Does Pakistan Really Need More F-16s?

Posted on October 16, 2009
Filed Under >Imran H. Khan, Economy & Development, Foreign Relations, Law & Justice
48 Comments
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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. AHR says:

    Many in Pakistan fail to understand the value of their vote. Agreed we go to the polling stations whenever we are lucky enough to have elections, but having an ink mark on our thumb does not mark the end of our civic duty. When we come out in numbers, those politicians that take Pakistanis for granted are shaken to the core. Those law enforcement agencies carry out their duty with justice. Not only the government, but the army also realizes that it becomes powerless when it is dealing with the nation as one. If we, the people, are able to wield such influence over these powerful institutions by coming together as one unit, lord save the militants if we truly unite as Pakistan.

    http://ahraza.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/we-the-peop le/

  2. Sridhar says:

    Interesting story about the dogfight over Dhaka. However, it is factually incorrect. I looked up the best source for aircraft attritions. It is available online for anybody to look up

    http://www.warbirds.in/Crashes/crpage.php?cur=300& qacid=AL&qafdb=IAF&datesall=ON&fmdate=&fmmonth=&fm year=&todate=&tomonth=&toyear=

    The records show that there were no Mig-21s shot down on the 4th of Dec anywhere in either the Eastern or Western fronts, and in fact no Mig-21s shot down over Dhaka or anywhere in the Eastern sector during the entire course of the war. I suspect (though am not sure) that no Mig-21 squadrons were employed in the Eastern sector due to the asymmetry of the air forces strengths on the two sides and the complete decimation of the PAF in the East within the first four of days of the start of the air war, ending the air war in that sector. Perhaps Mr. Zahid Islam witnessed a couple of Hawker Hunter aircraft of the IAF in the dogfight with the F86 Sabre, and he mistook the Hunters for Mig-21s.

    I don’t have a comment on the main hypothesis of the writer (which seems to be that the skill of the PAF pilots is so much higher than that of the IAF pilots that the quality of aircraft does not matter). However, I did want to point out that the evidence he presented in support of this thesis is simply not factual.

  3. imran Khan says:

    For those who think that a generation gap between fighters is insurmountable, I would like to present a letter to editor of Dawn of an eye witness account of a dog fight between AN F-86 “Korean vintage” and TWO Mig-21s “Vietnam vintage over Dacca.

    “I FOUND it amusing when I heard a senior Indian Air Force officer say on TV that the PAF was behaving in an erratic manner because they did not have any answer to the Indian Air Force’s superiority in numbers. I may have fallen for this hype had I not been an eye-witness to one of the dogfights involving IAF and PAF on the last occasion these two adversaries clashed.

    It was the morning of December 4, 1971, at about 0730 hours, when I noticed two Indian Mig-21 fighters circling over our roof in the old part of Dacca, not far from the banks of the river Buriganga. Within a minute I saw a lone PAF Sabre F-86 coming towards them from the cantonment area.

    One could easily see that the Mig-21 was much faster than the Sabre and in a moment it was behind the Sabre and fired a burst that missed. The Sabre immediately started climbing towards the morning sun at an angle of 70 degrees. The Mig-21 tried to do the same but because of its faster speed it came to the wrong angle and the Indian pilot may have found himself momentarily blinded, just as we were while watching the manoeuvres from the ground.

    In a flash the Sabre was now behind the Mig-21 and began strafing it. The Mig-21 burst into flames, stunning us with some vivid pyrotechnics, as it were, which so closely resembled a scene from a Hollywood war movie. The Sabre then turned and fired at the second Mig-21, which was trying to leave the scene, and at once scored another hit, and this Mig-21 could be seen hurtling down, followed by multiple loud explosions.

    I remember my father paying someone for a part of the fallen plane which, in fact, was brought to us in the afternoon. I also remember how we had to quietly bury this part in our backyard when we saw Indian forces entering Dacca on December 17, 1971.

    The scene I have just described took place 37 years ago but has remained etched in my memory ever since. I salute that unknown Pakistani pilot who shot down two Mig-21s in a matter of minutes right before my eyes.

    I could never know whether the PAF pilot survived the war or was taken to India as a POW. When I finally came over to Karachi through the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1975, the subject was not a popular one and nobody wanted to be reminded of the time when Dhaka was a part of Pakistan.

    The past had, indeed, become another country. From what I had personally witnessed of the PAF’s performance and capability while in possession of just a handful of obsolete aircraft in 1971, I can safely say that the PAF today, with its present squadrons of F-16s and Mirages, will be more than a match for the IAF. The Indian Air Force will rue the day if they ever dared to go for the so-called ‘surgical strikes’ within the present borders of Pakistan.

    ZAHID ISLAM
    Saudi Arabia

  4. shumayel says:

    the pakistan armed forced development program (AFDP) debars paf to acquire a dual-jet aircraft until 2019. which means paf is ONLY looking for single jet aircrafts. the main reason behind it is pafs bad experience with chinese A5’s. dual engine aircrafts are more expensive and require double the maintenance and costs. paf for this reason will not acquire rafale or j11s. paf did want to acquire the jas39 but swedish gov has declined to provide paf with combat weaponry. this leave paf with jf17s

    i believe paf should rely more on the chinese equipment now which is now considered to be at par with western standards. with the new jxx coming by 2015, paf can really get itself going. this is not to say that F16s are a bad machine. the F16s are great jets but the matter of F16s is more political than anything else. anything that usa provides to paf is given under strict conditons. infact if you were to know the conditions, ud say no to f16s.

    the conditions that come with the new f16s debar paf to use F16s without explicit permissions of USA (thats true !!!). moreover, these f16s cannot be used anywhere except missions granted by the usa. they cannot be used in another country with heavy air defence (read india). these f16s are not capable to carry nuclear weapons. the most disturbing of these conditions is that an F16 can be REMOTELY SHUTDOWN by simply sending it a message thereby making it unusable.

    basically these f16s are only provided to pakistan for war on terror missions. paf is not allowed to use them against india. the same goes for cobra gunships and other equipment. its true that in war everything is fair but the problem lies in usa being able to remotely shutdown this weaponry incase pakistan uses these in wars. what is the price we are paying for this junk then ? 80 million $ per aircraft (including munition) !!!.

    on top of this, usa can use it leverage and extortion on pakistan as it has been doing in past when it give weaponry to pakistan. paf wanted to go for mirage 2000s but usa agreed to provide paf with f16s thereby utilizing its funds and keeping it in check. do not think that usa is doing pakistan a favor with this weaponry. this weaponry is all part of a game plan. mashAllah PAF has got to know this plan and it declined to take more than 18 f16s.

    it is for this reason that pakistan should rely on jf17s, j10s and jxxs. infact j10s are better war machines. J10bs that paf will get in 2015 will have advanced avionics, thrust vectoring, aesa radar, huge thrust, making it true 4.5 gen fighter comparable to eurofighter only.

    pakistan should totally head towards declining the usa weaponry and instead rely on chinese, french, italian, swedish (if possible) stuff. this is must now for pakistan to reign in usa and india

    a very potent war machine with a psychological edge as its first weapon, but what a shame how USA arm twists and blackmails Pakistan over these. USA is a sham and a shame for Pakistan.

  5. Farrukh says:

    Nice write up. Let me confess that we as nation are corrupt, dishonest, cheaters, inefficient etc. Countries like saudia prefer to give aid through UN rather than through so called corrupt mafia elite ruling the poor country. The country which is suffering from load shedding just because we are not paying dues to IPPs just to serve own interests (rental power projects) resulting into closure of industries, jobless people, social problems etc. The country which is being run on IMF money and dual taxation from middle class and poor salarized persons. Such nation tend to have corrupt rulers who can only contribute towards more corruption and lawlessness. For such countries kerry lugar type bills are drafted and weapons are offered for destruction. Enjoy till the aid ends and rulers have more assets abroad.

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