For the first time in two decades, Pakistan's air force is about to get new F-16 fighter jets.
Pakistani military and government officials were on hand Tuesday at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth for ceremonies unveiling the first of 18 new F-16s to be delivered in the next year.
And to highlight the continuing value of the F-16 to Lockheed and Fort Worth, the Defense Department announced that it had notified Congress of a possible sale of 24 F-16s to Egypt, along with spare engines, radars and weapons, a deal potentially worth about $3.2 billion.
The Pakistan jet sale, worth roughly $2 billion, was authorized in 2006 by President George W. Bush. It was the first to Pakistan since 1990, when then-President George H.W. Bush cut off delivery of 28 previously purchased planes over the country's nuclear weapons development program.
"Many people thought this day would never come," Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, said in remarks at the ceremony. "It's a historic and defining moment."
The U.S. and Pakistan, Haqqani said, "are democracies struggling to protect the world against terrorism and protecting us from those who would take our freedom."
The resumption of F-16 sales was opposed by some members of Congress, denounced by India and at times threatened by lagging payments to Lockheed.
"This journey was long, difficult, challenging and sometimes frustrating," said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, whose district includes the Lockheed plant.
Granger said Pakistan "is the point of the spear" in U.S. efforts to combat terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. She said the U.S. and Pakistan have "a growing relationship that will last for decades to come."
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