By Shakil Shaikh
ISLAMABAD: With top security officials terming it a great breakthrough, the first batch of three latest version F-16 C/D Block-52 high-tech Fighting Falcons landed in Pakistan on Saturday.
“The induction of multi-role F-16 C/D Block-52 will give a great edge and a potent punch to Pakistan Air Force (PAF),” said a top official, who expressed his happiness over the arrival of Lockheed Martin’s F-16s at the PAF Base Shahbaz (Jacobabad).
These US Falcons reached Pakistan under “Peace Drive I” programme, continuing a long tradition of naming F-16 international sales programmes with the word Peace. The programme raises the total number of F-16s ordered by Pakistan to 54. The Pakistan Air Force received its first F-16, in the Block 15 F-16A/B configuration, in 1982. Pakistan has been operating Lockheed Martin aircraft since 1963, when it received C-130B airlifters.
Trained at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Pakistani pilots brought the fighting Falcons to Pakistan. These pilots were the first to train in the US since 1983, when the last class of Pakistani pilots trained at the Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.
Air Marshal Mohammad Hasan, Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (Operations) and Air Marshal Waseem-ud-Din, Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (Administration), along with other senior PAF officials, received the aircraft at the base.
Pakistan attaches great significance to its air defence needs, as it had signed a contract with the US government in the year 2005-06 for the acquisition of 18 F-16 C/D Block 52 aircraft.
Under this arrangement, PAF would receive these state-of-the-art aircraft from the US in different batches. The delivery of all 18 aircraft would be completed by the end this year.
The F-16 C/D Block 52 aircraft is a high tech fighter aircraft equipped with sophisticated state-of-the-art avionics suite, latest weapons with night precision attack capability. These aircraft are much superior to the F-16A/Bs already in the inventory of the PAF. In June 2005, Pakistan requested the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of 36 F-16C/D block 50/52 aircraft. In June 2006, the Pentagon notified Congress of its intention to approve the sale and Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract for 12 F-16C and six F-16D block 52 aircraft in Dec 2006. The aircraft will be armed with AMRAAM and Sidewinder missiles and the Sniper targeting pod.
The new planes purchased by Pakistan, Block 52 versions of the multi-role 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.