The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) are negotiating a deal to upgrade 74 F-16s (which include a new batch from Jordan). Although the PAF would prefer to implement the upgrade in Pakistan, it expects reluctance from the U.S. – cue Turkey.
A Turkish procurement official told Defense News that the PAF has not yet defined the upgrade, but the implementation process is expected to cost around $100 million U.S. This is close to the MLU that TAI implemented onto roughly 40 PAF F-16A/B Block-15s in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Comment and Analysis
Last week, we believed that the PAF was negotiating to get its 13 ex-Jordanian F-16A/B Block-15ADF (short for Air Defence Fighter) units upgraded to MLU standard. However, the report by Defense News clearly states that the upgrade program is for basically the entire PAF F-16A/B fleet.
If this comes to fruition, then it could be a significant program. First, it is important to note that the actual contents of this upgrade have not yet been defined. This is not surprising considering that the PAF would almost certainly secure the necessary subsystems and components from the U.S., TAI will simply do the integration work. This is all to be expected.
The most important question at this stage is, what is the PAF actually planning to upgrade? Could it simply be a structural life extension program (SLEP) for the airframes? Or could it perhaps be a comprehensive upgrade involving a new radar as well as on-board avionics suite?
If the latter, then the next step beyond the PAF’s existing MLU configuration would be the F-16V upgrade, which would be significant on a number of fronts. For one thing, it restores the F-16’s position as a serious qualitative driver within the PAF fighter fleet; the F-16V upgrade includes the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar as well as a cockpit upgrade.
For an understanding as to how an AESA radar would be beneficial, be sure to review yesterday’s piece about the JF-17 Block-III.
The F-16V upgrade is being implemented onto Taiwan’s 145 F-16A/B Block-20 (under a $1.45 billion U.S. deal signed in 2012). South Korea will upgrade its 134 F-16C/D to the F-16V configuration as well; it had awarded a $1.5 billion U.S. contract to Lockheed Martin in December 2015.
Whatever the case, the PAF is serious about pushing its F-16s through the upgrade – talks with TAI have already commenced. As for the specifics, we will have to wait and see. There is a high chance that the PAF may not be able to access the F-16V-upgrade, the U.S. Department of Defense may be reluctant to part with the technology (out of reservations with Pakistan’s ties with China). It could simply be a SLEP.