ISLAMABAD: Pakistan received on Monday the last of the 18 ‘new buy’ F-16 fighter jets, marking the conclusion of one part of the defence deal that is often flaunted as the icon of post-9/11 bilateral re-engagement.
Alongside the last F-16 D Block 52 aircraft, arrived the first two of the upgraded fighter jets.
“One F-16 D Block 52 and two F-16 Block 15 MLU (Mid Life Upgrade) aircraft arrived today from USA at PAF Base Shahbaz (Jacobabad),” PAF’s media directorate said in a statement.
“The arrival of last F-16 D Block 52 aircraft marked the completion of delivery of 18 aircraft of this category. The other two F-16 Block 15 aircraft, which arrived today, were earlier sent to USA for Mid Life Upgrade,” it further said.
The new and the upgraded aircraft, along with the munitions packages, would improve PAF’s precision strike and night vision capability.
“The F-16 C/D Block 52 aircraft is a high-tech fighter aircraft equipped with state-of-the-art avionics suite and latest weapons with night precision attack capability,” the statement noted.
The three-part $3.1 billion F-16 programme was one of the largest defence procurements made by the government despite massive financial crisis during the last few years.
The F-16 programme included purchase of 18 new jets, upgrade of 35 older aircraft from the existing fleet and those purchased from the US under Excess Defence Articles (EDA) programme, and procurement of munitions.
Initially, Pakistan had intended to purchase 36 new aircraft, but the list had to be halved because of strong financial crunch, particularly in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake.Pakistan paid for the new aircraft and the munitions from its own resources, while the midlife upgrade was partly financed through the US Foreign Military Funding assistance on the commitment that the F-16 fighters would be deployed to conduct tactical precision strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in tribal areas.
The primary consideration for purchasing the new aircraft was to improve the fighting capability of PAF vis-à-vis rival Indian Air Force, but the diplomatic cables revealed by Wikileaks showed that US officials were sure that the new purchases and upgradation would now alter “Indian superiority”.
The US keenly pursued the F-16 programme for meeting its foreign policy objectives and bridging the trust deficit with the Pakistan military, whose support was considered crucial in the war on terror.