October 10, 2004
After years of sanctions against Pakistan, because of their work on nuclear weapons, the U.S. is planning to sell the Pakistani Air Force 18 F-16 fighters. The deal is seen as a way to make amends to the Pakistani military for its efforts against terrorism in the wake of 9/11. In 1988, Pakistan had planned to buy 71 F-16 fighters, to add to their existing fleet of 40 F-16s. But the U.S. Congress imposed sanctions in 1995, before the first planes produced in the order could be transferred. Only 28 of the 71 plane order were built, and were kept in storage until the U.S. government reimbursed Pakistan. The planes were instead transferred to the Air Force and Navy in June 2002, for training and testing purposes.
The U.S. thinks the F-16s could help Pakistan in fighting Islamic insurgents along the Afghanistan border, but the Pakistani Air Force is asking the planes come equipped with AMRAAM AIM-120 air-to-air missiles for air defense. This wound not go over well in neighboring India. Pakistan has requested new aircraft, but is also open to "excess defense articles" i.e. surplus planes. The U.S. Air Force currently has several hundred F-16 A/B aircraft in mothballs and around 150 older, but upgraded, F-16s have been sold to six nations. Pakistan could also get second-hand F-16s from countries like Belgium and then have them upgraded.
Even if the F-16 sale goes through, Pakistan will be shopping for a front-line fighter and is reviewing the Swedish Gripen, China's J-10, and France's Mirage 2000, as well as the latest model F-16s. Sweden has been facing US pressure not to sell the Gripen to Pakistan, but since the climate is now changing, the Pakistanis expect no obstacles to new jets.
Pakistan would like to have the planes and missiles to counter India's 49 Mirage 2000, 65 Mig-29s, and around 30 Su-30MKI series fighters. India's fighters are equipped with the Matra Super 530D, AA-10 Alamo-C and AA-12 Adder long-range air-to-air missiles; the AA-10 Alamo-C has a range of 130 kilometers, the AA-12 Adder around 100 kilometers and has around the same performance as the AMRAAM. Doug Mohney