Could the Aero India F-16s be bombing India in a war?. - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 14 February 2009

Could the Aero India F-16s be bombing India in a war?.

(photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Top: A long view of the UAE Air Force F-16 Super Viper, brought by Lockheed Martin for Aero India 09. Sitting in the rear seat is Abhinav Bindra.

Left: The conformal fuel tank, along the fuselage above the wing, which characterises the UAE Block 60 F-16s

Above: The markings on the rear of the demonstration F-16. 

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard
Aero India 09, Yelahanka Air Base

As the F-16 fighter roars into the skies of Bengaluru at the Aero India 09 show, all attention is on the wonderful aerobatics display it puts up, not on the tiny flag of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on its tail. But the fact is, two of the four F-16s brought here by Lockheed Martin belong to the UAE air force.

Two intriguing questions immediately arise: Firstly, were these aircraft flown, perhaps just days ago, by combat pilots from the Pakistani Air Force (PAF), which has long sent its officers on deputation to fly UAE fighters? Would these very aircraft, now here on a sales pitch by Lockheed Martin, have been bombing India in the event of a war with Pakistan?

Senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officers have confirmed to Business Standard that, in any war with India, Pakistan could field up to two squadrons of F-16 aircraft borrowed from Arab nations, where its pilots are posted on deputation.

Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, who won a Vir Chakra in combat in 1971 and went on to head the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) points out, “This has happened regularly. In 1965, the Jordanian Air Force supplied F-104 Starfighters to Pakistan, one of which was even shot down by the IAF. In 1971, Turkey and Iran had supplied F-86 Sabres to the PAF. I wouldn’t rule out a repeat of this kind of help.”

Air Marshal Vinod Patney, the top air force field commander during the Kargil conflict, also believes the UAE Air Force F-16s could be used against India. He reasons, “There are Pakistani pilots there in the UAE: fact. They are flying their F-16s: fact. There is a close military relationship between those countries: fact. I would not rule out Islamic solidarity coming into play in the event of a war with India.”

Clearly visible on the UAE Air Force F-16s on display in Bangalore is an extra fuel tank, just above the wing, specially built for the batch of F-16s ordered by the UAE. The IAF believes UAE asked Lockheed Martin for the extra range to allow the Pakistani pilots in the UAE to reach Indian targets, deliver their weapons, and then fly to a Pakistani base from where they could operate for the rest of the war.

Air Chief Marshal SC Tyagi, the IAF chief until 2007, recounts, “In the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, Pakistani pilots even flew Jordanian and Iraqi fighter aircraft in combat missions against the Israeli Air Force. One Bengali pilot from East Pakistan shot down two Israeli Mystere jets during that war. There was an agreement to help each other. But the world has moved on; it’s an open question whether such an agreement exists today.”

Lockheed Martin told Business Standard that they had no idea whether Pakistani pilots had recently flown the F-16s, now in Bangalore. Douglas Hartwick, CEO of Lockheed Martin India Pvt Ltd explained, “We just leased these planes from the UAE Air Force.”

India’s strategic community is concerned about F-16 aircraft being evaluated by India despite their being in service in Pakistan. Air Chief Marshal Fali Major, the air force chief, told a press conference at the Aero India that he was not concerned, as the IAF would equip the fighters that they bought (even if they were F-16s) very differently from the PAF, and use “home-grown” tactics while flying them. But when pressed on the issue he admitted, “I am not happy that someone else has something that I have. But that’s the way the world works.”


  1. I have a feeling the Indians are evaluating these F-16s right now, only to find out their strengths and weaknesses. That notion is based on the assumption that decision makers like Fali Homi major aren't corrupt or smoking weed! It'll be sheer stupidity on all counts to go in for F-16s, no doubt about it.

  2. The U.S must not get the contract. There are so many rules and regulations, we may not be able to cope with it. So F-16's and F-18's and even the Gripens are out of the contract.

  3. It is the end use license agreement with the UAE that has allowed Lockheed Martin to bring in the F-16 IN to B'lore.
    Imagine a US origin aircraft with the IAF. Tomorrow if there is a big aircraft contest in Somalia, and the US wants to sell that aircraft there, it'll probably want the IAF aircraft to be flown there to give joyrides to media and important personalities - because this is exactly what the UAE F-16 'IN' seems to be doing right now.
    Never mind the top notch super sensors on board, this bird is now reduced to providing "Mela"services.

    But thanks a lot Ajai-ji for bringing this issue up. Yes it is perfectly possible, although not likely. The UAE is NOT allowing its frontline fighter to go against India - and that too in PAF's hands, period.

    India's rise economically and as a regional superpower, and a political power that is increasingly chummy with the US and likewise Pakistan's descent to near failed state status precludes this. At least for this machine that is.

    You can't however rule out some OIC shit, or plain blackmailing Pakistani style (Help us or we'll send our "IT"experts over), to account for help in the form of non offensive defense goods, spares and other support. Of course the Pilots will be sent over to boost the numbers of PAF.

    So India must let it be known, that any arab nation that involves itself, howsoever indirectly, in a shootout between India and any nation, will have a painful price to pay for its efforts. Surely this has been done diplomatically.

  4. And follow up on the threat too. The world really needs a demonstration of Indian brutality to make an 'example' of some SOB nation that dared crossed paths with it.

    Pussyfooting Pakistan will not do I'm afraid, neither will the present policy of trying to 'shame' it internationally give you long lasting peace. First and foremost India must lay out the threat of overt military action more often against pakistan to encourage it to behave more rationally. Then we can stop worrying about what some gulf state will provide Pakistan at the time of war.

  5. IAF should not go for F-16IN for the following common senses...

    1. UAE F-16 Bk-60 is completely evaluated by pakistan.

    2. IAF is 120% sure that PAF will use UAE F-16s and USA will let it be used by PAF as they need to satisfy PAF and want to see pakistan as a counter weight for India. They did same when pakistan got missiles and nukes from china.

    3. pakistan already have F-16 bk-52.

    4. There will be hundreds of restrictions like EULA and denial of logistics/parts when India will need them. They will bring the 'neutral' issue here.

  6. But wouldnt the same EULA prevent UAE from transferring F-16s to PAF for combat against India. in 1965 and 1971 the US most probably didnt have these EULAs.

    Not that I am having wet dreams of IAF flying F-16s though.

  7. nice assumption..but there is one thing Ajaiji...these conformal tanks were not specifically built on wishes of UAE AF...the israelis were the ones who innovated on this when they came out with the F-16I Sufa in 2002...the performance enhancing aspects were,not only they got extra fuel on board,but in addition ,they could arm weapons on all the hardpoints (in the absence of drop tanks)...henceforth it became the envy of everyone interested in purchasing F-16s.
    another thing that you mention in your report is 100% true...that of paki pilots on deputation to middle eastern brother had worked (as a expatriate ground crew) with paki pilots deputed to saudi AF ,flying on F-15....he has even seen paki tank crews in the Saudi abrams tanks and a couple of them flying their Apaches.

  8. It would be appropriate for the Indian Defense ministry to arrange more funds and buy some other MMRCA like the Eurofighter and of course with an AESA radar.US aircraft would come with lot of strings attached.even if the aircraft is MKIzed it shouldnt be the F-16IN or the F-A-18 Super Hornet.

    Note:-Saudi Arabia is also a Typhoon Customer.

  9. guys anyway India too has access to F-16s, of the very latest models. Thats why India allowed Singapore to lease an air base for the very first time in history. They will station couple of F16D Blk 52 aircraft here. These aircraft will also be involved in joint exercise with Indian fighters. So India can practice dogfighting with RSAF pilots (F16s) to know the weaknesses and strongness of the fighters so that later it will be easy to down Pak's assets.

  10. I dont understand the point of this news item, i mean for such an informative blog, its surprising that you are speculating on the F-16 of a different country bombing India if there is a war. I would love to hear though what was the talk regarding the MMCA contract, which is the most potent aircraft of them all according to you and others present. I have often heard the argument regarding building the entire infra all over again in case an F-16 chosen, isnt it good in a way you never know what the world might turn into tomorrow

  11. Guys,
    These arabi f-16s are not integrated into a combined -arms platform a-la the USAF f-16s and hence, not much of a sweat for the IAF. If these arabs are lunatic enough to use them against us, we'd make sure they're certified for their madness at the earliest. In any case, even the pakis wouldn't use their own semi-mothballed f-16s as a first line of offense - they're too scared of them being shafted. Even during the recent paki show of force, the IAF pilots easily tracked the paki f-16s. There are some excellent pics of these planes in the cross-hairs of IAF aircraft. The f-16's a good aircraft not a great one. USAF F-15
    pilots look down upon f-16 pilots. So chill. We'll get our money's worth.

  12. anon @ 9:30

    " There are some excellent pics of these planes in the cross-hairs of IAF aircraft. "

    can u pls provide the link?

  13. I hope we did a thorough check for surveillance equipment hidden in those planes brought from UAE or from other countries.

  14. Right. Is there any way that you can prevent Saudi Eurofighters or Chinese SU30s to come to Pakistan's aid in a shootout ?. The Pakistanis have access to the SU30 via China and Eurofighter via Saudi.

    And no, you leave out an important point. The UAE Mirage 2000s were flown by the Pakis as well, and Pakistan was a traditional Mirage III & V series customer!.
    As for Mig 29s, there are a couple of dozen countries that operate them and Pakistan could have access to them via many of them.

    So shouldn't the same F16 logic apply to the other aircraft as well?. So what are you going to do about it?. Ban the Mig 29, Eurofigher etc from the MRCA competition ?. So I guess that leaves only the Rafale as the only available option and that too because, it hasnt managed a sale yet.

    Oh wait. Just cough up the money and the Frenchies will sell anything, including their mothers to anyone if the price is right.

    Fact is, given the EULA connected with US sales, esp to the Middle East there is a greater chance of a European or Russian weapon like Eurofighter, Sukhoi and Mig landing up in Pakistan via a 3rd country!

  15. Not sure if anyone noticed the SHAHEEN 1 lettering on the air intake cover in the third picture.

  16. The optimist in me says the Tejas will be shooting down these F-16s in a war.

  17. Guys,
    Heard the news that both rear tyres of an f-16 block 60 burst whilst landing? Guess what, LM guys used it as a impromptu demo on the ease of changing those tyres (supposedly 30mins)... talk about SPIN. The IAF brass had a good laugh... Really, even the chief was among them. And the Boeing guys- well, they now really believe they're leading the pack, but the IAF brass differ. The Luftwaffe put up an impressive tech demo to the IAF. Watch the Europeans closely.

  18. This has happened in the past & there's no guaranty it wont happen in the future....

    ADA should go for EJ-200 & not f-414 for LCA m-2... But day of reckoning would be when LCA flies with Kaveri...:)

  19. hi shukhla.... looks like u have finally bought a new camera.... can tell from the air show pictures....great stuff!!!


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