US, Pakistan relations bolstered by F-16 training

TUCSON, Ariz: Eight Pakistani air force pilots, each experienced in the F-16
Fighting Falcon’s A and B models, recently learned to fly the newer C-
and D-model aircraft at the 162nd Fighter Wing, the international F-16 training unit, and were honored at a graduation ceremony May 4 here.

Pakistan‘s air
force officials soon will upgrade their 30-year-old fleet of F-16s and
the pilots, charged with flying more capable fighters, are ready to
handle the new technology after training with the Arizona Air National
Guard.

The pilots are the first from their country to train in the United
States since 1983, when the last class of Pakistani pilots trained at
Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.

“This graduation is historic
for U.S.-Pakistan relations,” said Pakistani air force Wing Commander
Ghazanfar Latif, a 12-year F-16A pilot. “For Pakistan, our air force is
gaining capabilities that it has needed for the last decade;
capabilities that are critical to ongoing operations in Pakistan’s war
on terror.”

The new planes purchased by Pakistani government officials, Block 52
versions of the multirole fighter, are far more advanced than the older
A-model versions and will allow pilots to conduct operations at night
and greatly enhance their use of precision munitions.

The first four of the 18 planes purchased are scheduled for delivery
June 26 to Shahbaz Air Base in Pakistan. The rest will be delivered on
a staggered schedule throughout this year. In addition, Pakistan’s
existing F-16 fleet will undergo a mid-life update in 2011 designed to
upgrade cockpits and avionics to match the F-16C/D.

In preparation for the June delivery, the eight pilots and their families will have spent 10 months in the United States navigating the upgrade-training pipeline. They spent
two and half months reviewing military aviation terminology at the
Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and seven
months in flight training at Tucson International Airport. Since the
C/D-models used for training in Tucson are Block 25 F-16s, they will
next undergo two weeks of additional Block 52 instruction before
returning to Pakistan.

“Even though they’re flying Block 25s here, they will still be able
to operate their block 52s back home,” said Lt. Col. Kelly Parkinson,
the 195th Fighter Squadron commander. “When they leave here they will
get training from Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, on the differences. The two blocks fly the same; it’s essentially the employment of weapons that makes the difference.”

The bulk of the flight training in Tucson included a transition
course from the F-16A/B to the F-16C/D, flight lead upgrade training
and instructor pilot certification.

“We’re training these eight pilots so they can return home and be
instructors themselves and teach others to fly the new F-16s,” Colonel
Parkinson said.

“I think the training here is very well organized and tailored to
our needs,” Commander Latif said. “Also, the standards here are very
high. This is going to make a big difference because we do not have the
capability to make precision engagements at night with A models.
Everybody understands that collateral damage is a big factor and the
sensors on the C-model will help us carry out precision engagement and
close-air support.”

With so much to learn, the students flew a schedule of five flights per week. The average student tempo is closer to three per week.

“The radar, data link and other avionics help create the big picture
of what is going on around you,” Squadron Leader Yasir Malik said.
“There’s lots of information to process in the C model, so you have to
prioritize all of the input you are getting. But these instructors know
what they are doing, and they are good teachers.”

Air Force Maj. Windy Hendrick, a flight commander and 13-year F-16
pilot, has instructed students from all over the world. She said she
and her fellow instructors learned a great deal about their Pakistani
counterparts.

“They are all experienced pilots with 500 to 1,800 fighter hours in
the F-16 and the majority of that time is combat hours in the fight
against extremists,” she said. “They are very humble and don’t talk
about their experience, but the more we learn about them and all
they’ve done, it makes us proud to be their instructors. They are very dedicated (and) hard-working, and they have great attitudes. Their presence in the squadron has been a real pleasure.”

It’s unclear if more student pilots from Pakistan will train in Tucson; however, Colonel Parkinson said, the 162nd stands ready.

“Training capable fighter pilots for our partner-nation air forces
and fostering relationships in the worldwide F-16 community is what we
do,” he said. “We will continue to help train Pakistan’s pilots
whenever we’re needed.”