The US State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to the Government of Pakistan of F-16 Case for Sustainment and related equipment for an estimated cost of $450 million.
The determination comes in response the Government of Pakistan’s request to the US for consolidating prior F-16 sustainment and support cases to support the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16 fleet by reducing duplicate case activities and adding additional continued support elements.
The proposal comprises U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet to include:
Participation in F-16 Aircraft Structural Integrity Program; Electronic Combat International Security Assistance Program; International Engine Management Program; Engine Component Improvement Program, and other technical coordination groups; Aircraft and engine hardware and software modifications and support; Aircraft and engine spare repair/return parts; Accessories and support equipment; Classified and unclassified software and software support; Publications, manuals, and technical documentation; Precision measurement, calibration, lab equipment, and technical support services; Studies and surveys and other related elements of aircraft maintenance and program support.
The proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions, while the estimated total cost is $450 million. It will continue the sustainment of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet, which greatly improves Pakistan’s ability to support counterterrorism operations through its robust air-to-ground capability.
Readers may recall that Pakistan began acquiring F-16 fighters from the United States in 1981, and the aircraft has been successful in several conflicts since then. Following the invasion of Afghanistan by USSR, Pakistan decided to ally itself with the US to check the Soviet onslaught, which could have overrun Pakistan.
The US State Department offered various fighter aircraft of lower capability but the Pakistani leadership stuck to its guns in demanding the acquisition of then top of the line F-16 Fighting Falcons. Finally, the US relented and between October 1982 and 1986, a total of twenty-eight F-16As and twelve two-seat F-16Bs were delivered to Pakistan in Operations Peace Gate I and II. These outfitted the PAF’s No. 9, 11 and 14 Squadrons which flew patrols along the Afghan border, typically carrying two advanced AIM-9L and two AIMP-9P-4 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.
Unlike earlier heat-seekers which could lock on to the hot tail-pipe at the rear of an aircraft, the AIM-9L ‘Lima’ Sidewinders could engage from any angle. The AIM-9L’s ability to hit opponents in a head-on-pass would soon prove particularly effective.
The decision proved its prudence because between 1986 and 1990, the PAF credited the F-16 with shooting down ten Afghan and Soviet jets, helicopters and transport planes, with many additional claims unconfirmed, while about seventeen were made to force land in Pakistan after they ingressed into Pakistan across the Durand Line.
In a classic air battle, on August 8, 1988, Col Alexander Rutskoy, commander of a regiment of the Su-25 Frogfoot attack jets — was leading a night raid on the Miranshah refugee camp when his four-ship flight was bounced by two F-16As of PAF’s 14 fighter squadron. Rutskoy took evasive action but was shot down, ejecting over Pakistani soil and being captured. Exchanged back to Russia, he was decorated as a hero of the Soviet Union and went onto become vice president of Russia under Boris Yeltsin.
It is recent history that on February 27, 2019, when Pakistan retaliated in response to a failed Indian surgical strike the previous night, an Indian Air Force MiG-21 Bison and a SU-30M were shot down by radar-guided missiles. The PAF claims the kills were scored by JF-17 Thunder, a domestically-built fighter built with Chinese assistance.
However, India subsequently revealed fragments of an AIM-120C-5 missile — a US-built weapon only compatible with the American-built F-16s in PAF service.
Pakistan’s claims may be based on classified end-user agreements, which possibly restrict the aircraft’s use against India. Known for its fabrications of false claims, India claimed that the MiG-21’s pilot managed to shoot down an F-16, before ejecting from his ill-fated aircraft. Pakistan nailed the lie by showing all four of the missiles still intact in the pods of the debris of the MiG-19 shot down and found in Pakistani territory.
The FMS program for the sale of F-16s to Pakistan has been fraught with controversy.
By 1990, Pakistan had already placed Peace Gate III and IV orders for seventy-one improved F-16A/B Block 15s. But in October 1990, Pakistan’s nuclear research program led the United States to impose sanctions because the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan and Pakistan’s efficacy as an ally had dwindled. Thus, twenty-eight newly-built F-16s for which Pakistan had already paid $23 million apiece were consigned to the desert Boneyard facility in Arizona, where they remained for over a decade.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan again entered the fold of becoming an ally of the US in its war on terror while the Bush administration authorized the ‘Peace Drive’ deal in which the United States handed over twenty-three remaining Peace Gate F-16As and Bs, and sold nineteen far more capable F-16Cs and D Block 52s.
The $5.1 billion deal also involved modernising Pakistan’s by-then dated F-16A and Bs with the F-16AM/BM ‘Mid-Life Update.’ This involved stripping down and repairing the aging air frames, replacing hundreds of wiring harnesses, exchanging old monochrome cockpit displays with color multi-function displays, and installing wide-angle HUDs and a new modular, digital flight computers which added support for laser and GPS-guided bombs. Furthermore, an improved APG-66V2 doppler radar allowed the F-16AMs to employ beyond-visual-range AIM-120C-5 air-to-air missiles with a maximum range of sixty-five miles. 600 of the radar-guided fire-and-forget missiles were also sold. Pakistan also acquired DB-110 electro-optical reconnaissance pods capable of scanning 10,000 miles of terrain per hour.
In 2013, Pakistan purchased nine more F-16As and four F-16Bs directly from Jordan. Currently, Pakistan operates around sixty-six F-16A/Bs and nineteen F-16C/Ds in four active squadrons.
PAF has seen a fair share of attrition of F-16s, besides an F-16A downed by friendly fire, Pakistan has lost six F-16As and two F-16Bs in accidents. In addition to bird strikes, engine failures, and pilot disorientation, one F-16B was consumed by fire after collision with a wild boar during takeoff, which caused the nose gear to collapse.
While the previous US F-16 sales to Pakistan have come with certain strings and conditionalities and assigned reps, the recent F-16 rapprochement will not require the assignment of any ‘additional’ US Government or contractor representatives to Pakistan.
The renewed proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions and the estimated total cost is $450 million. The addition of new fighter jets will help to continue the sustainment of its F-16 fleet, and will boost PAF’s support of counterterrorism operations.
The announcement of the proposed deal reflects upon the present and future strategic opening between the two countries. Counter Terrorism (CT) remains an active area of collaboration and engagement between Islamabad and Washington DC despite past misgivings.
The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners