WASHINGTON, July 24: The US State Department said on Thursday that the administration had decided to shift $230 million from counter-terrorism funds to allow Pakistan to upgrade F-16 fighter jets in a move aimed at helping “a strong ally” faced with a difficult financial situation.

Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told a briefing that with the intended upgrading, Pakistan’s ageing fleet of

F-16 aircraft would be as good as new.

He described the F-16 deal as “a tangible symbol” of US-Pakistan friendship and said that the United States did not inform India before deciding to use counter-terrorism funds for upgrading Pakistan’s fighter jets.

Earlier at the White House, spokeswoman Danna Perino rejected criticisms that Pakistan could only use the F-16s against its nuclear neighbour India and not against the terrorists.

“The F-16s that they have are used in counter-terrorism operations. We made them available to the Pakistanis and they need to be maintained,” she told reporters.

At the State Department, Mr Gallegos described Pakistan as a key partner in the war on terror, which played a critical role in “our long-term efforts to build a stable and prosperous South Asia.”

“We had a strong ally and friend who came to us in a tough situation financially,” he said. “We have a package programme that had already been approved a couple years ago. Basically, we were looking at ways to assist this ally and friend of ours. We saw this as an opportunity to do that. And we decided this would be a great opportunity, and we would take it.”

He noted that the US was shifting foreign military financing that was already allocated to Pakistan for other military equipment. This arrangement, he said, “allows Pakistan’s F-16 programme, a tangible symbol of the US-Pakistan relationship, to continue on track.”

He said that Pakistan was currently undergoing economic turmoil, including rising food and fuel prices, which is a daunting challenge to the new civilian government.

“This $226 million, $227 million funds was already allocated for other updates on different airframes in Pakistan. The government came to us, asked us if we could assist them. And we decided that this would be a good option for them,” he said, Mr Gallegos noted that this shifting of funds would help to relieve the Pakistan government, allowing them to use that amount of funds for different projects of their own, while providing an update that had already been approved in 2006.

“And so, basically, what we did was we shifted funds from one set of anti-terrorism projects, one set of airframes, to a different set,” he added.

The arrangement, he said, would involve advanced avionics and radar upgrades, communications and targeting systems that will enable real-time communication with ground forces, and will generate ground position data that can be used to direct guided munitions to a target.

“We believe that these updates will effectively employ the F-16s — they’ll be able to use them during night time operations,” he said.

“The bottom line here is that we’ve shifted money to help the democratically elected government of Pakistan to fight a common foe, a common enemy that we have.”

The US official insisted that the upgrades would enable Pakistanis to “help us fight this common foe; and that we believe that this is a positive way to help a friend”.

Mr Gallegos described the

upgrades as “mid-life update enhancements” to provide Pakistan’s air force with the technological capability to conduct precision close air strikes against al Qaeda, Taliban and associated terrorist targets who exploit the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas as well as providing non-traditional intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance.

“The effectiveness and accuracy of real-time intelligence is central to winning counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism battles,” he said. “In addition, these mid-life update enhancements will allow Pakistan’s F-16s to operate safely in all weather and to perform day and night missions.”

The US, he said, would also train the Pakistani forces to develop their capabilities, effectively employing these aircraft in support of ground operations against terrorist groups that threatened the security of Pakistan and the United States.

He said that besides upgrading Pakistan’s ageing fleet, the US had also agreed to sell Pakistan some F-16s, and “this mid-life update will provide these older aircraft with the same level of technology that the current models that we’re selling them have”.

Asked if the shift in the F-16 money was the subject of the US president’s call to the Indian prime minister earlier on Thursday, Mr Gallegos said: “I’d have to send you to the White House for that.”