The US on Tuesday unveiled the first of the 18 new F-16 fighter aircraft being produced for Islamabad even as the Pakistan Army has raised serious concern over the conditions imposed for military aid through the Kerry-Lugar bill.
Chief of Air Staff of Pakistan Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Rao Quamar Suleman, accepted the first F-16 Block 52 aircraft on behalf of the country at an event at the Forth Worth facility of manufacturer Lockheed Martin, also attended by Pakistan Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani.
Speaking on the occasion, Suleman said the roll out shows that the programme is "on track" despite it experiencing many ups and downs. The first batch of F-16 aircraft is scheduled to arrive in Pakistan in June next year. The delivery of all 18 jets is planned to be completed by December 2010.
The aircraft order is designated as "Peace Drive I," continuing a long tradition of naming F-16 international sales programmes with the word Peace, Lockheed Martin said in a media release. The programme raises the total number of F-16s ordered by Pakistan to 54. The Pakistan Air Force received its first F-16, in the Block 15 F-16A/B configuration, in 1982.
Pakistan has been operating Lockheed Martin aircraft since 1963, when it received C-130B airlifters, it said.
The US was represented by Congressman Kay Granger and Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Norton Schwartz.
"Peace Drive is the flagship of modernisation for Pakistan's Air Force. It is the latest configuration of the best fourth generation multi-role fighter available in the world today," said John Larson, vice president of F-16 programmes for Lockheed Martin.
As many as 25 countries have opted for F-16 with more than 4,400 aircraft been delivered worldwide from assembly lines in five countries, it said.