Pakistan shops for F-16s and J-10s

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BRENDAN SOBIE / SINGAPORE

Letter of request expected for Lockheed jets, but China has yet to confirm deal for advanced fighters

Pakistan has unveiled plans to acquire 18 new Lockheed Martin F-16C/Ds and 26 used F-16A/Bs as part of a major expansion of its fighter fleet, which will also include Chinese Chengdu FC-1s and potentially Chengdu J-10s.

Industry sources say Islamabad is preparing a letter of request for 18 Block 52 F-16C/Ds plus 18 options. The document is expected to be sent to Washington within the next few weeks, with Congress to be notified of the pending deal by late May. Sources say a letter of agreement could be signed late this year for deliveries from 2009.

Last April, Islamabad issued a request for 55 new F-16C/Ds plus 20 options, but withdrew it following a catastrophic earthquake in November, just before Congress was to be notified of the deal. Pakistan has since reduced the acquisition to only 18 firm aircraft to reflect new constraints on its budget caused by ongoing disaster recovery efforts (Flight International, 28 March–3 April).

Pakistan now plans to also acquire 26 F-16A/Bs from the US excess aircraft inventory and is now working on drafting a request that will result in specific aircraft being identified. Pakistan plans to eventually upgrade these aircraft in-country, along with its existing two F-16A/B squadrons and two ex-US Air Force aircraft delivered last December.

Sources say Islamabad is undecided on a final configuration for its new and upgraded F-16s, but plans to ask Washington for Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munition bomb guidance kits.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is moving forward with its purchase of up to 150 FC-1 light fighters, also known as the JF-17 and Super-7. Chengdu so far has only secured an order from Pakistan for 16 FC-1s, but expects to secure a larger deal following deployment of the first batch.

Islamabad is also reportedly seeking to buy up to 36 heavier J-10s for multi-role missions. Chengdu declines to comment on potential exports of the type – which so far has only been acquired domestically – because the programme is still classified.

The China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) denies the J-10 has been added to its export product offering.