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More F-16s For Pakistan
Why Is India So Nervous?

More F-16s For Pakistan

planFort 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.

Why Is India So Nervous?

thumb.phpAs China and Russia strengthen ties, Indo-Sino ties seem to become more fragile, now feebler than at any other time in last decade. India has amplified its rhetoric against China, and Beijing has been frank in expressing concern over India’s planned Agni-V ballistic missile test. From Arunachal Pradesh to Azad Kashmir, there have been several key instances last week in which Indian foreign policymakers seem to have been unnerved, even alleging China is constructing a dam on the Brahmaputra.

Indians argue that that it will take at least three years before Agni-V becomes operational, since it will require four or five more tests, series production, and user-trials by the armed forces. Indians also claim that the 5,000-km strike range of Agni-V is trifling when compared to China’s DongFeng 31A missile, which can hit targets 11,200 km away. An unnamed official source quoted in Indian newspapers state: “China’s missile and nuclear arsenal is leagues ahead of India, capable as it is of hitting any city in India. We can never compete. Our entire focus is on building only credible minimum deterrence against China, not active offensive capabilities.”

I agree—India can never compete with China, and I don’t understand the logic of building “deterrence” when by its own admission India recognizes it is not in the same league as China. Of course there is always more than meets the eye. Agni-V will be mobile and can be moved closer to the Chinese border on short notice, bringing even China’s northern-most city, Habin, within the missile’s strike envelope.

India is also developing Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV) warheads for the Agni missiles. An MIRV payload is basically several nuclear warheads carried on a single missile, which can be programmed to hit different targets, independent of each other. In effect, this means that even ballistic missile defense systems can be overwhelmed by MIRVs.

Indians claim this is aligned with their nuclear doctrine, which says, “Nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.”

The gravity of this doctrine can be accurately understood when you look at other news items in Indo-Sino relations last week.

Indians have been making a commotion about the Brahmaputra dam and China’s alleged involvement in Azad Kashmir. In November 2006 India and China agreed to establish an Expert Level Mechanism to discuss trans-border river issues in an institutional way. Three meetings have been held so far. The Chinese maintain that there are no plans to build any large scale diversion projects on the Brahmaputra River.

But Indians can’t seem to trust this statement or any other promises from China. Reports from New Delhi claim that the Indian government will “ascertain whether there are recent developments that suggest any change in the position conveyed to us by the government of China.”

When Indian premier Manmohan Singh met Chinese president Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the ASEM summit in Beijing, the two men devoted most of their time discussing the Brahmaputra.

And as if clashes over Agni-V and the Brahmaputra were not enough, Indians have been clamoring about Arunachal Pradesh and Azad Kashmir. India has been critical of China’s development activities in Azad Kashmir, and Indian external affairs ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash was quoted saying, “We hope that the Chinese side will take a long term view of the India-China relations, and cease such activities in areas illegally occupied by Pakistan.”

During a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani last week, the Chinese president outlined a major project to upgrade the Karakoram highway, which connects the two countries overland, and coordinated Chinese help in the Neelam-Jhelum hydroelectric project in Kashmir. “Howsoever, the international situation may change. The people of China and Pakistan are always joined in hearts and hands,” Hu said at that time.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also claimed that the State of Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable part of India. The statement was issued by a Ministry spokesman shortly after China expressed “strong” dissatisfaction over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh for electioneering.

I can’t keep myself from wondering: Why is India so angst-ridden?

Surely, it cannot be because China has expressed solidarity with Pakistan; after all, Pak-Sino relations reach back through six decades of trust. What is rather interesting—and must also be disconcerting to India— is Russia’s emergent ties with China. It was not long ago that India ditched Russia to draw nearer to the U.S. Until that point, ‘Hindu- Rossi bhai bhai’ was the most popular slogan in India. But things have changed. Both Chinese and Russian media have given extensive coverage to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to China on October 12-14, speaking highly of the trip and expressing optimism over the prospects of Russian-Chinese ties.

Last week China and Russia signed 12 agreements, whose total monetary value exceeds $4 billion. The premiers of each country convened to hold their fourteenth regular meeting in Beijing, which included a framework agreement on Russia’s export of natural gas to China, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on high-speed trains, and an agreement on mutual notification of ballistic missiles and launch of carrier rockets.

The burgeoning dynamics between China-Russia and China-Pakistan are unraveling India, and the New Delhi foreign ministry appears to be in a tail spin.

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