Saturday, June 26, 2010

Delivery of F-16 Block 52 to Pakistan Shows Deepening Relations

Lisa Daniel and Donna Miles

The Air Force is set to deliver the first of 18 new F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters to the Pakistani air force in a sign of deepening relations between the United States and Pakistan.

Three F-16s are scheduled to arrive in Pakistan on June 26, with 15 more to be delivered later this year and next, Air Force Maj. Todd Robbins, the Pakistan country director in the office of the undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service.

“This is the most visible part of a strong and growing relationship between the two air forces that will benefit us both near-term and long-term,” Robbins said.

This sale of F-16s to Pakistan renews new aircraft sales that existed between the United States and Pakistan in the 1980s, but were halted in the 1990s. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other U.S. military and civilian leaders have spoken out about “not repeating the mistakes” of the U.S. halt in relations with Pakistan in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In March, the United States and Pakistan held their first ministerial-level strategic dialogue here, co-chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi. High-level officials from both governments participated in the dialogue, including Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gates said then that the talks included discussion of “how we can help Pakistan in dealing with the security challenges that face them, but also face us and NATO as well.”

The two countries held follow-up meetings in Pakistan in early June that focused on improving military-to-military relations and security cooperation, officials said.

Relations with Pakistan improved after Sept. 11, 2001, Robbins said, “and this is just one very tangible example of the currently strong and growing relationship between the U.S. Air Force and the Pakistan air force and, in the larger context, between the United States and Pakistan.”

The F-16 is a multirole jet fighter sold to 24 countries around the world, according to its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. The 18 being sold to Pakistan are the Block 52 versions of the aircraft, Robbins said, which will give Pakistan new capabilities, including day-night, all-weather and precision-attack capabilities.

“They’ve not had [these capabilities] before, so this is a major milestone in the U.S. providing this capability, which older models [of F-16s] don’t have,” he said. “This will enable them to strike terrorists within their borders while helping them to avoid collateral damage. It’s an increase in capabilities that are beneficial to us all.”

Pakistan is paying $1.4 billion for the 18 new aircraft, in addition to $1.3 billion in upgrades to its existing F-16 fleet, which are to begin being delivered in 2012, Robbins said.

The Air Force also is training Pakistan air force pilots. The first eight recently completed training with the Arizona National Guard in Tucson, with additional training done by Lockheed Martin, Robbins said. The Air Force also is training Pakistanis in night-attack training and recently completed training for four instructors and five flight leads, he said.

American Forces Press Service

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