On October 13, 2009 Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) participated in the rolling out ceremony of the first of 18 F-16C Block 52, one of the most capable versions of the aircraft, which is flown by the U.S. Air Force and numerous other countries.
U.S. Congressman Rep. Kay Granger (R-Fort Worth) said that Pakistan “is the point of the spear” in U.S. efforts to combat terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Pakistan has paid nearly $2 Billion for the aircrafts and parts. Between the Egyptian and Pakistani orders, the Lockheed plant should remain humming till 2012, employing 2,100.
ACM Suleman said that this type of aircraft has been valuable in delivering munitions with precision.
I am sure that the choice of type and number of planes must have been made with due considerations by the senior PAF staff and the Pakistan parliament. But there is something that deeply troubles me about this photograph (more photos here).
Does Pakistan really need $80Million aircraft to bomb the terrorists hiding in FATA and elsewhere?
As an ex-PAF officer myself and coming from a PAF family, I am a strong opponent of using air power to bomb civilian targets in the first place; as it causes unnecessary civilian deaths. The strengths of this plane are superior radar, long endurance and ability to deliver beyond visual range missiles. None of these attributes are needed for the troubles at hand.
The current PAF inventory could easily have been upgraded to handle newer precision weapons at a fraction of the cost. An even better option would be to spread the $80M over a combination of COIN (Counter Insurgency) aircrafts like those from Pilatus or Embraer, helicopters and Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles UAVs. These types of planes would provide the eyes (uavs), mobility (helicopters) and teeth (COIN aircrafts) to an organization like Army Aviation or Frontier Constabulary Air Force. Air power should only be used for close air support of security forces.
Moreover, there is no transfer of technology involved that I am aware of. PAF should focus on evolving JF-17 that it has developed in collaboration with China. Modern jet fighters are a combination of platform, avionics and weapons. JF-17 is an adequate platform. We tend to suffer from short memory. It was only 1965 when US embargoed all military support and PAF had to replace its predominant US inventory with Chinese jets. My father was the first air attachÃ© to Beijing and over saw the incredible Chinese support at the time of our needs.
Even better, given the sad state of primary education in Pakistan, this money could have educated half the school going kids for an year. Right now we only provide money for one out of forty children in our budget.
Additionally, this ceremony could not have come at a worse time as Pakistanis are actively debating the nature of US Pakistan relationship under the Obama administration. There are many in Pakistan who feel that the Kerry-Lugar billâ€™s language is an interference in the internal affairs of the country. F-16 could come to represent the Symbol of Subservience rather than that of pride.
Article 245 of the Constitution of Pakistan states:
The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.
Right now Pakistanis are being bombed by an external aggressor (US Drones flown by CIA) and being blown up in terrorist attacks from an internal aggressor on a nearly daily basis. Would ACM Suleman be present in Fort Worth if he was fulfilling his Constitutional obligation?
Imran Khan is an ex-PAF officer and technology entrepreneur who blogs at Planet Earth.