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Pak to buy 70 F-16s
US team to finalise $ 3-billion deal

Islamabad, March 28
Pakistan plans to buy from the USA about 70 F-16s of the latest variety costing $3 billion.

A team of US defence experts is expected to be in Islamabad shortly to discuss the modalities of the sale of the fighter aircraft.

The country will be eyeing for the latest Block 50/52 C and D type models of the F-16s, costing about $ 2.4 to 2.8 billion, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Sadat said.

Each of the latest F-16s were expected to cost around $35-40 million. Unofficial estimates based on previous fleet requirements of the PAF put the figure close to 70 planes, daily ‘Dawn’ quoted PAF officials as saying.

The air chief said Pakistan might go for the fourth-generation fighter aircraft to meet the country’s defence requirements. “We got only an intimation that US President George W. Bush had asked the Congress to release Pakistan F-16s. We will get F-16 CNDs (Block 50/52),” he added.

He said the number of the aircraft “depended on as much as we needed. Pakistan is playing an active role with the US in the war against terrorism and that was why the US government has agreed to give us the aircraft.” US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker said an American officials team would be in Islamabad shortly to hold talks with Pakistani officials to finalise the modalities of the sale of the F-16 aircraft as President Bush had cleared the legal and administrative hurdles by formally lifting the ban on the sale of modern jet fighter.

“President Bush has granted special permission for this purpose. The mode of the payment, avionics and other systems to be fitted in the planes would also be determined after discussion by experts of the two countries,” Crocker was quoted as saying in local daily ‘The News’.

He said there was no ceiling on Pakistan buying the F-16s even though officials in Washington had initially said Islamabad would be given 24 F-16s, adding that Pakistan was free to decide the numbers.

Islamabad could also use the $ 3 billion assistance announced by Mr Bush in 2002 half which was committed for economic and social sector, Crocker said.

Asked about US offering India F-18s, Sadat said “we have to see our pocket and our needs before getting any aircraft. The prices of aircraft vary from model to model and aircraft to aircraft and getting an aircraft is based on the fact how much and what type of aircraft our security requires.” Referring to India’s reaction to delivery of these aircraft to Pakistan, he said this was a usual response, adding “.. every country enjoys all rights to get what it deems fit for its security.” To the question whether F-16s sale will have any impact on the peace process he said the deal would not hamper the ongoing dialogue.

To a question about the PAF plans to buy Swedish made Gripen planes, he said no deal could be finalised overnight.

When asked whether the US would provide beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles with F-16s, Sadat said it was too early to comment that these planes were equipped with the BVR missiles or not.

“Till now we have no information about the avionics and weaponry installed in these fighters. At present, manoeuvrability of fighter aircraft does not matter much. What matters is the range of radar system, avionics and weaponry of the aircraft,” Sadat said. — PTI

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