Response to catastrophic earthquake of 2005 saps Islamabad’s budget for planned fighter procurement

Pakistan is expected to reduce significantly its requirement for new Lockheed Martin F-16s before it resumes negotiations with Washington over its stalled acquisition of new fighters.

Islamabad issued a letter of request last April for 55 new F-16s, plus 20 options, but withdrew it in November in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake (Flight International, 15-21 November 2005). Industry sources say Pakistan is reluctant to restart the programme as it is still recovering from the natural disaster and it has yet to schedule a new round of talks with Washington.

Pakistan is believed to be considering requesting fewer aircraft to reflect new constraints on its national budget following the earthquake, and has also dropped a possible alternative plan to buy used F-16s after receiving proposals from Belgium and the Netherlands. Sources say Islamabad is now likely to ask for 24 or 36 new F-16s, but warn the requirement is still being adjusted and say a new letter of request will not be submitted until at least the second half of this year.

A letter of agreement, which Lockheed had been hoping to conclude by the end of last year, is now not expected until 2007.

However, sources say Greece’s purchase late last year of 30 additional F-16s gives Pakistan another year to complete its acquisition without risking a possible gap in production.

Pakistan’s new F-16 acquisition will be completed using a combination of local funds and foreign military financing (FMF) provided by Washington, with pressure on its own budget to be eased by the fewer aircraft it decides to buy. Washington has pledged at least $1.65 billion in FMF support for Pakistan from 2005 until 2009, but Islamabad has yet to decide how much of this to earmark for the F-16s.

The first batch of funds is now being used to acquire additional Lockheed C-130 transports and P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Pakistan operates two squadrons of F-16A/Bs and late last year received two additional aircraft from the US excess aircraft inventory. Its air force plans to upgrade existing F-16s by installing Lock­heed-supplied kits at Pakistan Aero­nautical Complex. But a decision on the proposed upgrade, which will include structural enhancements and new avionics, will not be decided until after a configuration for the new fighters is chosen.


Source: Flight International