Lockheed Martin has unveiled the first of 18 sophisticated multi-role F-16 combat jets for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on Tuesday, October 13, at a ceremony at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Fort Worth, Dallas, TX. The jets will be delivered to PAF starting June 2010 and the delivery program is scheduled to be completed by December 2010 . This is the first time that PAF is receiving the jets in two decades after the then – President George H.W. Bush had cut off delivery of 28 previously purchased planes over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development program.
The jet manufacturer has named the aircraft order as “Peace Drive I,” in line with it’s long tradition of naming F-16 international sales programmes with the word Peace. The current program raises the total number of F-16s ordered by Pakistan to 54. The PAF received its first F-16s, in the Block 15 F-16A/B configuration, in 1982. Pakistan has been operating Lockheed Martin aircraft since 1963, when it received C-130B airlifters. The company is also producing modernization and upgrade kits for 35 of Pakistan’s 1980s-era F-16As. These kits are designed to provide the same radar, digital mission computers and modern digital instrumentation systems as the new aircrafts.
“Peace Drive is the flagship of modernization for Pakistan’s Air Force. It isthe latest configuration of the best 4th generation multirole fighteravailable in the world today,” said John Larson, vice president of F-16programs for Lockheed Martin.
Representatives from US government, PAF and Lockheed Martin were present at the function. Air Chief Marshal Rao Quamar Suleman, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan AirForce (PAF), accepted the first F-16 Block 52 aircraft on behalf of PAF. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US was also present with other senior officials. Rep. Kay Granger, Texas 12th District, and Gen. Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force were also present.
Granger said Pakistan “is the point of the spear” in U.S. efforts to combat terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. She said the U.S. and Pakistan have “a growing relationship that will last for decades to come.” Many U.S Congressmen and India have been protesting the sales. The Bush Administration in 2006 had authorized the sale which is roughly worth USD 2 Billion.
Lockheed is also eyeing India as a potential client. With it’s defense coffers sweltering with funds for purchase and upgrade of jets, India offers a mammoth oppurtunity for which others companies including European firm Boeing is also competing. Sales to Pakistan may jeopardize Lockheed’s chances for sales to India. Purchase orders are also expected from Egypt if the same is authorized by the U.S government.