WASHINGTON, Jan 1: The US Defence Department has awarded a $498.2 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corp to supply 18 F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

The decision is in line with a senior US official’s assertion that the Congressional restrictions on providing $50 million in military aid to Pakistan would not affect the sales of F-16 aircraft.

“The F-16 programme is a Pakistani purchase, their money, they’re buying them,” said Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. “And our foreign military finance, our military assistance goes for different purposes and is not involved at this point in the F-16 sales.”

On Monday, the Pentagon released a list of defence contract awards, which include an authorisation for Lockheed to sell 12 F-16C and six F-16D planes to Pakistan.

The F-16C is a single-seat aircraft while the F-16D is a two-seat flying machine. Pakistan already has a fleet of F-16AM, which is an upgraded single-seat version of F-16A.

During the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan Air Force’s F-16s shot down at least 10 Afghan and Soviet ground attack and transport aircraft between 1986 and 1988.Pakistan is to get 18 new F-16C/D fighters by 2010 besides upgrades for its current fleet of 34 F-16 combat aircraft as part of a $2.1 billion deal for new weapons, avionics, engines, and other equipment for F-16 fighters announced in September last year.

Lockheed, the Pentagon’s No. 1 contractor, won a $144 million contract in 2006 for materials needed to build the F-16s.

Pakistani F-16s will be equipped with AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM, AIM-9M-8/9, JDAM, Harpoon Block II, Joint-Helmet Mounted Cueing System, CFTs and possibly IRIS-T.

All 18 new aircraft will come from Block 50-52, first delivered to the US Air Force in late 1991.

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