|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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
THE PAF F-16: A CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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