U.S. Combat Aircraft Delivered to Pakistan

Wade Boese

The United States delivered two F-16A combat aircraft to Pakistan Dec. 13, marking the first such transfer since 1990 when Washington had halted exports of F-16s to Islamabad because of its nuclear weapons program. The planes can be converted to deliver nuclear bombs.

The Pentagon supplied the two fighters through its Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program, which enables foreign governments to acquire arms or military equipment retired from U.S. military service. These exports are generally conducted with little or no charge and provided “as is.” In this case, Pakistan did pay for some refurbishment work, a Pentagon spokesperson told Arms Control Today Dec. 16.

More F-16s might be in the EDA pipeline for Pakistan, but the Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on that possibility. Jane’s Defense Weekly reported in August that “at least 10 additional refurbished” F-16s could be supplied in 2006.

Pakistan has grander plans. Islamabad reportedly was negotiating much of last year for a separate purchase of some 70 new F-16s. But Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf said in November that his government would postpone the F-16 buy while the country recovered from a devastating earthquake one month earlier.

The Bush administration announced in March that it would favorably consider Pakistani requests for F-16s. (See ACT, May 2005.) Washington had provided 40 of the fighters to Pakistan before 1990. But that year, President George H. W. Bush concluded that he could no longer certify to Congress that Islamabad did not possess a nuclear explosive device. U.S. law prohibited military exports to Pakistan in such an instance.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush, eager to secure Islamabad’s help in the U.S.-declared global war on terrorism, waived this restriction and others imposed for Pakistan’s May 1998 nuclear tests. At the same time, Bush lifted similar sanctions on Pakistan’s neighbor and nuclear rival, India. But he held back from selling either country advanced fighters. (See ACT, October 2001.)

Now, Washington is offering U.S. fighters to New Delhi as well. A traditional Russian arms client, India is weighing the purchase of 126 new combat aircraft.