F-16s can be used against any adversary: PAF chief

An upgraded F-16 fighter plane takes off at Shahbaz Air Base, Jacobabad

SHAHBAZ AIR BASE (Jacobabad): The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, has said there is no restriction on the use of newly-acquired F-16 combat aircraft against any adversary.

“Our mission is to maintain peace in the region with honour, but if the primary effort fails we will use all our assets, including these aircraft, to defend our country against any internal or external threats,” he said.

The air chief was talking to reporters at the newly upgraded Shahbaz Air Base on Sunday after a ceremony held to mark the formal induction of the first three of 18 advanced F-16 fighter jets into the PAF fleet.

The aircraft have been purchased from the United States for $1.4 billion. The ceremony was attended by Chief of Staff of US Air Force Gen Norton A. Schwartz, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson, US Air Forces’ Central Command chief Gen Mike Hostage and US Defence Representative to Pakistan Vice Admiral Michael A. LeFever. Answering a question, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar said the acquisition of the hi-tech falcons would neither spark an arms race nor disturb the balance of power in the region. It would be the other way round, he said, adding that the induction would restore the balance of power as the neighbours already had hi-tech aircraft in their inventory.

Earlier addressing the ceremony, he said the PAF had decided to induct the state-of-the-art aircraft with night precision attack capability in 2006 but the contract became controversial in both the countries from the very beginning, with critics (in the United States) questioning the decision and saying that F-16s would have no role in the fight against terrorism and cynics (at home) also challenged the wisdom of a contract with the US, because of past experience.

He said that Pakistan and the US were allies in the war against terror and trust between the two countries was an essential element required to achieve success in the war. He noted that delivery of the aircraft was the beginning of a process to develop the trust.

“The issue of trust between the two countries would take some time to be established fully, but the ceremony was an important step in that direction,” he said.

He said the new F-16s would provide the PAF all-weather day and night precision attack capability, adding a new dimension to the PAF potential. He said that operationalising capabilities of the new aircraft and mastering their technology was a challenge for the PAF, but expressed the confidence that it would be done in weeks and months.

He said that Shahbaz Airbase had been developed into a modern base capable of handling the most modern fighter aircraft in the world in less than one year. Completion of this task in a record time, he said, reflected the spirit of PAF.

US Air Chief General Norton Schawrtz said the event was symbolic and a tangible demonstration of the US commitment to stand by Pakistan in the long run as an important ally.

“Pakistan’s new F-16s will give PAF pilots and Pakistan’s military an unprecedented advantage against extremist groups who threaten Pakistan and the region by enabling precision targeting in all-weather conditions, during both day and night, while reducing potential for collateral damage,” Gen Schawrtz said.

“The aircraft will also enable increased tactical inter-operability between the PAF, the US Air Force and Isaf coalition air forces – greatly bolstering our ability to jointly communicate, coordinate and work together to achieve common goals while boosting the PAF’s status as a world-class air force.”

US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson said the ceremony was a manifestation of deep and broad strategic partnership between the two countries.

She referred to the useful discussion in a number of areas during the strategic dialogue and said the US was committed to a long-term partnership with an old ally.

She said both the countries were working together to make the region and the world peaceful and secure.  –DAWN

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