Does Pakistan Really Need More F-16s?

Posted on October 16, 2009
Filed Under >Imran H. Khan, Economy & Development, Foreign Relations, Law & Justice
Total Views: 76805

Imran H. Khan

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 attaché 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 bill’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.

48 responses to “Does Pakistan Really Need More F-16s?”

  1. Aqil says:

    I’m a lay man on this topic and have a few questions for more informed people on this blog:

    1. 20 odd aircrafts for $2b. This is a huge amount of money, so can someone explain as to how just 20 F-16’s are bringing such a significant improvement to our air defense for this to be a really worthwhile deal?

    2. How many J-17’s could we have got for this amount and how would you assess the quantative and qualitative difference between the two options (larger no of somewhat inferior J-17s vs. 20 sophisticated F-16s)?

    3. What about other aircrafts like Mirage? In the past, I’ve heard that it’s prohibitively expensive, but is that still true when each F-16 is about $80 m or so? Also, how are the French when it comes to giving spare parts?

  2. faraz says:

    Imran Khan, I have question about block 52. When one country is buying a new aircraft, they have to think in window of 10-15 years.

    With new block of F-16 like block-60 or block-70, F-22 raptor, SU-35 and F-30, do you think this is the aircarft (F-16 block 52) which can give us “air power ” balance against our enemies for 10-15 years?

    If not then what is advantage?
    Why don’t invest more in JK-17 and some air defence?

  3. adeel says:

    In the sage words of Dr. Farrukh Saleem, “We ought to race a race that we can win. We can continue to race a race that we are bound to lose. Or, begin a new race that we may be able to win — or at least not lose.”


  4. conerned says:

    I agree that pak should definitely focus on the JF-17 project with china. But it will not hurt to have a batch of F16s as well. Maybe half the size would have been enough (but its not my judgement call). This purchase will also benefit Lockheed Martin a lot.

    However, after all these years with the unpleseant foreign policy of USA against Pak, PAF still trusts them? What will they do about the tracking devices, which they cannot find on the fighterjets? These planes will reveal more secrets than anyone could have done.

  5. AA says:

    Imran is preaching to wrong audience…

    Back in the times when F-16 was being considered for PAF, I asked one of my friend why this airplane and not Tigershark that was offered to Pakistan on technology transfer basis (Actually Northrop was ready to give entire assembly line), my friend replied that it was convergence of interests of the two countries… AVM Shamim wanted high tech toys and we got them. Well, that is history. Pressler Amendment showed how vulnerable F-16 is to arms embargo – so why are we getting deeper into it? It is a game of dependence that Uncle Sam wants to play to keep its own arm manufacturers in business and keep PAF under threat of sanctions if PAF ever operated F-16 near the limits imposed by US on the operational envelope.

    Delivery of 24 F-16s is to be completed in three years – by that time mess in Afghanistan will be over (?), AQ Khan story will resurface and most of the airplanes will be stored in Arizona due to a new arms embargo… Besides, the present acquisition does not really change the balance of power or the war fighting capability of the PAF – it barely makes up the attrition.

    I like F-16 too but the cost has skyrocketed and this bird is expensive to maintain…

    Much of the technical stuff Imran mentioned is beyond grasp of teenagers who are protesting this post.

    Citizen of this country are going to pay dearly for the short sighted decisions and misappropriation of “aid.”

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