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Delivery of Libyan Mirages begins

July 29, 2004

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ISLAMABAD, July 28: Libya has begun delivery of its fleet of mothballed Mirage fighter jets to Pakistan, which plans to use parts of the planes to keep its own Mirages aloft, Pakistan Air Force officials said on Wednesday.

"The shipment of grounded Libyan Mirages (of type 3 and 5) has begun and the PAF will use their spares to keep its fleet operational," an air force spokesman told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa).

Libya agreed to sell its Mirages to Pakistan at a "very reasonable price" earlier this month. "The spares will undergo a detailed testing process before being used," the official said.

Although price and quantity have not been divulged by the military, media reports have said 50 jets and 150 engines would be transferred. The Libyan fleet has been mothballed for the past decade.

Pakistan, which operates around 180 of the French-built aircraft, is the second largest user of Mirage aircraft after France. Pakistan also refurbishes Mirages on contract for friendly nations.

Separately, the PAF is also set to receive six C-130 military transport aircraft from the United States early next year. "Both the countries have already worked out the modalities for the planes, which are presently being refurbished by Lockheed Martin company in the US," the official said.

The aircraft delivery is part of a 75-million-dollar agreement signed in late 2002 after Pakistan assumed a key role in the US-led war against terrorism with regard to neighbouring Afghanistan.

Washington recently accorded Pakistan a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) status in recognition of its role in the anti-terror war, which observers believe will help the country acquire military equipment from the United States.

Countries holding the MNNA status have easier access to the US defence industry as well as financial markets. Islamabad has discussed a long shopping list with the US, which includes a variety of equipment and spares for the hardware Pakistan's three services are using.

A major sticking point has been the delivery of more than two dozen F-16 aircraft which the US has delayed since October 1990, in conjunction with sanctions imposed on Pakistan for its nuclear programme, which resulted in successful detonation of a bomb in 1998.

US refusal to deliver the aircraft has forced Pakistan into greater reliance on Chinese-origin defence, including F-7s, F-7PGs and A-5s, in addition to aging American F-16s and French Mirages from the late 80s.