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Friday, September 22, 2023

US Approves $450 Million F-16 Fleet Programme to Pakistan over Counterterrorism Threats

India remains on high alert amid this fleet transfer as it will bolster Pakistan’s lethality and pose a greater challenge to the subcontinent from the west and the northwest

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UNITED STATES/PAKISTAN: The Biden administration has approved a whopping $450 million F-16 fighter jet fleet sustainment programme to Pakistan to help meet its current needs to counteract terrorism threats. This military aid package becomes Washington’s first major security assistance to Islamabad in four years.

In 2018, Biden’s predecessor, Republican candidate and business tycoon, Donald Trump suspended about USD 2 billion in security aid to Islamabad for failing to subdue the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network terror groups and dismantle their safe havens inside the country.

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The State Department notified the US Congress on Wednesday, detailing its approval of a possible foreign military sale of the F-16 case for sustainment and other related equipment for a calculated cost of USD 450 million, arguing that it will strengthen Islamabad’s capability to counteract threats of terrorism in the land.

The Defence Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying the Congress of this possible sale on Wednesday.

“The United States Government has notified Congress of a proposed Foreign Military Sales case to sustain the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 programme. Pakistan is an important counterterrorism partner, and as part of longstanding policy, the United States provides life cycle maintenance and sustainment packages for US-origin platforms,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Pakistan’s F-16 programme is an important part of the broader United States-Pakistan bilateral relationship. The proposed sale will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining its F-16 fleet. The F-16 fleet allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations and we expect Pakistan to take sustained action against all terrorist groups,” the spokesperson said.

The deal, however, will not include “any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions” for the aircraft which happens to be Pakistan Air Force’s main fighter, even though they are fully equipped with JF-17s in huge numbers.

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The package deal also includes US government and contract engineering, technical and logistics services for any follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet. It also includes modifications and support of aircraft and engine hardware and software as well as repair and return of the jets and engine spares, classified and unclassified software and software support among others.

The Pentagon maintained in its statement that the package will enable Pakistan to maintain and “retain its interoperability with Us and partner forces” amid terrorism efforts and in future for any contingency operations.

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In 2019, Pakistan incidentally used the same aircraft to target India after the historic Balakot strike and used American-supplied AIM-120 C-5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile), to gun down then Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s MiG 21 Bison.

Meanwhile, as military ties strengthened between the US and Pakistan and the announcement of the package deal came out, India maintained its silence as it witnessed its Western ally supplying arms to its lethal foe.

The announcement came in the backdrop of inter-sessional talks that the Indian and American senior officials including Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu held on September 7.

The Ministry of External Affairs is yet to clarify if it had been notified about this fleet exchange between the US and Pakistan, as it will bolster Pakistan’s lethality and pose a greater challenge for India from the west and the northwest.

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