Pakistan plans to purchase another 10 F-16 combat aircraft from the US after concluding a deal to buy eight of the jets as part of a plan to refurbish its fleet by 2020.
A “decision in principle has been made to buy 10 more F-16s”, an unnamed senior Pakistani government official was quoted as saying by Jane’s defence magazine. The “exact timing to place an order is yet to be decided”, the official said.
In February, the US state department approved the sale of eight F-16s – two single-seat F-16Cs and six twin-seat F-16Ds – along with associated equipment for nearly $700 million.
The deal was opposed by some US lawmakers on the grounds that Pakistan is not doing enough to counter terrorism. Last week, the US Senate rejected a move to block the proposed sale. On Saturday, the mandatory 30-day period for the US Congress to block an arms sale to a foreign country elapsed.
Pakistani officials have said the new F-16s will enhance the country’s ability to conduct counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. But this has been rejected by India, which called in the US envoy to protest against the sale.
The new F-16s are needed to replace ageing jets in the Pakistan Air Force, which plans to retire 190 aircraft by 2020, senior officials were quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper.
The officials said Pakistan is “already looking for various options” in its efforts to replace 190 aircraft since the strong resistance from the US Congress to the sale of eight F-16s was “discouraging”.
“That’s why we are looking at other options too, such as buying them from Russia or France,” one official said. French aircraft were “very expensive, the Russians are not and they are equally good”, the official said.
In September last year, Russia had offered to sell Su-35 jets to Pakistan.
Pakistani officials were quoted by Dawn as saying that India’s defence purchases influenced their “search for a matching technology”. The report added, “India is already working on a plan to replace its current fleet of planes with fifth generation aircraft by 2020, forcing Pakistan to do the same.”
Pakistan is not looking to match the exact number of planes that India has but would like to maintain a fleet of 350 to 400 aircraft, the officials said.
The officials said Pakistan’s large-scale defence collaboration with China is a “great source of strength”.