States to enhance its air capabilities, diplomatic sources told.
“We will take as many as they are willing to give,” said a diplomatic
source when asked how many of these aircraft Pakistan was seeking.
In 2006, the US Congress agreed to give Pakistan 28 F-16C/Ds under its
EDA or excess defence articles initiative. Fourteen of these aircraft
have already been delivered.
These are the same that Pakistan purchased from the United States in the
1980s but EDA equipment is almost cost-free. Some of these aircraft are
used for extracting serviceable parts for the existing fleet while
those fit for overhauling are inducted into the air force. “Because of
the disparity with India, our needs are huge,” said the diplomatic
source. “Ideally, we should buy new F-16s but the current economy does
not allow us to pay $40-50 million a piece.”
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a lightweight, compact fighter aircraft
designed to perform a wide range of military missions. More than 4,000
F-16s have been or will be produced for 24 nations worldwide.
Meanwhile, the US media quoted Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman as
saying that while negotiating with the US for more aircraft, Pakistan
was simultaneously developing its defence manufacturing capability to
reduce its reliance on America.
According to these reports, he told an air chiefs` conference in
Melbourne, Australia, that he had made a concerted effort to increase
the manufacturing capability of Pakistan`s defence industry because the
country has been subject to sanctions and embargoes in the past.
When asked about data links to tie F-16s to JF-17s, Air Chief Marshal
Qamar said that Pakistan was working to develop its own solution.
“We have Link 16 on the F-16s. We will not fiddle with Link 16 and not
have direct linkages [between the JF-17s] with the F-16,” he said.
Pakistan also has different types of airborne early warning and control
(AEW and C) aircraft.
Besides AEW and C aircraft, the air force chief said, “We are talking to some western companies about tankers too.”
When asked if Pakistan would like to be part of the Chengdu J-20,
fifth-generation fighter programme, the air chief said: “We don`t have
any involvement in this development so far. This seems to be an
indigenous effort and we will keenly watch it. Obviously, China is a
very good friend.” But it will be years before the J-20 becomes
operational in the Chinese air force, he added.