US to deliver 18 F-16s to Pakistan by month’s end – By Zahid Gishkori
ISLAMABAD: The United States will deliver 18 F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) by the end of this month, The Express Tribune has learnt. The Block 50/52 model jets will land at an airbase in Sindh, officials said here on Saturday.
“The F-16, equipped with the latest missiles, will arrive at Shahbaz Airbase in Jacobabad in the last week of June,” PAF Director Media Tariq Yazdani confirmed.
However, he avoided revealing the exact date the jets would land in Pakistan. According to sources privy to the deal, the delivery is expected to take place on June 24.
“The runways have been renovated for modern F-16 fighter jets, to transform the airbase into a completely operational one,” Yazdani said.
Informed sources said that the fighters were being delivered to Pakistan under a series of strict conditions by Washington. One of these stipulations is that Pakistan would not use the jets in any conflict with India, the source further added.
Another condition is that American air force engineers will accompany the delivery of the F-16s and supervise not only the air base but also the operations to be carried out by PAF against Taliban and al Qaeda.
Furthermore, though flown by PAF pilots, the logistics, management and control of the F-16s will be with the US engineers.
“Some American engineers will accompany the new fighter jets and will help the PAF engineers operate these F-16s for a short period accordingly,” a senior PAF official said, however hastening to add that no American pilots will be stationed at Shahbaz Airbase, he stressed.
“No foreigner, not even from the friendliest countries, will be allowed to have access to Shahbaz Airbase,” a source said, revealing the security and secrecy surrounding the deal.
According to these sources, approximately US$500 million were spent in the effort to upgrade the airbase to make it conducive to the new F-16s.
Meanwhile, Akhtar Munir of the Ministry of Defence’s public relations office also confirmed to The Express Tribune that the arrangements regarding the delivery of the new F-16 jets by the end of this month have been finalised.
“The Pakistani defence minister in a meeting with the Australian defence minister three days back at Islamabad told senior officials that 18 F-16s are being delivered to Pakistan within three weeks,” Munir said.
To a query, he said that the bill of effectively rebuilding Shahbaz Airbase was footed by the PAF and the Ministry of Defence to ensure that all necessary infrastructural requirements of the new jets are met.
He went on to say that the security of the Airbase has been enhanced and no one but PAF officials will be allowed to have access to the renovated airbase located in Jacobabad.
Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major Gen. Athar Abbas, when contacted regarding the delivery, said he could only confirm the details after consulting with the PAF authorities. However, he did say that a meeting of all concerned quarters may be held next week to finalise arrangements.
Meanwhile, a senior PAF official, on the condition of anonymity, said that approximately Rs25 billion were allocated for upgrading of the airbase.
Elaborating, he said that the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) provided Rs7 billion to convert Shahbaz from a forward-operating base to a main-operating base, he added.
It is also pertinent to mention here that with the addition of 18 new F-16s, the total number of jet fighters in PAF will cross 50.The PAF currently has the Block 15 A/B F-16 models in operation, which have upgraded APG-66 radars.
It is expected that the much-demanded large-scale military operation against the Taliban and al Qaeda in North Waziristan will be launched after the US delivers the F-16s.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 13th, 2010.