KARACHI: The first batch of three latest version F-16 C/D Block-52 high-tech Fighting Falcons landed in Pakistan recently. Top security officials and others termed it a great breakthrough, saying the induction would give a great edge and a potent punch to the Pakistan Air Force.
The News spoke to various senior officers of Pakistan Air Force about the history of F-16 jet planes and its specifications.
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Mujahideen took up arms against the superpower at the time. It was a struggle that saw the Mujahideen crossing the Pakistan border regularly — often to disperse among the many Afghan refugee camps that had sprung up along the western regions. This saw occasional incursions by the Soviet Union and Afghan aircraft into Pakistan on search and destroy missions, but no major skirmishes, until the delivery of the PAFís F-16s in 1982.
During 1982, six pilots and 87 technicians travelled to the USA to train on the F-16s, with the first aircraft being accepted by the PAF at Lockheed-Martinís Fort Worth facility in October 1982.
All the pilots, converted on the aircraft, only six months after making their first flight in the F-16. The first of two F-16As and four F-16Bs were flown to Sargodha by the six pioneers on January, 1983. The first unit to re-equip with the F-16 in January 1983 was Sargodha based 11 Squadron ëArrowsí. A second unit, 9 Squadron ëGriffins,í moved to Sargodha, which also re-equipped with the F-16 in June, 1984.
In 1986, three years after entering service, a PAF F-16 claimed its first air-to-air kill. This first strike took place on May 17, 1986, when Flight Lieutenant Hameed Qadri from 9 Squadron, with his aircraftís 20 mm gun, put down an Su-22 in the Miranshah district on a dawn Combat Air Patrol.
Following two years of F-16 operations, the government opted for another batch of Fighting Falcons in October 1988. The deal known as Peace Gate III, comprised six F-16s and five F-16Bs and was followed by Peace Gate IV in September 1989 in which 48 F-16As and 12 F-16Bs were to be obtained. However, all 71 F-16s were embargoed, due to the October 1990 Pressler Amendment. The amendment stipulated that the US Government was to suspend all military sales programmes to Pakistan. This would continue until Pakistan complied with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The sanctions stayed in place until three years after the September 11 terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York. Given its geo-strategic location and partnership in the global war on terrorism, Pakistan was designated as a major non-Nato ally in June 2005 and the US President George W Bush gave the go ahead for the return of the 28 F-16s.
The first two F-16As were overhauled and subsequently flown to Pakistan on December 8, 2005 and arrived in country some five days later. The delivery of 14 F-16s from USAF stocks was completed in mid-2008.
The PAF leadership received a morale booster in June 2005, when it was granted permission to purchase 12 F-16C and six F-16D Block 52Ms through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) channels. Peace Drive I, as the contract is known by the US government, also includes many other technologies like Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems, conformal fuel tanks and advanced electronic warfare systems. The aircraft are expected to be delivered in 2010/11 and based at Shahbaz near Jacobabad.
On December 14, 2006, it was announced by the US that Pakistan would receive 24 Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) kits for their Peace Gate I/II F-16A Block 15s and 10 similar kits for their 10 Peace Gate I/II F-16Bs. The Falcon Up work, known in the US as the Peace Drive II (Pakistan) modernisation programme, will be completed by November, 2010.
Meanwhile, the PAFís existing fleet of Peace Gate I/II Block 25s will undergo a Falcon Up mid-life update in 2011, designed at upgrading cockpits and avionics to match the F-16C/D. These will be augmented by an additional 14 F-16s that were never delivered because of the Pressler Amendment passed back in 1992, which led to 28 F-16s being embargoed in the USA. The PAF, which places much emphasis on the F-16, because of its capabilities and load factor, will then operate one of the largest F-16 fleets in the world.