Give and take always involves, eventually, giving. When we started our operation in Afghanistan, it was necessary to secure cooperation with another country first, since Afghanistan is completely landlocked. The US Navy’s formidable carrier assets weren’t entirely useless, but they couldn’t offer the immediate access to the targets that they could in Bosnia or Iraq. Somebody had to at least allow us overflight authorization and that meant, on a practical level, either Iran or Pakistan. (Have a look at a map, here.) The likelihood of Iran allowing us to overfly them in order to attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda was, to put it mildly, low. In the tradition of military alliances ranging back centuries, we came to an understanding with a country with whose government we would not normally find any common ground to share. Pakistan has been an ally in our ongoing war. They have allowed us to take what we needed, even if they weren’t completely forthcoming, and our honor demands that we give something in return. Some of that came to light this week with the news that the US will enter negotiations to sell Pakistan F-16 Falcon fighter aircraft.
|::::::::||The sales would represent a shift in policy after years of sanctions and harsh rhetoric from Washington over Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions and what U.S. administrations have seen as tolerance for Islamic extremism. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, however, Pakistan (search) has become an important partner in hunting suspected terrorists and cracking down on anti-American extremists.||::::::::|
As might be imagined, the Indian government had something to say about this and that something was both quick and negative. While the Indian Air Force has a rather wide inventory, her modern fighter fleet basically relies on Soviet-designed MiG-29′s and Sukhoi SU-27′s. She has an impressive number of other aircraft, yes, but they are older and less capable MiG-21′s, 23′s, and 27′s. There are also a few breeds of the French Mirage. Properly flown, the MiG-29′s and SU-27′s can be very effective against American designs. The F-16, however, is one of the most maneuverable aircraft in the sky and will out-turn almost anything else. (Assuming the pilot is up to taking 9 g’s.) The presence of a squadron of these birds significantly changes the balance of power in the air, and India knows it, hence the complaint.
Later in the article linked above, it’s mentioned that the US is also opening negotiations with India in order to handle their concerns. It mentions that India will be wanting to buy “multi-role aircraft” of their own. Now the F-16 is a multi-role aircraft. It was designed as a light fighter but, as with most military hardware these days, has been tinkered with to “expand its mission.” But if the Indians were wanting to buy F-16′s of their own, why not simply say so? For the longest time, when anyone mentioned “mutli-role” and “fighter” in the same sentence, they were referring to a specific aircraft: the F/A-18 Hornet. Also a front-line American aircraft, the Hornet offers the ability to switch between air-to-air combat (the “F” part of its designation) to a ground attack role (the “A” part of “F/A-18″) and it’s pretty good at both. The coy reference in the news story makes me think that India wants Hornets.
I just hope we don’t sell the really advanced electronics gear that makes the American versions of these aircraft so deadly. And I hope we don’t see these 2 aircraft meet in mortal combat in the skies over southern Asia.