Pakistan’s air force will receive a major makeover courtesy of the United States. Under two recently finalized agreements and a pending deal, Washington will upgrade Islamabad’s fleet of existing U.S. combat aircraft and deliver up to 62 new and used fighter jets.
On Sept. 30, Pakistan signed one agreement for 18 new F-16C/D fighters with the option to buy 18 more and another contract for the modernization of 34 previously purchased U.S. F-16A/B aircraft. A third deal signed that day covers bombs and missiles, including AIM-120C missiles, which enable pilots to fire at foes before they are within visual range. Earlier cost estimates put the full package at $5 billion.
Also in the works is a transfer of 26 used U.S. F-16s to Pakistan. A Department of State official informed Arms Control Today Oct. 19 that the Pentagon is still selecting the planes.
The transactions culminate a five-year reconciliation between the United States and Pakistan after a long, bitter dispute linked to Islamabad’s nuclear arms endeavors.
During the 1980s when the United States partnered with Pakistan to combat Soviet forces in Afghanistan, Washington turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s suspected nuclear weapons program while providing conventional weapons to the country. The year after the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States halted arms supplies, including F-16s, because President George H. W. Bush did not certify to Congress that Islamabad did not have a nuclear bomb.
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks led to a U.S. re-evaluation of relations with Pakistan as Washington sought allies to help depose Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. President George W. Bush promptly waived U.S. arms sanctions on Pakistan, including those levied for its May 1998 nuclear tests. (See ACT, October 2001.) In March 2005, the United States announced its willingness to resume exports of F-16s, which can be modified to deliver nuclear arms.Given that complicated history, Pakistan’s close ties to China, and the 2004 exposure of a sprawling nuclear black market run by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the United States insisted that Pakistan adopt extraordinary security precautions for the planes after receipt. These include enhanced U.S. access. The first new fighters are scheduled for delivery in 2009, although the used planes could be shipped sooner.