The Pakistan Air Force (PAF), in a significant move, has equipped the newly renovated Jacobabad airbase with close to three dozen F-16s, including the advanced Block 52+ version of the aircraft.
Pakistan has spent over $3.75 billion on both the revamping of Jacobabad airbase and the acquisition of new planes, officials told The Express Tribune. The air force is in a better position to encounter any threats after acquiring the new F-16s which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, they added.
Defence analyst Lt General (retd) Talat Masood said this was a significant development especially as it had come months after the Americans had quit the airbase. Masood, however, warned of a shift in the strategic balance of the region, saying “India’s new aircraft deal with France would leave Pakistan far behind”. For all intents and purposes, he said, Pakistan should continue its cooperation with the US to enhance its defence capability. “Pakistan and the US are reciprocal when it comes to regional stability in South Asia,” he added.
India is all set to reach an agreement with France over the purchase of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) costing over $12 billion, making it the largest international defence deal by value in recent years, according to Indian media. Chief of Air Staff Rao Qamar Suleman and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had formally announced the completion of Jacobabad Airbase on February 12. The Chief of Air Staff said that all American personnel, including the Training Support Team for the new F-16s, have left after training PAF pilots and other technical staff.
“The new F-16 Block 52 fleet will pave the way for establishing the balance of power in the region,” said General Kayani.
“This airbase is now the largest platform for modern aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons,” a senior PAF official told The Express Tribune. “It’s an outcome of years long cooperation between Pakistan and the US.”
Pakistan had purchased 18 new F-16 Block 52+ aircraft, while 14 used F-16s were supplied free of charge by the US. The US Training Support Team consisted of over 200 personnel, including staff to train PAF personnel on making the aircraft operational. PAF has also recruited over 4, 000 employees for the newly renovated strategic airbase which is located close to the western frontier bordering both Iran and Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2012.