Pakistan scales back F-16 purchases from US
By Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad
Pakistan has scaled back by half its ambitious planned purchase of new fighter planes from the US to help pay for the relief costs of last year’s devastating earthquake.
Foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan announced on a visit to Washington that rather than buy new Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters, Pakistan would purchase “a mix” of old and new planes. The plan would be “far less ambitious”, he said without giving figures.
Western diplomats familiar with the US-Pakistan discussions said Pakistan was now likely to spend US$1.6bn-US$1.8bn on the F-16s, down from as much as U$3.5bn.
The original plan for at least 75 new F-16s had been cut to 18 new and 36 used planes, with an option for a further 23 fighters some time in the future, said one western diplomat.
The US last year lifted a 15-year-old ban on the export of F-16s to Pakistan, a key ally in its war on terror. “We are committed to the sale of American F-16 aircraft to Pakistan and we intend to begin [formal] consultations with Congress shortly,”said Nick Burns, US undersecretary of state, on Thursday.
October’s earthquake forced Pakistan to postpone the purchase as it sought more than US$5.2bn from donors to help with reconstruction costs.
“It is possible that the US urged Pakistan to be more realistic about how much money it could spend on this deal. The Bush administration must have thought Pakistan would loose its goodwill with other donors such as Europeans if it insisted on such a large spending on defence,” said the western diplomat.
Earlier this month, the Pakistani cabinet approved the purchase of 77 F-16s, although it was not clear if these were all new planes.
It also approved air force plans to buy an unspecified number of Jian-10 fighter planes from China.
Diplomats said on Friday they had no evidence of any change in plans over the J10 purchase, which was currently for up to 36 fighter planes in a deal worth up to US$1.5bn.
The Pakistani Air Force favours a purchase of fighter planes from a source other than the US because of concerns about a repeat of Washington’s past sanction on the F-16s which sharply widened the gap between the capability of the PAF and its closest rival, the Indian Air Force.
Source: Financial Times