The US State Department has approved the potential sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan, the Pentagon said on Wednesday in yet another move that indicates a thaw in the frosty diplomatic relations between the two countries that have seesawed over the past few years.
The approval came as “Pakistan has requested to consolidate prior F-16 sustainment and support cases to support the Pakistan Air Force F-16 fleet by reducing duplicate case activities and adding additional continued support elements”, it said.
Lockheed Martin Corporation will be the principal contractor for the sale valued at estimated $450 million, according to a statement on the official website of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on Wednesday.
“The proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions,” the statement clarified.
“The proposed sale 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. Pakistan will have no difficulty absorbing these articles and services into its armed forces,” it added.
“It will not require the assignment of any additional US Government or contractor representatives to Pakistan.”
Included in the upgrade are US government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.
It also includes modifications and support of aircraft and engine hardware and software as well as repair and return of the jets and engine spares, classified and unclassified software and software support among others.
In order to assuage any concerns that the proposed sale might create, the Pentagon said it “will not alter the basic military balance in the region”. It also said that the sale would support US foreign policy objectives.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by allowing Pakistan to retain interoperability with US and partner forces in ongoing counterterrorism efforts and in preparation for future contingency operations,” it states.
The upgrade is part of US military’s assistance to Pakistan under a policy in which it sold and upgraded F-16s since the 1980. It was in 1981 when the US agreed to sell the F-16s to Pakistan in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The idea was to use these aircraft to engage the Soviet and Afghan jets that periodically crossed the border to bomb mujahideen training camps. Foreign policy and national security website War on the Rocks reported that between 1986 and 1990, Pakistani F-16s shot down at least 10 Afghan and Soviet jets, helicopters, and transport planes.
However, in the 1990s, the programme fell flat due to American concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear programme, forcing Washington to hold back the delivery of 28 F-16s for which Pakistan had paid around $658 million.
Things took a turn again after 9/11 as Pakistan joined the America’s war on terror. The US again sold 18 advanced Block 52 F-16s for approximately $1.4 billion, as well as targeting pods and electronic warfare pods.
Not only that, the US also sold mid-life upgrade kits for 53 of Pakistan’s older model F-16s, which made them as capable as the Block 52 version of the aircraft. Turkey, which also flies the F-16 jet, did the upgrades of Pakistan’s fighter aircraft, War on the Rocks reported.
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