government has been lobbying the US for the last
two years to sell it F-16 fighter aircraft, a plane
designed in the late 1960’s which first flew
in the 1970’s. This effort so far has been
unsuccessful, and is currently in limbo, as the
US has not made a decision, and India has objected,
while pursuing its own attempts to purchase the
aircraft. So what’s all the fuss about? Why
are these old airplanes so important?
Although the original airframes were designed over
30 years ago, the F-16 remains one of the top two
fighter planes in the world, with only the F-15
Eagle, another American aircraft, its better. Its
engines, weapon systems, and electronics have been
continually updated to keep the plane at the state
of the art. At about 50 million dollars per plane,
they are quite expensive, but the production cost
is deceptive. No other country in the world could
produce its equal for 50 million dollars per plane
or even 500 million dollars per plane. The technological
and human resources that the US has developed over
the last six decades in advanced military hardware
has given it a capacity to build weapons far more
advanced than any other country.
There is no alternate supplier of fighters equal
to the F-16. Any nation that has them in quantity
and faces an air war with a country that does not,
possesses an overwhelming advantage. Command of
the air is so vital in modern warfare that such
a factor alone can determine the outcome of a war.
With F-16’s a country is much more secure
than without them, all else being equal.
The US has four options. It can sell F-16’s
to neither India nor Pakistan, it can sell to both,
or it can sell to one and not the other. What is
the best choice for US policy?
It depends on what the goals of that policy is in
South Asia. There are three goals of high importance.
The first is to crush Al-Qaeda, capture Osama Bin
Laden, and stabilize Afghanistan. The second is
to ensure that nuclear war does not occur. The third
is to maximize America’s commerce and economic
benefits from the growth of the South Asian economy.
F-16’s are of no use to Pakistan with respect
to catching Osama Bin Laden. They are also of no
real value in the struggles in FATA or even with
the situation in Baluchistan. From a War on Terror
perspective, the US has no reason to sell Pakistan
But in the case of nuclear war scenarios, there
is a rationale to sell the F-16’s, and to
sell them only to Pakistan. The only plausible situation
that would result in a South Asian nuclear war would
be if Pakistan were facing a catastrophic defeat
in a full-blown conventional war. To prevent that
scenario from occurring, Pakistan needs to have
a conventional military capacity that is sufficient
to hold back India. One critical element of that
would be the ability to control Pakistani airspace
and deny it to the Indian Air Force. For that, a
fleet of F-16’s would be extremely useful.
It would be in US interest to sell F-16’s
for that purpose.
The US would want to carefully calibrate its arms
sales in order to maintain a reasonable balance
in South Asia, but not arm Pakistan to the point
of encouraging Pakistan to become “adventurous”.
Arming both sides with F-16’s is a dangerous
idea that would actually increase the likelihood
of war as both sides would have an incentive to
launch a surprise air attack intending to wipe out
the other sides F-16 fleet. Selling to India alone
makes no sense whatsoever, as India has no real
threat on its borders that requires F-16’s
to defend it.
Pakistan did receive an older version of the F-16
in the 1980’s during Reagan’s presidency,
and those planes are still the backbone of the Air
Force. A further batch of planes were purchased
and paid for in the late 1980’s but delivery
was stopped due to sanctions. It took Pakistan eight
years to get its money back. Pakistan should obtain
guarantees of delivery before paying this time around.
Pakistan should also seriously consider if the cost
of a fleet of F-16’s (about two billion dollars)
is not better spent on development. Comments can
reach me at Nali@socal.rr.com.