WASHINGTON, Oct 14: The US administration on Tuesday held a special briefing to persuade Senate to help finance mid-life upgrading of Pakistan’s ageing fleet of F-16 aircraft.

US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who looks after South Asian affairs at the State Department, said that upgrading the F-16s would increase Pakistan’s effectiveness in the war against terror.

Pakistan has a total of 34 F-16s purchased mostly in the 1980s.

The US government has already accepted Pakistan’s request to upgrade the aircraft, equipping them with modern technology and weapon systems to make them compatible with newer versions of the F-16s. The mid-life upgrading will cost a total of $891 million. Pakistan agreed to pay $417 million and asked the United States to provide $474 million.

In July this year, the US State Department notified the committee that it had accepted Pakistan’s request to make available $226 million from the foreign military finance programme for upgrading the F-16s.

Initially, Pakistan had agreed to bear most of the cost but under the new arrangement the United States will provide almost half of the money needed. The State Department said the move was aimed at helping “a strong ally” faced with a difficult financial situation.

Initially, Pakistan had also planned to buy 36 aircraft at a cost of $5.1 billion but after the 2005 earthquake, it reduced its order to 18 aircraft.

The United States is already providing $224 million but needs Congress’s permission for the remaining $250 million.

Pakistan received additional 14 F-16 A and B models under an arrangement that allowed US allies to receive excessive defence articles. The US has designated Pakistan a major non-Nato ally, a category that allows the allied nation to receive excessive defence equipment.

The White House has rejected criticism 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,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Administration officials have told the Senate that upgrading Pakistan’s ageing fleet of F-16 aircraft will dramatically reduce collateral damage and civilian casualties in Fata.

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