of the US-Pakistan defence consultative group.

So far the Americans are reluctant to sell the aircraft, but the Pakistanis are now focusing their attention on convincing Washington to allow it to buy used aircraft from Belgium, the Netherlands or the UAE who want to sell the F-16s they had purchased earlier from the United States. They require Washington’s approval to sell the aircraft to a third country.

Air Marshal Saadat said that if the US government has objection to selling new F-16s, acquiring used ones was one alternative option.

Pakistan had also been interested in buying used Mirage 2000- 5s from Qatar, but the air chief said that since India was interested in the same aircraft as well, it “is (now) too complex a deal, so perhaps it would not be easy to complete”.

Pakistan is seeking larger numbers of less sophisticated aircraft as well to replace its aging fleet. “We have to replace our A-5s, F-7s and Mirages within five to seven years,” Air Marshal Saadat explained.

Pakistan has also requested the HAWK surface-to-air missile system from the United States, and is exploring similar Ukrainian, Spanish, Italian and Chinese systems as well.

In order to address “the threat posed to our navy by the Indian Navy”, the PAF is also looking to acquire an air-to-air refuelling capability that would “extend the range of our aircraft”, ACM Saadat said.



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