After targeting Indian military, Pakistan risks grounding of its F-16 fleet by US

“Pakistan currently has a fleet of 76 F-16s, at least 40 of which are equipped with the upgraded (Beyond Visual Range) version of AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM,” says Dr Anant Bhagwat

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Dhairya Maheshwari

The Donald Trump administration is considering serious punitive measures against Pakistan over the involvement of two F-16 fighter jets in targeting Indian military installations in a retaliatory air raid on Feb 27, sources in touch with the US State Department have told National Herald.

“Pakistan currently has a fleet of 76 F-16s, at least 40 of which are equipped with the upgraded (Beyond Visual Range) version of AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM,” says Dr Anant Bhagwat, the secretary of Pune-based think tank Global Strategic Policy Foundation.

The defence expert says that as part of the deal between Pakistan and the US, Islamabad had agreed that AMRAAM BVR missiles would be used only for counter-terrorism operations, more specifically on the terror camps operating along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

“It is about time that Pakistan pays penalties for breaching the terms and conditions of the agreement,” states Dr Bhagwat.

The threat of the entire, or part, of the F-16 fleet being grounded becomes ever more plausible due to an emerging consensus in the US Congress over Islamabad’s covert backing of terrorist organisations targeting both Afghanistan and India.

In a tweet on Jan 1 last year, US President Donald Trump had castigated Islamabad for befooling successive US leaderships in the name of military aid over the last 15 years.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump had tweeted.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” he had added. In Nov last year, America had cut $300 million in aid to Pakistan, a sign of worsening relations between the two erstwhile allies.

While the sale of F-16s by Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of F-16s, to Pakistan had begun in the 1980s and the aircraft had been extensively employed in the concluding years of the Soviet-Afghan War, objections have been raised time and again from within US Congress. It is pertinent to note that Pakistan used F-16s just for patrolling purposes during the Kargil War, as it did in the wake of rising tensions after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.

It was for the first time on Feb 27 that the F-16 jets were used against Indian military, that too at a time when bilateral relations between the US and India are on the upswing.

In 2005, the tempo of sales of the fighter aircraft had once again picked up, in the wake of US’ renewed involvement in Afghanistan after 9/11 attacks. However, it is believed that the new F-16s came with many strings attached. The new and upgraded F-16s are said to have tracking devices to remotely disable some of the key systems on the aircraft. Islamabad is also said to have been rendered virtually helpless in servicing the aircraft without America’s help.

Lockheed Martin was reached out for comment by National Herald, but refused to share the terms and agreements of its dealings with Pakistan.

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Published: 1 Mar 2019, 3:57 PM