India has conveyed to the US government its displeasure over the country's move to approve a $450 million sustenance package to refit F-16 fighter jets currently in service of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin had a phone call on Wednesday. “I conveyed India’s concern at the recent US decision to provide a sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet,” Singh tweeted after speaking to Austin.
The US Department of Defense also issued a press release after the phone call between Singh and Austin, but made no mention of India's displeasure over the Biden Administration’s move to approve the sustenance package for the PAF’s F-16 aircraft. It stated that Singh and Austin had agreed to start a new India-US dialogue to deepen bilateral collaboration in space, cyber, artificial intelligence, and other new defence domains.
The Biden Administration last week reversed his predecessor Donald Trump’s 2018 decision and restarted defence cooperation with Islamabad, approving a programme for repair, modification and maintenance of the American F-16 fighter jets currently in service of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) as well as for supply of spares for the aircraft.
India had earlier accused the PAF of using the aircraft against it while retaliating to the IAF’s air strike on a terror camp deep inside Pakistan in February 2019.
Lloyd sought to use his talk with Singh to soothe the ruffled feathers. He congratulated Singh on commissioning of Indian Navy’s new carrier INS Vikrant, noting the significance of the event for India’s role as a security provider in the Indo-Pacific. In light of the evolving regional security environment, they committed to expanding information-sharing and logistics cooperation between the US and Indian armed forces.
Austin conveyed to Singh his support for additional mid-voyage repairs of US Navy ships in India following the historic visit of the USNS Charles Drew to Chennai in August.
The US State Department approved “a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Pakistan of F-16 Case for Sustainment and related equipment for an estimated cost of $450 million”, according to a press release. The Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) delivered the required certification notifying the US Congress of the possible sale on September 7.
“The proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions,” the US DSCA stated, adding that it would support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the US by allowing Pakistan to retain interoperability with the US and partner forces in ongoing counter-terrorism efforts and in preparation for future contingency operations. “The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”