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The Story of our F16s

Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has rightly said yesterday at Mushaf Airbase that Pakistan Air force had a crucial role in the defence of our Country. Pakistan army has adopted the right approach by conducting counter insurgency operations through closer collaboration and support of Pakistan Air Force (PAF).In modern warfare, the kinetic energy, i.e. ground and airpower, is discreetly applied to eliminate or coerce the insurgents to give up their demands. The air force is used to apply kinetic energy through close air support or independent air strikes against the insurgents.

PAF has the unique ability of quick concentration of force at the most important targets and strike the militants at appropriate time without confronting most of the adversary’s ground defences of the Taliban.PAF has successfully exhibited this in yesterday’s air strikes against Taliban in North Waziristan through which PAF jets milled several militant hideouts and killed 60 militants and injured 30.

Yesterday,PAF also completed the induction of a batch of F–16. The new jets are bought from Jordon and have been made part of the Fourth Squadron of US-made F–16 planes. Indeed PAF now has the capability to respond to various threats being faced by nation, with efficiency and safety.

While the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is one mainly based on necessity (fighting the War on Terrorism and state survival for Pakistan), the relationship between the United States and the PAF has been slow-going.The sale of F–16s to Pakistan became a transformative element of the U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship over 23 years ago, and this historical context is important to understand and remember as it has become an iconic symbol of Pak-US relationship and their commitment to each other.

In the early 1980s, the U.S. government initially agreed to sell Pakistan 111 F– 16 aircraft. This decision was influenced by U.S.close partnership with Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. By October 1990, however, Pressler sanctions were imposed when President (George Herbert Walker) Bush was unable tocertify that Pakistan was not developing a nuclear weapon. The Pressler sanctions led to a decade-long suspension of security assistance to Pakistan and a deficit of trust between the two countries that we are still working to overcome.

The suspension of U.S. security assistance programs to Pakistan required under Pressler amendmentthe suspension and eventual cancellation of an additional sale of F–16 aircraft that would have augmented the 40 F–16s Pakistan purchased in 1982. That cancellation is viewed as a symbol of the collapse of Pak-U.S. relationship during the 1990s. The suspension of U.S. security assistance also precluded Pakistani military officers from attending U.S. military schools, which produced nearly a generation of Pakistani military officers who had not travelled to the United States to learn side-by-side with American officers.

The 9/11 attacks resulted in a profound shift in U.S. policy towards South and Central Asia. The terrorist attacks on U.S. mainland led to a strategic choice by the Government of Pakistan to support U.S. efforts to remove the Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s decision gave U.S. the support of a critical neighbour, enabled U.S. to undertake Operation Enduring Freedom.

In return, Bush Administration committed to reinvigorating the security relationship between the two countries. This led to Pakistan’s designation as a Major Non-NATO Ally in 2004 and Bush’s commitment to provide Pakistan a $3 billion assistance package over five years, evenly divided between security and development. Soon after, the Bush Administration sought to overturn decades of bitterness by agreeing to sell Pakistan a new generation of F–16s and providing it with the ability to upgrade its existing fleet.

This agreement was formally codified in September 2006 when Pakistan signed three separate Letters of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) that constitute the core of Pakistan’s F–16 program. Prior to signing the LOA, Bush Administration notified the U.S.Congress that the sale would serve to stabilise the conventional military balance in South Asia, provide Pakistan the ability to conduct CloseAir Support in ongoing operations in the Global War on Terror and restore Pakistan’sconfidence in the enduring nature of U.S. relationship with Pakistan.

Pakistan had originally planned a total purchase valued at $5.1 billion. The 2005 earthquake and subsequent financial constraints caused Pakistan to reduce the number of new planes it wanted to purchase from 36 to 18, which lowered the overall value of the deal to approximately $3.1 billion. The 18 new planes valued at $1.4 billion, with the remainder of the $3.1 billion dedicated to associated munitions (valued at approximately $641 million) and 46 Mid-Life Update (MLU) kits for Pakistan’s existing F–16 fleet (estimated to cost $891 million). Additionally, the United States provided Pakistan with 14 F–16s designated as Excess Defense Articles.Pakistan also requested U.S. to allow the use of a portion of its FY 2008 and FY 2009 Foreign Military Financing Presidential commitment, totalling $368M, for theF–16 Mid-Life Update program.

F–16s provide a critical counterterrorism capability to Pakistan and PAF has recently made extensive use of its aging F–16 fleet to support Pakistan Army operations in North Waziristan. F–16s use day-night, all weather, air-dropped precision-guided munitions; and P.A.F will be able to use this capability to countering militants along its western border. The new and enhanced F–16s will provide Pakistan the ability to attack fleeing targets with precision during all weather conditions.

The Mid-Life Update has enabled the PAF to use an advanced targeting pod that provides the ability to generate ground position data that can then be used to direct guided munitions to a target. In addition, the Mid-Life Update comes with an advanced communications system that enables real time communication with ground forces of Pakistan Army—a critical capability for Close Air Support missions. These systems provide PAF with the technological capability to conduct precision close air strikes against Al Qaeda, Taliban, and associated terrorist targets, as well as provide non-traditional Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, a critical enabler in a counterinsurgency campaign.

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