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Fighting the Falcon: The PAF F-16 Story
By R.M.S. Azam
Pakistan's premier frontline combat aircraft is the F-16 which was delivered to Pakistan in the mid-1980s under the Peace Gate I/II Foreign Military Sales Programmes in order to counter the looming and ever-present threat from the Soviet Union. In December 1981, the Government of Pakistan signed a letter of agreement for the purchase of 40 F-16A/B (28 F-16A and 12 F-16B) fighters for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). The first aircraft were accepted by Pakistan at the General Dynamics Fort Worth plant in Texas, USA in October 1982. The first PAF F-16, flown by Squadron Leader Shahid Javed, landed in Pakistan at Sargodha Air Base on 15 January 1983. This was one of initial batch of 6 aircraft (2 F-16 As and 4 F-16 Bs). The Cold War was still at a high during the early and mid-eighties and with the Soviets well-entrenched in Afghanistan, few could
even envisage the situation as it stands today.

Peace Gate:

Under the Peace Gate F-16 Programme, 40 F-16A/B aircraft were delivered to Pakistan between 1983 and 1987. Since that time, 8 have been attrited, hence 32 remain in service and despite the embargo, caused by the Pakistan-specific Pressler Amendment, are being fully supported by commercial contracts. Eleven attrition aircraft were built and paid for but remain in storage at the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) at Davis-Monthan AFB in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, not being deliverable until the embargo is lifted. Seventy-one new F-16A/Bs were negotiated and of which 28 were paid for under the Peace Gate III/IV Programmes in 1989 of which 17 were built and delivered to AMARC in Arizona. The PAF aircraft in the desert are attrition aircraft and the fourth batch are all Block 15S types. Hence, 28 PAF F-16s remain in the US and 32 in active service. Forty-three aircraft remain under a stop-work order from the US Government due to the Pressler Amendment. Pakistan ceased making payments for the aircraft after paying US $658 million. Attempts and negotiations are still underway to try to sell the Pakistani aircraft to a third party or release them for the PAF.

Peace Gate:

Pakistan ordered 40 F-16s under the Peace Gate I Programme. These F-16A/Bs are all Block 15 aircraft, the most advanced of the F-16 A/B types as well as the final version of the F-16A/B production run. They are powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-200 turbofan engines. All 40 aircraft were delivered between 1983 and 1987. These aircraft are not affected by the Pressler Amendment and are being fully supported by commercial contracts.

Peace Gate II:

In December 1988, Pakistan ordered 11 additional F-16A/B Block 15 OCU (Operational Capability Upgrade) aircraft (6 Alpha and 5 Bravo models) under the Peace Gate II Programme. These aircraft were purchased as attrition replacements for the 8 F-16s which the PAF had lost and were fully paid for, but are still awaiting delivery at AMARC due to the embargo imposed on Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment by the US over Pakistan's nuclear weapons capability. It has been alleged that the F-16As of Nos. 9 and 11 Squadrons at Sargodha Air Base have been modified to carry and deliver Pakistani nuclear weapons. In addition, Pakistan has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). As a result, in accordance with the Pressler Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, which forbids US
military aid to any nation possessing a nuclear explosive device, the United States government announced on 6 October 1990 that it had embargoed further arms deliveries to Pakistan. The 11 Peace Gate II aircraft were consequently stored at AMARC at Davis-Monthan AFB.

There, they were put in "Flyable Hold" for 5 years, during which time 85% of each aircraft's fuel system was preserved with JP-9, and each aircraft had its engine run once every 45 days. This resulted in the curious situation that most of those aircraft now have more engine run time than air time, the latter being only 6 hours. This low air-time figure, plus the fact that these aircraft are the most modern F-16A/Bs built, is the main reason why countries interested in second-hand F-16s first look at the Pakistani airframes. 

Peace Gate III & IV:

In September 1989, Pakistan announced that it intended to purchase 71 more F-16A/Bs. A contract was signed later that year under the Peace Gate III/IV Foreign Military Sales Programmes, for the delivery of 60 F-16s for US $1.4 billion or  approximately US $23 million apiece. By March of 1994, 11 of these planes had been built and were directly flown into AMARC where they joined the 11 Peace Gate II aircraft already in storage. A further 6 aircraft were stored by the end of 1994. Thus, a total of 17 aircraft (7 F-16As and 10 F-16Bs) of the Peace Gate III/IV order are now stored, along with the 11 attrition-replacement aircraft, making a total of 28 aircraft. A stop-work order affected the remaining 43 planes of the Peace Gate III/IV contract whose production was put on indefinite hold and later cancelled. The Brown Amendment in 1997 eased the restrictions on weapons exports to Pakistan, but specifically excluded the F-16s from its purview.

The contract signed in 1989 under Peace Gate III/IV included 60 F-16As and 11 F-16B two-seat trainer variants. These 71 F-16s were to be the Block 15S types. 'Block' is reference to the production batch and the technological status or 'model' of the aircraft. F-16 Blocks include: 5 / 10 / 15 / 15S / 20 / 25 / 30 / 32 / 40 / 42 / 50 / 52 / 60 and 62. The Block 62 F-16s are the most advanced types of which the UAE has in May 1998 ordered 80 aircraft in a deal worth US $ 7 billion and takes the F-16 production programme well into the next century. However, the Block 20, which have been recently sold to Taiwan are more advanced in avionics than the Block 50.

The 40 F-16s purchased by Pakistan in 1983 and delivered until 1987 were Block 15S types with some of the technological features of the Block 40 F-16s. At the time they were the latest variants of the F-16. The 1983 deal was made after a high-powered Pakistani delegation led by the then Defence Minister, Lt. Gen. Jilani, refused to accept any other aircraft type. The Pakistan Air Force has never compromised on quality. The members of this delegation included Air Marshal Ayaz
Ahmed Khan, Air Marshal Changezi, Air Commodore N.M. Alam and Air Marshal Arshad Chaudhry (then Wing Commander). All these gentleman have since then retired.

The F-16s were assigned USAF serial numbers for record-keeping purposes, and carry a three-digit PAF serial number on their frontal fuselage; the F-16As being assigned numbers in sequence beginning with 701, and the F-16Bs being assigned numbers beginning with 601. The two-digit prefix preceding these numbers on the tail is the year of delivery of these aircraft. The PAF Falcons have a slightly altered colour scheme, with the dark grey area covering most of the wings and the aft part of the horizontal tailplanes, and carry toned-down markings: a square version of the national flag minus the white strip (a white crescent and star on green field) on the tail and roundels on the upper wing surface.

PAF F-16 Capability:

The Pakistan Air Force currently has the Block 15S F-16A/B model in operation, which has an upgrade of the APG-66 radar that brings it close to the MLU (Mid-life Update) radar technology, but not the MLU radar itself. The main difference in this radar is the ability to adapt to Sparrow (AIM-7) and AMRAAM (AIM-120) air-to-air missiles (AAMs) if they were ever to be released to the PAF. Pakistan Air Force F-16s typically carry two all-aspect AIM-9L Sidewinders on the wing
tip rails along with a pair of AIM-9P-4s on the outermost underwing racks. They could get the Sparrow if they wanted to buy it. The PAF F-16s also carry the Matra Magic 2 (French counterpart of the Sidewinder) as well. They have an important strike role, being fitted with the French-built  Thompson-CSF ATLIS laser designation pod and being capable to deliver Paveway laser-guided bombs. The ATLIS pod was first fitted to Pakistani F-16s in January 1986, thus making the PAF F-16 the first non-European aircraft to be qualified for this pod. Pakistani F-16s are also capable of firing the French AS-30 laser guided air-to-surface missile (ASM) which is also part of the PAF missile inventory.

The key radar mode difference is that the Block 15S F-16 has very advanced 'raid-assessment' and 'situation awareness' modes that enable the pilot to sort and sample the aircraft of a particular formation in a very detailed manner, the detailed configuration of which is classified. Nevertheless, very tight formations can be sorted out and each aircraft organized as a separate target. The PAF F-16 radar are also around 15-20 percent stronger in range then the previous model F-16 A/B
radar. It actually goes beyond 'track-while-scan' system. The PAF F-16s do not have the dual-MFD F-16C or MLU cockpit. On the air-to-ground side, the PAF F-16s carry a wide array of French weapons integrated into them starting with the ATLAS laser-guided weapon designation pod and the AS-30 laser guided missile as well as the Magic 2 AAM. All American, French, and British ordnance can be carried on the PAF F-16s. The PAF aircraft in the American desert are themost capable F-16A models available short of the Taiwan Block 20s which have the MLU modification. That is why everyone who is seeking the F-16A in the US looks first at the PAF aircraft in the Sonoron Desert in Arizona.

Operational Service:

The USAF's 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing initially carried out transition and conversion training for Pakistani pilots and ground personnel at Hill AFB in Utah. The first PAF unit to be equipped with the F-16 was No. 11 Squadron based at Sargodha, which also serves as the PAF's OCU for the F-16. All 40 of the Fighting Falcons had entered PAF service by mid-1986. This made it possible to establish two more F-16 squadrons, No. 9 Squadron at Sargodha and No. 14 Squadron at Kamra.

Pakistan was the second nation (after Israel) to use the F-16 in combat. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 in support of the pro-Soviet government in Kabul which was being hard-pressed by Mujahideen rebel forces, marked the start of a decade-long occupation. Mujahideen rebels continued to fight the occupying Soviet military force as well as the forces of the
Soviet-backed Afghan communist regime in Kabul. The war soon spilled over into neighbouring Pakistan, with a horde of refugees fleeing to camps across the border in an attempt to escape the conflict. In addition, many of the rebels used Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to carry out forays into Afghanistan, and a steady flow of US-supplied arms were carried into Afghanistan from staging areas in Pakistan near the border. This inevitably resulted in border violations by Soviet and Afghan
aircraft attempting to interdict these operations. Between May 1986 and November of 1988, PAF F-16s shot down at least eight intruders from Afghanistan. The first three of these (one Sukhoi Su-22, one probable Su-22, and one Antonov An-26) were shot down by two pilots from No. 9 Squadron. Pakistan's former Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Muhammad Abbas Khattak is credited with the An-26 kill. Pilots of No. 14 Squadron destroyed the remaining five intruders (two
Su-22s, two MiG-23s, and one Su-25). Most of these kills were by the AIM-9 Sidewinder, but at least one (a Su-22) was destroyed by the F-16's cannon fire. Flight Lieutenant Khalid Mahmood is credited with three of these kills. At least one F-16 was lost in these battles, this one in an encounter between two F-16s and six Afghan Air Force MiG-23s flown by Soviet pilots on 29 April 1987. However, the lost F-16 appears to have been an 'own goal', having been accidentally hit by a Sidewinder fired by the other F-16. The unfortunate F-16 pilot ejected safely. Thus, the PAF F-16s, like all F-16s remain undefeated in air-to-air combat.

In air-to-air combat, the numbers have slowly risen to 74, with the Israeli Air Force recording 52 (47 personal awards with 5 debates); the Pakistani Air Force with 13 total, however they recognize officially only 11 because of cross-border violations as to where the target aircraft were downed.

The Venezuelan Air Force achieved 3 kills during the last coup attempt by two pilots from Grupo 16 who launched without flight gear (helmets/masks only) during the ground assault on El Liberador. Because it was brother-against-brother the kills have not become official scores.

The United States Air Force had more than 240 x F-16's of all types in the Gulf War but only achieved air-to-air kills after the war. There were two kills achieved, one from the forces patrolling the southern No-Fly Zone over Iraq.


1983 January 14 - 40 General Dynamics F-16 "Fighting Falcon" aircraft inducted. Based at 38th Tactical Wing, Sargodha Air Base.

1986 May 17 - PAF F-16 shoots down an Su-22 of the Afghan Air Force (AAF) and Pakistan becomes the second country after Israel to put F-16s into military action.

1987 March 30 - PAF F-16 shoots down an intruding Afghan An-26 near Miranshah area. 

1987 April 16 - PAF F-16 shoots down an intruding Afghan Su-22 near Tull area.

1988 May 17 - PAF F-16s shoot down two Russian Su-22s over Parachinar area during Afghan war.

1988 August 4 - PAF F-16 shoots down Russian Su-25 in Miranshah area during Afghan war.

1988 September 12 - PAF F-16s shoot down two intruder Russian Mig-23s during Afghan war.

1988 November 1 - PAF F-16 shoots down an intruder Russian Su-22 over Tull area during Afghan war.

1989 - Pakistan signs contract with General Dynamics of USA for supply of additional 71 F-16s.

The Geo- Political Scenario:

Pakistan had already paid $685 million on the contract for the first 28 F-16s that are now stored at AMARC (11 Peace Gate II and 17 Peace Gate III/IV), and has insisted on either having the aircraft it ordered delivered or getting its money back. In March 1996, 9 aircraft out of those which had already been manufactured for Pakistan, were planned to be sold to Indonesia. However, Indonesia cancelled this order on 2 June 1997. This unexpected trouble with the Indonesian F-16 deal meant a
bigger problem to the US Government both with respect to Pakistan and Indonesia. In 1996, President Clinton had pledged to the then Pakistan Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, that the money paid for the F-16s by Pakistan would be reimbursed if the equipment could not be delivered. In trying to come to terms with Pakistan's demand that the US return the money the US Government went on to see if the F-16s could be sold to a third country and the proceeds transferred. So far, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines and South Africa have all been considered.

After India conducted a series of nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998, the United States, in order to give Pakistan incentives to restrain it from going nuclear, offered the release of the 28 F-16s and the lifting of the Pressler Amendment. However, for Pakistan, this was insufficient to counter the threat posed by a nuclear India. Even if the United States had offered to sell Pakistan 71 F-16 C/Ds, it would still not have corrected the geo-strategic imbalance which had been created by India's
nuclear tests and the inevitable nuclear weaponization programme. Thus, the offer of a resolution of the F-16 problem became irrelevant in the light of the changed geo-strategic scenario resulting from the nuclear threat from India. The US offer to release the F-16s was, therefore, rightly rejected by Pakistan, which was not willing to bargain its national security for a few obsolete F-16s. This was Jimmy Carter's 'peanuts' revisited, when, the Carter Administration in the late 1970s had offered Pakistan a few dozen A-8 Corsair fighters in return for the abandonment of Pakistan's nuclear programme.

The Pakistani Response to the F-16 Embargo:

In 1997, Air Marshal (Retd.) Ayaz Ahmed Khan, former Vice Chief of Air Staff of the PAF, had made the plea that Pakistan should legally pursue the F-16 case and force the USA to release at least the 28 Pakistani F-16s impounded by the US in Arizona. This idea is a viable and logical option but it is doubtful that Pakistan will get anything out of such litigation except perhaps a moral victory at best. However, as Air Marshal Ayaz himself admits that the American justice system cannot be
trusted considering its partisan notions of justice, it would be more prudent to seek a moral victory in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rather than in the US courts.

At best we can gain a moral victory at the ICJ or the International Commerce Court (ICC) which is the world's premier arbitration body for such types of international sales contracts. I use the term 'moral victory' because I doubt it very much that even an ICJ or ICC judgment can force the United States to release the F-16s to Pakistan. The United States considers itself to be a law onto itself and will conveniently disregard an ICJ/ICC judgment and there is really nothing Pakistan, the ICJ or the
ICC can do about it. In either case, a state cannot be forced to go to the ICJ or the ICC. Thus, the United States would have to give its consent to such litigation and even so, an ICJ judgement cannot be enforced if the other state refuses to comply with a judgment.

The possibility of filing a suit in the United States itself for recovery of either the money (US $658 million) or the 28 aircraft would also prove not to be very fruitful as the courts there would be bound to follow the direct statutory effect of the Pressler Amendment over any international sales contract. Perhaps, the only argument that can be put forward is by relying on the old legal doctrine that no law can have retrospective effect as the Pressler Amendment was made after the contract had been
signed but even this would be highly unlikely to bear any fruit.

The sentiments of Air Marshal (Retd.) Ayaz Ahmed Khan and all the PAF personnel as well as Pakistani citizens who wish to see the F-16s delivered to Pakistan are understandable, especially regarding the 28 paid-for F-16s in Arizona as they are Pakistani property. Many of the PAF personnel are also hopeful of one day getting delivery of the full 71 F-16s as originally envisaged. No doubt, the PAF would like to see Pakistan operating 111 F-16s as originally envisaged. PAF's hopes in getting more F-16s is understandable when one takes a closer look at the F-16 aircraft. It is recognized by all defence experts and airforces as one of the world's best multi-role fighter aircraft. The F-16 is the world's most successful military aircraft today. According to Code One, the official magazine of Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems (LMTAS) who are now the
manufacturers of the F 16, as of January 1997, over 3,500 F-16 Fighting Falcons were in operation in the air forces of 18 countries including Pakistan. The F-16 has recorded 5 million flying hours for the US Air Force alone which operates over 2,000 Fighting Falcons.

The PAF, however, must swallow the bitter pill and rid itself with any notions of having any further F-16s ever being delivered to Pakistan in the foreseeable future. According to the manufacturers of the F-16, Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems (LMTAS) who recently bought the F-16 manufacturing division from the previous owners - General Dynamics, the F-16 programme is due to be scrapped by the year 2020. The optimists will say that leaves Pakistan with 21 years to get the
28 F-16s released. I say it is wishful thinking.

In October 1995, a Pakistan-specific statement by a Special Assistant to the U.S. President, Mr. David Johnson, had turned the spotlight on why the Brown Amendment, which was blessed by the White House and which led to the release of other military equipment (including F-16 spare parts and weapons ordnance), has kept the already-impounded F-16 warplanes out of Pakistan's reach. Mr. David Johnson, President Bill Clinton's White House aide, had stated at a briefing in Washington
D.C. that the Brown Amendment was "trying to separate those aspects of the security package (for Pakistan) which might have conceivable implications for (nuclear arms) proliferation from those (aspects) which do not.''

An underlying message in this statement contained an explanation why the 28 F-16s, which Pakistan had already purchased were excluded from the purview of the Brown Amendment, which released to Pakistan all other embargoed military equipment. Mr. Johnson chose his words carefully while he spoke of the denial of certain American military 'goodies' in a Pakistani context with implications for nuclear weapons proliferation. The obvious stance of the Clinton Administration is that the F-16s,
which alone have been "separated" from those with no "conceivable implications for proliferation," fall in the category of proliferation equipment.

In one technical sense, the F-16 can be seen as a combat aircraft that may lend itself to conversion, through a suitable upgradation, into a delivery for nuclear weapons. Although the F-16 per se is not in the category of weapons systems that can deliver nuclear bombs, this warplane can still be seen as an elementary nuclear missile alternative.

The Clinton Administration's reasoning for the denial of F-16s was indicative of this assessment as applicable to Pakistan which had unsuccessfully sought to change the terms of its dialogue with the U.S. on the nuclear arms question in the light of India's completion of the Prithvi missile's user-trials in 1994 and the development of the Agni, an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). Mr. Johnson's explanation can also be harmonized with the authoritative Western diplomatic information in this regard. This is that the White House might well have considered including the relevant F-16s in the package for the Benazir Government if only enough votes could have been counted on in the U.S. Congress for this purpose.

The Clinton Administration's first move to consider giving the F-16s to Pakistan as part of a "fairness question" seems to have been governed by the fact that F-16s were already an integral part of Pakistan's arsenal, in other words they are Pakistani property - no doubt about it. One reason for a subsequent abandonment of this move by the White House could be found by the American belief that the F-16 should be seen as a conceivable proliferation device in the present circumstances.

On a related plane, Mr. Johnson had indirectly provided a new reference for the then Pakistan Air Force's biannual exercise under way at the time under the code-name of 'Highmark-95'. He had said that Pakistan, being surrounded by large powers like Russia, China, India and a warring country like Afghanistan and the country's proximity to the volatile Middle East meant that Pakistan was "in a fairly tough neighbourhood". In fact, Pakistan is considered to be one of the most strategically placed
countries in the world today in spite of the collapse of the USSR and its ill-fated misadventure in Afghanistan.

The 'Highmark-95'', including its predecessors and successors, would enable the PAF to practise the land-air battle concept while training for an extension of support to the navy. The Chief of Pakistan's Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Muhammad Abbas Khattak had been quoted as saying that the purpose of the exercise was to "maintain a deterrent combat profile'' in "a geopolitical scenario."

To add despair to an already hopeless situation, the Clinton Administration began having second thoughts on the sale of 9 F-16 jets to Indonesia. The jets were supposed to head to Indonesia as a part of a package that would have reimbursed Pakistan for the money it had paid the United States for the F-16s but could not receive the same as a result of the Pressler Amendment.

If things had worked out the way they were supposed to, the United States would have finalized the deal, proceeded with the shipment in 1996. On the one hand, the argument has been that the administration could still push the deal through Congress which gets a usual 30-day arms sale notice, but the political price that would have to be paid is considered very high.

The other part of the argument is that the F-16s are not exactly the kind of equipment that need to be sacrificed at the altar of human rights. At one time there was the view that the F-16s would be used by Indonesia to quell dissent in East Timor; but the idea that the F-16s would be used to disperse protesters in an urban cities and elsewhere is a little odd. But the sum and substance of the argument here has been that the Clinton Administration should not be embarking on any arms sales
to Indonesia when it has serious qualms about the future of 'democracy' in that South East Asian nation. It seems strange why the US Government is not concerned about 'democracy' in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, UAE and Saudi Arabia all of which have been or are being supplied with F-16s.

The 'unexpected' trouble with the F-16 means a bigger problem to the Clinton administration both with respect to Pakistan and Indonesia. Politically, the President, Mr. Bill Clinton, had pledged to the former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto that the money paid for the F-16s by Pakistan would be reimbursed if the equipment could not be delivered. The Brown Amendment had said 'no' to the F-16s even while providing some military equipment to go through, including three Lockheed
PC-3 Orion naval reconnaissance and anti-ship aircraft and the AGM-88 Harpoon anti-ship missiles for the Pakistan Navy. In trying to come to terms with Pakistan's demand that the United States return the money - in the neighbourhood of some $658 million for a total of 28 F-16s - the Clinton administration went on to see if the planes could be sold to a third country and the proceeds transferred. To date, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines and more recently, South Africa, have all been considered.

However, as the clock ticks away, the 28 Pakistani F-16 continue to swelter in the heat of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. The F-16A\Bs have now become far too outdated to be worthwhile to any country shopping around for a state-of-the-art fighter, including Pakistan. Even at this stage no country shopping for F-16s is looking towards anything less than the Block 52 and Block 60 F-16 C/Ds. The 28 Pakistani F-16s in Arizona are Block 15 F-16 A/Bs without the MLU cockpits. It would be difficult for the US to look for customers for these aircraft. 

Recovery of the F-16s:

It is widely believed that Pakistan has now reached a decision in principle to sue the US for the return of the US $658 million it paid for the F-16 aircraft and the only decision to be made is when. What, perhaps, the Government of Pakistan is now thinking is whether to file the suit before or after the visit by President Clinton in late 1998. The general view in Pakistan to take the legal route had also been conveyed to top US officials including the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she
visited Pakistan recently.

The US State Department reaction to these suggestions by Pakistan has always been mixed. One official said some time back the decision could cause some diplomatic problems between the two countries, but it could not be said with certainty how exactly the US would respond, officially. The Clinton Government's stand was that it was US law (through Congress) and not the Clinton Administration that was withholding the F-16s from Pakistan.

Experts, however, say there was no other way to bring the issue to a closure since Congress would not appropriate the money to refund Pakistan and the planes would not be sold to any country as they are obsolete and expensive, compared to the hundreds of similar US F-16 jets, waiting to be disposed of at a bargain price. According to one expert even if Pakistan got the planes back, which was almost next to impossible in the present circumstances, they would be worth not much since
Pakistan would not get the upgrades and the parts to keep them functional.

Apart from the technical side, the price Pakistan has already paid is now good enough to buy 200 such planes at the going market rate of three million dollar a piece, and Pakistan would only be getting 28 obsolete aircraft. The matters that need to be decided included the interest on the amount that the US kept blocked for so many years and how would that be paid.

Some influential Pakistanis, who have been working on this issue privately, have discovered a legal fund, available with Congress, which can be used to repay Pakistan, if the courts decided the issue in Pakistan's favour.

At the end of 1997, with chances of finding a buyer close to zero, it was decided to take the PAF F-16s out of flyable hold and into the "boneyard". The airframes are still for sale, and have been offered to the Philippines Air Force, in view of its modernization plans.

In May 1998, a rumour suggested that the 28 Pakistani AF F-16A/B aircraft stored at the AMARC could possibly be donated to the Air Force of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a part of the US led "Train & Equip" programme. As Pakistan is already taking part in this programme (training Bosnian Army Anti-tank missile teams), this is a solution that could satisfy both sides in this long dispute.

After the detonation of five nuclear devices by India in May 1998, in a remote area close to its border with Pakistan, Washington feared that this might escalate the old border dispute between Pakistan and India to a full crisis. In order to keep Pakistan from responding to this challenge, US president Bill Clinton suggested that the 28 stored F-16s would be delivered after all, in batches of 1 or 2. However, the internal pressure on the government proved to strong and shortly after India's
demonstration, Pakistan responded by detonating an unknown number of nuclear devices.

F-16s and the Future of PAF:

The serious question is not what is going to happen to these 28 F-16s, the more serious issue at hand is what effect this will have on the operational readiness and the combat preparedness of the PAF. The PAF is in dire need of revamping its present fleet. The quantitative disadvantage which the PAF suffered with regards to India has been compensated to some extent by the induction of 160 F-7MPs (modified Chinese Mig-21s) into the PAF as well as the purchase of 40 Mirage IIIEs from
Sagem of France. There is also talk of a possible purchase of 28 Mirage-5s from Belgium. However, this has only worked to reduce the quantitative edge which India had against Pakistan. This does not resolve the need for a technologically advanced multi-role air superiority fighter/bomber.

The Pakistan Air Force has been looking towards Dassault Aviation's Mirage 2000-5 from France. This aircraft is not only too expensive but is also not a very good fighter as it takes approximately one minute to turn around. This type of manoeuvrability is suicidal in the geo-strategic environment in which the PAF has to operate in combat conditions where Pakistan's strategic installations and cities will be reached sooner rather than later by Indian aircraft and where time would be measured in
seconds rather than minutes. Other options include the Saab JAS-39 Gripen from Sweden, the Dassault Rafale from France and the EF-2000 from the European defence consortium and the F-10 (based on the Israeli Lavi) from China.

However, the best available option for Pakistan, in my view, is the Russian Su-27 or the Su-35. These aircraft are not only good fighters but also very economical, both in terms of the purchase price and maintenance. It is this combination which the PAF is looking for. Plenty of opportunities have been offered to the PAF to test-fly the Su-27 and to fully evaluate its combat potential. I have no doubt that the Su-27 would be the best strategic and tactical option for the PAF in place of the F-16. The Indian Air Force now flies the Su-30MKI, a variant of the tandem-seat Su-27UB Flanker. India may have the aircraft but it lacks the pilots good enough to take full advantage of the Su-30's capabilities. With a PAF purchase of the Su-27 or the Su-35, PAF will not only have the plane but also the pilots (still rated as one of the world's best by US defence analysts). This lethal combination, of one of the world's deadliest warplanes and of the world's best pilots, would be capable of delivering a devastating response to any Indian misadventure in the skies over South Asia.