Islamabad, April 14: A technical team comprising representatives of the US administration and Lockheed Martin will visit Pakistan early next month to work out details for the delivery of F-16 jet fighters to the Pakistan Air Force.
'Pakistan plans to buy 24 new F-16s of upgraded (Block 52) C and D version in the first phase,' sources told The Telegraph today, as US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld concluded his visit to Islamabad with a commitment to further broaden strategic partnership with Pakistan.
Rumsfeld, who arrived in Islamabad last evening after a day-long visit to Afghanistan, reaffirmed the US decision to enhance military assistance to Pakistan and strengthen defence cooperation with the country.
The US administration has also informed Islamabad about its decision to give the current air force Block 50 F-16s (A and B versions), the sources said, adding that the process will commence early next year.
Pakistan had received two F-16 squadrons in the early 1980s after the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. However, the delivery of another 70 jets had been withheld in October 1990 after former President George Bush refused to issue the nuclear- waiver certificate to Pakistan. This led to sanctions and the termination of US economic and military aid.
However, in March 2004 Pakistan was granted access to the American military equipment market after it became a major US non-Nato ally 'in recognition of its role as the frontline state in the ongoing war against terror'.
'The US government has also informed us that there will be no cap on the total figure of the jets to be delivered,' the sources said, adding that Pakistan now has a complete system for maintenance of F-16s. Pakistan air force experts are presently studying the needs of their fleet in order to prepare a comprehensive report well before the arrival of the US team.
A five-member US defence delegation, headed by Lieutenant-General Jeffrey B. Kohler, chief of the Defence Security Cooperation Agency, held talks with Pakistan's defence secretary Lieutenant-General Tariq Waseem Ghazi and secretary of defence production Lieutenant-General Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai to discuss Islamabad's defence requirements.
Ghazi asked Kohler to expedite pending cases for delivery of the US military equipment.