Islamabad, Sept. 19: Pakistan has approached Belgium to buy multi-role F-16 aircraft to augment the combat capabilities of its air force.
The Belgian government has promised to consider Islamabad’s purchase request. Brussels, however, will need a green light from Washington before entering into negotiations to finalise the sale. “Pakistan will raise this issue at the ongoing meeting of the Pak-US Defence Consultative Group in Washington so that the negotiations with Belgian authorities can commence at the earliest,” a highly placed source said on condition of anonymity. “We hope that the Pentagon will have no objection if Belgium sells F-16s to Pakistan, which is in need of hi-tech jets.”
“The prevailing security situation in the region also necessitates upgradation of the aircraft fleet in PAF’s (Pakistan Air Force’s) inventory,” the source said, adding the air force has already embarked on a programme to modernise and upgrade its fighter aircraft. The force’s operational capabilities suffered during the last decade after the US imposed military and economic sanctions on Pakistan for pursuing a nuclear programme.
Before the sanctions, the US had in the early 1980s delivered 40 F-16s to Pakistan, justifying it on the pretext of heightened tension in the region after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
After the sanctions, Pakistan was forced to turn to China for acquisition of aircraft and upgradation of its existing fleet.
The induction of the Chinese F-7PG aircraft, replacing aged F-6 fighter interceptors, in March last year was part of this process. About 40-odd of this aircraft, known as Fishbed, have already been inducted.
Pakistan and China have also jointly manufactured JF-17 Thunder, next generation aircraft, which had its maiden test flight a few weeks ago. The air force intends to begin phased induction of the jets in the next couple of years.
Pakistan has already received 40 refurbished Mirage aircraft from SAGEM of France, under a $120-million agreement. Six C-130 transport military aircraft are expected to be received from the US some time next year.
Pakistani experts had evaluated French Mirage-2000-5 aircraft a few years ago and followed it up with technical-level talks. But the plan to buy the jets at $81 million each was dropped in the hope the US would deliver 28 F-16s.
The US, however, reimbursed $658 million to Islamabad, which it had paid in instalments for delivery of the 28 jets before the imposition of Pressler sanctions in October 1990. The jets are still lying in storage somewhere in Arizona.
“Pakistan should not pin hopes on the US for delivery of military equipment. They will not give us anything except a few spares,” said Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, deputy secretary general of the Mutahida Majlis-e-Ammal, an alliance of religious parties.
The US supplied five modern helicopters to Pakistan last year for surveillance of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.