India is concerned about a U.S. decision to provide a sustenance package for Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft, the Indian defence minister told his U.S. counterpart on Wednesday.
The U.S.-built aircraft are a critical part of the military arsenal of Pakistan, whose arch-rival India worries that the fleet could be used against it by its neighbour.
Last week, the U.S. State Department approved the potential sale of sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan in a deal valued at up to USD 450 million, with the principal contractor being Lockheed Martin Corp.
It also included modifications and support of aircraft and engine hardware and software as well as repair and return of the jets and engine spares, classified and unclassified software and software support among others.
The deal, however, would not enhance “any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions” for the aircraft which is Pakistan Air Force’s main fighter. Besides the F-16 package, Pakistan’s Air Force (PAF) has recently been boosted by Chinese J-10C aircraft.
Now, military and foreign policy experts are afraid that the F-16 fleet support from the US, which was suspended in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, will aid India’s bitter enemy in challenging the Indian Air Force.
“I conveyed India’s concern at the recent U.S. decision to provide a sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet,” Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh wrote on Twitter following what he called a “warm and productive” telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.
Singh’s ministry said the two also reviewed U.S.-Indian defence cooperation and reiterated their commitment to further strengthen military-to-military ties.
Pakistan, which like India is nuclear-armed, has relied heavily on Chinese-made jets, but the F-16s remain the most effective and advanced in its fleet.
India and Pakistan have gone to war on three occasions. In 2019 they engaged in an aerial battle over the disputed region of Kashmir, during which India said it had shot down a Pakistani F-16 after one of its jets was brought down. Pakistan denied that one of its F-16s was downed.
In 2019, Pakistan used the same aircraft to target India after the Balakot strike and used American-supplied AIM-120 C-5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile), to shoot down then Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s MiG 21 Bison.
Indian Air Force’s Rafale fighter jet is a twin-engine, 4.5th generation fighter aircraft that can operate from ground bases and aircraft carriers. On the other hand, the US-based Lockheed Martin developed F-16, a fourth-generation, single-engine supersonic multirole fighter aircraft. The two aircraft are almost similar regarding the dimension of length.
Apart from Pakistan, the US has sold F-16s in many countries like Bahrain, Belgium, Egypt, Taiwan, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Thailand, Turkey, etc. However, South Asia remains a highly volatile region.
(With Inputs from Reuters)