Fort Worth, Texas: When Pakistan’s Chief of the Air Staff Rao Qamar Suleman arrived at the reception hosted by Lockheed Martin here tonight there was cause for celebration for both parties: Pakistan and America’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin.
Four years ago when the Bush administration decided to sell 18 F-16s to Pakistan, America’s most useful ally in the war against terrorism, Lockheed Martin was going through serious financial trouble and was at the brink of laying off thousands of employees.
Lockheed has produced more than 4,000 of the versatile F-16s since the late 1970s, nearly half of them for overseas customers. Lockheed and other global defense manufacturers depend on sales of sophisticated military weaponry to boost their bottom line. The company has sold F-16s to 24 countries and makes them overseas, as well, with facilities in Europe, Turkey and Korea.
The Fort Worth plant had about 5,800 workers in January 2004. By January of 2005, it was down to about 5,000, and it was scheduled to cut back to 4,000 by January of 2006. But layoffs were postponed due to substantial orders for Pakistan. In December of 2006 the U.S. government awarded Lockheed Martin an initial $78 million as part of a $144 million contract for long-lead tasks related to the production of 18 new Advanced Block 52 F-16 aircrafts for Pakistan. Earlier in 2006, the governments of Pakistan and the United States had signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) agreeing to the purchase of 18 Block 52 F-16s. The LOA provided Pakistan with an option for an additional 18 aircraft.
The new aircrafts were sold with the intention to modernize Pakistan’s Air Force fleet, bringing a robust and versatile defensive capability to the nation’s military. The final Pakistan F-16 under this contract will be delivered in 2010.
Analysts called the sale of these fighter planes to Pakistan “a happy juxtaposition of the wants and needs” of an ally in the war on terrorism and Lockheed’s troubled F-16 line. The bigger issue for Lockheed was the chance to sell another 100 or more F-16s to India, Pakistan’s longtime rival in the Asian subcontinent.
Lockheed’s production of the popular plane was initially “saved” in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush’s administration announced the sale of 150 F-16s to Taiwan.
The cost of the plane is determined by many variables, including how many are purchased and how they are equipped. It is estimated that an F-16 “with a full tank of gas” costs between $30 million and $40 million, with upgrades, spare parts, and other equipment having the potential to add 150 percent more to the price tag.
Despite the concerns of Indian officials about the sale to Pakistan, American analysts argue the prospect of both countries buying F-16s is a positive. “Two countries that have F-16s have never fought a war,” says Richard Aboulafia, aircraft analyst.
Pakistani officials say they plan to use these aircraft extensively against extremists in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Swat. These aircrafts are equipped with the state-of-the-art radar, Electronic Warfare system and long range air-to-air missiles.
F-16s being delivered to Pakistan today are capable of shooting enemy aircraft from long range distances and are able to destroy ground targets with extreme precision during both day and night.
Pakistanis believe the aircraft will be able to engage targets deep inside enemy territory. While securing the country’s airspace against any aggression, these F-16s will also provide very effective support to Navy and Army.
The delivery of the aircraft would commence in June 2010. In addition, Pakistan has plans to upgrade its old F-16 aircrafts.
As Pakistan’s Air Force leadership arrives here in Texas to attend the “Pakistan F-16 Peace Drive I Inauguration” events, American brokers are also trying to up-sell their guests’ additional F-16 fighters that were recently retired by the United States Air Force.
There is a common belief among American defense brokers that the F-16 Fighting Falcon multirole fighter aircraft provides value for several lower-tier air forces with long-standing requirements that are otherwise unlikely to be addressed in the face of today’s tough economic conditions.
In May of 2009 the United States Air Force Secretary Michael Donley announced that 134 aircrafts, mostly Block 25 F-16s, are being retired to save approximately $3.5 billion over the next five fiscal years. USAF plans to redirect funds towards to expand MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle capability and build the MC-12 Project Liberty manned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platform.
Brokers of these old planes claim that many of the F-16C/Ds identified for retirement have plenty of life left in them, particularly if they are upgraded with modern sensors, communications, and weapons. Countries destined to receive these “new” fighters under generous terms from the U.S. would need to be reliable allies. Potential recipients include Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Romania, and Tunisia.
It is said that Pakistan needs to upgrade older F-16C/Ds and replace even older A/B models. These would serve as a bridge to the delivery of new-build Falcons and new fighters currently under development in cooperation with China.