ISLAMABAD: U.S. and Pakistani officials commemorated the delivery of the first three of 18 new F-16 aircraft to the Government of Pakistan from the United States during an induction ceremony today at Shahbaz Air Base near Jacobabad, Pakistan.

“The induction of these advanced F-16s is a historic milestone for U.S.-Pakistan relations – both a symbolic and tangible demonstration of our strong partnership and the U.S. intent to stand beside Pakistan over the long-term as an important ally and friend,” said Amb. Anne Patterson, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. “These aircraft underscore the promise made by the United States to support Pakistan to achieve our mutual goals of defeating violent extremists and establishing peace and security.”

U.S. and Pakistani officials attending the ceremony included Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, Pakistan Air Force Chief of Air Staff; Amb. Patterson; U.S. Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff; Air Marshal Mohammad Hassan, PAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations; U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Hostage, U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander, and U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Michael LeFever, U.S. Defense Representative to Pakistan. Approximately 300 Pakistani and U.S. officials attended the event.

“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,” said Vice Adm. LeFever. “The aircraft will also enable increased tactical interoperability between the PAF, the U.S. 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.”

The F-16 Block 52 represents the latest configuration of Lockheed Martin’s 4th generation multirole fighter, offering additional fuel and payload capacity, new or improved avionics and sensors, and color cockpit displays with enhanced pilot/vehicle interfaces. The next batch of new F-16s is scheduled for delivery to Pakistan in August, with all 18 fighter aircraft arriving by January 2012.

In addition to the delivery of these new aircraft, the U.S. is working with the PAF to update 45 F-16s from its existing fighter fleet through the U.S. Foreign Military Financing security assistance program. When the updates are completed, these aircraft will have very similar capabilities to the new F-16s, to include advanced communications and a precision targeting system. The first batch of updated F-16s is scheduled to arrive in Pakistan in early 2012.

During the last three years, U.S. civilian and security assistance to Pakistan has totaled more than $4 billion. Assistance has included support for medical aid, school refurbishment, bridge and well reconstruction, food distribution, agricultural and education projects. In addition to the three new F-16 Block 52 fighter planes, other U.S. security assistance provided includes an earlier delivery of an additional 14 F-16 fighter aircraft, 10 Mi-17 and two Bell 412EP helicopters, two P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, five fast patrol boats, 115 Howitzer self-propelled field artillery cannons, more than 450 vehicles for Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, hundreds of night vision goggles, day/night scopes, radios, and thousands of protective vests and first-aid items for Pakistan’s security forces.

The U.S. also provided training for more than 370 Pakistani military officers in a wide range of leadership and development programs covering topics such as counterterrorism, intelligence, logistics, medical, flight safety, and military law.