Pakistan fails to seal F-16 fighter jets deal with US, report says

  • Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times, Islamabad
  • Updated: May 28, 2016 21:55 IST
The US Congress disallowed subsidising the sale of the jets to Pakistan over fears about Islamabad’s nuclear programme (Getty File)

Pakistan’s bid to purchase eight F-16 fighter jets from the United States seems to have failed following a row over finance, a report in the Dawn newspaper said.

In the report published on Saturday, the paper said that the Pakistan government was required to provide the letter of acceptance for purchase of the jets by May 24, but a diplomatic source revealed that the document was not issued, which led to the expiry of the offer. “Pakistan decided not to fully fund the case with national funds, so the terms of sale have now expired,” the paper quoted a source as saying.

Initially, the $699 million deal for eight F-16C/D Block-52 multi-role fighters (two C and six D models), was to be partially financed through the US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme but Congress disallowed subsidising the sale over concerns that Pakistan had not done enough to end the Haqqani network’s sanctuaries on its soil as well as fears about Islamabad’s nuclear programme, particularly tactical weapons and the intermediate range Shaheen III missile.

Pakistan, which expected to get the fighters at the subsidised rate of $270 million, was subsequently asked by the US administration to make the full payment for the eight jets from its national resources. This was not acceptable to Pakistani authorities, who remained adamant that the offer must come without any preconditions.

The aircraft were required by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The additional jets would have enhanced the PAF’s capacity to sustain counter-terrorism operations by increasing availability and providing training opportunities for pilots transitioning to the Block-52 version, the report said, adding that the aircraft would have come with “all-weather, non-daylight environments and self-defence/area suppression capability”.

It was unclear why Pakistan missed the opportunity despite pressing requirement for the jets, although it had originally desired to acquire 18 F-16s, the paper said.

The report also speculated that some quarters believe providing the letter of acceptance would have kept the window open for re-negotiating the financing arrangement at a later stage. Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani, talking to Dawn via phone from Washington, said “a dead-end has not been reached as yet”.

Pakistan’s adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz said last month that Pakistan could look to buy the aircraft from some other country if the deal did not go ahead. Analysts believe Islamabad could consider Russian or Chinese fighters to meet its defence requirements.

Meanwhile, negotiations are also continuing with TUSAS Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) for the upgrade of 74 F-16 fighters currently serving in the PAF fleet. A Turkish team is due in Islamabad in July to continue discussions on the project. US consent would be required for the deal to materialise.

TAI had, under a 2009 agreement, previously upgraded 41 PAF aircraft to Block-52 standard. The last of the upgraded fighters were handed over to PAF in September 2014. US had provided the needed parts, materials and technical data to TUSAS to upgrade the PAF jets.

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