WASHINGTON, May 26: The Pentagon said on Thursday that Pakistan wants to buy as many as 86 F-16 fighter jets from the United States. Of these, 75 would be new F-16C/D Falcon fighter aircraft while 11 would be used F-16s, head of the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency, Lt Gen Jeffrey Kohler, told reporters in Washington. The agency is responsible for government-to-government arms sales.
“Yes, this figure is correct,” Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Jehangir Karamat, told Dawn. “Gen Kohler is the man who is dealing with this sale and he has just returned from Pakistan, so has the latest information,” he said.
Gen Kohler told reporters that Pakistan had requested prices for F-16 Block 50/52 aircraft, the most modern F-16s flown by the United States and the current production standard. Similar aircraft have been exported to Poland, Greece, Chile, Oman and Israel.
Only the United Arab Emirates flies a more advanced variant, Block 60, with improved radar, defences and range. Gen Kohler said Pakistan did not ask for Block 60 model because they were very expensive.
The size of Pakistan’s request has surprised defence experts in Washington who said they had expected Pakistan to seek only about two dozen F-16s. Experts appearing on morning television news shows said the numbers cited by Gen Kohler indicate that Pakistan wants to make the F-16 a mainstay of its combat aircraft fleet.
Gen Karamat, a former army chief, agreed with this observation. “F-16 is a high-tech and high-performance aircraft. After the deliveries, it will be the mainstay of our air force.”
But Gen Kohler said the Block 50/52 aircraft were also expensive and Islamabad may slightly downsize its request when informed of the cost of the new system. Instead, they may increase the request for the used ones, he added.
Gen Karamat did not disagree with this assumption. “This may happen but it depends on how much money is available in the budget for the F-16s.” The F-16C/D Block 50/52 sells for $40 million to $45 million each, depending on options.
Defending the decision to buy some used aircraft along with the new ones, Mr Karamat said such aircraft go through “complete up-gradation” before they are sold. “It is a thorough up-gradation, with new equipment. Only the airframe remains old and you get a very good deal.”
Another official at the Pakistan Embassy said Islamabad’s request will now be sent to the US Embassy in Islamabad for an assessment by their country team who will send it back to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon would send the request back to Pakistan with a price tag “and we will either accept it or amend it,” the official said. The proposal will then be sent to the US Congress for approval.
A deal could perhaps be notified to Congress toward the end of the summer, the first step in a process that could lead to deliveries three years after an agreement is signed. US defence experts are still weighing the weapons systems, targeting pods, radars and electronic warfare equipment that would be offered to Pakistan as part of a package.
On March 25, the Bush administration announced it would resume selling F-16s to Pakistan after a hiatus of almost 16 years.