Senior diplomat Anthony Blinken says the $450 million deal with Islamabad is for maintaining Pakistan Air Force’s existing fighter jets.
“It’s not about new planes, new systems, new weapons. It’s about maintaining what they have,” Blinken said during a press conference with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has defended military sales to Pakistan in response to heavy criticism from India, an increasingly significant U.S. ally that views itself as the target of Islamabad’s F-16 planes.
Blinken met India’s foreign minister in the U.S. capital on Tuesday, a day after separate talks with his Pakistani counterpart.
“Pakistan’s program enhances its ability to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan or the region.
It is in no one’s interest for these threats to materialize with impunity,” Blinken said.
Jaishankar did not criticize Blinken in public. But on Sunday, at a reception for the Indian community in the United States, Jaishankar said of the American position: “You are not fooling anyone.”
“For someone who says, I’m doing this because it’s for counter-terrorism when you’re talking about an aircraft like the capability of the F-16, everybody knows where they’re deployed,” he said, referring to the positioning of the fleet against India.
“Quite honestly, it’s a relationship that didn’t end up serving Pakistan or American interests well,” he added.
Pakistan’s military depends on U.S. equipment, but the relationship has soured during the two decades of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, with Washington believing elements in Islamabad have never stopped backing the Taliban, who regained power Last year.
India has historically purchased military hardware from Moscow and has pressured the United States to waive sanctions required by a 2017 law for any nation that buys “significant” military hardware from Russia.
Sale of services and equipment for the F-16 to Pakistan
The Pakistani government requested engineering, technical, and logistical help for its F-16 fighter aircraft from the United States.
The scope of services includes equipment and software for preserving aircraft combat capabilities, engine repair components, supplementary technical documentation, and other goods.
By authorizing a USD 450 million F-16 fighter aircraft fleet sustainment project for Pakistan on September 8, the Biden administration overturned the Trump administration’s decision to limit military aid to Pakistan for providing safe havens for the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban.
After the notification, the U.S. legislature has 30 days to study this military contract and possibly block it.
The Pakistan Air Force is armed with more than 70 F-16 fighters of various modifications.
Chinese J-10s may replace F-16s in Pakistan
The reversal of the Trump administration’s decision to restrict military aid to Islamabad for providing safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network by approving a USD 450 million F-16 fighter aircraft fleet sustainment project is viewed as a reaction to China’s delivery of F-16 equivalents to Pakistan.
In reaction to India’s acquisition of Rafale aircraft, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, on December 29, 2021, announced that Pakistan had bought a squadron of 25 Chinese multi-role J-10C fighter fighters. Chinese J-10s are not on par with the latest American F-16s but represent a significant upgrade over the older models of aircraft deployed by the Pakistan Air Force. J-10Cs also come with the autonomy of use, unlike the American F-16s. In March, China delivered the first six J-10s, and in September, another six were delivered.
As further funds become available, it should likely be followed by the procurement of a second J-10 squadron, and maybe a third, as the PAF’s re-equipment requirements are significant because of the vast number of F-7 and Mirage ROSE aircraft that still need to be replaced. If PAF F-16s are not upgraded to the Viper variant in the near to medium term, Pakistan may replace the more than 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s in service.
Pakistan’s purchase of the Chinese J-10C was not welcomed by many. Senator Afnan Ullah Khan said he could not get the reasoning for purchasing the J-10C. According to him, the Air Force already has a comparable aircraft to the J-10, namely the F-16. The legislator said that the J-10C is inferior to the Rafale, which is in service with the Indian Air Force.
India views PAF F-16 upgrades suspiciously
The Indian government has expressed concern over the PAF F-16 upgrades on three counts. First, the Narendra Modi administration came to office on the promise that it would utilize India’s buying power as a political tool to deny Pakistan access to modern military systems by exerting pressure on the supplier. India feels that the timing of the U.S. package was intended to coerce India into denouncing Russia for its involvement in the Ukraine conflict. Thirdly, India thinks the United States has resumed hyphenating Pakistan and India as it did in the past.