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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
U.S. Renews Fighter Exports to Pakistan
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Zachary Ginsburg

The United States recently delivered two used F-16B jets to Pakistan and announced plans to donate another two dozen. In a deal announced last September, the United States is also set to sell Pakistan 18 new F-16C/D fighters for delivery in 2010 and upgrades for its current fleet of 34 F-16 combat aircraft.

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson said at a July 10 transfer ceremony at Pakistan’s Sargodha Air Force Base that the planes are “symbolic of our commitment to assist Pakistan in improving its ability to secure its territory.” Pakistani Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed has told news agencies that he expects 10 more used jets to be delivered by the end of 2008.

A Department of Defense spokesperson told Arms Control Today July 25 that Pakistan will not pay for the used, older model F-16s, whose flying conditions vary, but will assume the costs for refurbishing and modernizing them. The U.S. government cleared Islamabad last year for about $2.1 billion of new weapons, avionics, engines, and other equipment for F-16 fighters. (See ACT, November 2006. )

In late 2005, the United States donated two F-16A fighters to Pakistan in the first transfer of fighter aircraft to that state since 1990. That year, President George H.W. Bush blocked arms sales to Pakistan because his administration would not certify under U.S. law that Islamabad did not possess a nuclear device. Seeking Pakistan’s allegiance after the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush waived the prohibitions. (See ACT, October 2001. )

Pakistan is supposed to begin receiving the 18 new, top-of-the-line F-16C/Ds in three years and has the option to purchase 18 more. Under U.S. law, Congress was notified of the possible sales, and the House International Relations Committee subsequently convened a hearing in July 2006 in which members blasted the Bush administration for not sufficiently consulting them about the deal. Legislators did not block the transaction—that would require a two-thirds supermajority—but some strongly rebuked the administration. (See ACT, September 2006. )

At the hearing, lawmakers such as Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and ranking member Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who is currently chairman, expressed concerns about the potential for unauthorized dissemination of sensitive technologies and for modification of the F-16s to carry nuclear weapons. Broad speculation exists that Pakistan modified previously delivered U.S. F-16s for nuclear delivery missions.

Administration officials assured Congress that the planes would be subject to more strict security measures by Pakistan and more robust U.S. oversight than in previous transfers between the two countries. “We’ve put into the deal that [Pakistan] must comply with the approved security plans before we’ll release any systems in a sale,” then-Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs John Hillen testified. These “security plans,” according to Hillen, would include “a very enhanced end-use monitoring program [and] semiannual inventories of all F-16 aircraft, equipment, and munitions, including related technical data.”

In recent interviews, neither U.S. nor Pakistani officials would provide any further details to Arms Control Today on the security arrangements.

President Bush signed into law Aug. 3 legislation that could block future F-16 transfers. The Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act prohibits the sale of military equipment to Pakistan if it is not “committed to eliminating the Taliban” within its borders. However, the determination of whether Pakistan is progressing aggressively enough against the Taliban will be left up to the president, who has said he views Pakistan as a key ally.

Pakistan’s neighbor and rival, India, has publicly worried about the U.S. F-16 transfers. The Pentagon, however, noted in June 2006 that the exports “would not significantly reduce India’s quantitative or qualitative military advantage.”

Still, New Delhi is exploring the purchase of U.S. combat aircraft to fill an Indian procurement goal of 126 planes. India is eyeing both F-16s and newer F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, but it may instead opt for Russian MiG-35s.