The eight Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-16 fighter jets Pakistan has been cleared to purchase will replace fighters that have rapidly aged conducting precision bombing against Taliban targets in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan, according to a senior adviser to the Pakistani prime minister.

Pakistan has flown F-16s for decades but only recently has flown them intensively on combat missions, Sartaj Aziz, foreign affairs adviser to the Prime Minister of Pakistan told reporters March 1 during a Defense Writers Group breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C. 

“More recently, the F-16s were used very intensively in the tribal areas because it does precision bombing,” Aziz said. “In a counter-terrorism operation if you have precision aircraft you avoid collateral damage and killing of civilians. They were very extensively used and the process continues and therefore many of those F-16s that we have acquired from the U.S. in the last 30 years require replacement.”

The U.S. State Department in February approved a foreign military sales deal with Pakistan worth $699 million for eight F-16 Block 52 aircraft, equipment, training, and logistics support.

The sale includes two F-15Cs and six F-16D models with the F100-PW-229 increased performance engine and 14 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS).

Aziz said the jets were paid for out of funds the Pakistani air force saved up from its annual foreign assistance funding from the United States.

“In the last five years, the air force has been saving that to finance these F-16s,” he said. The government of Pakistan initially wanted to buy 18, but reduced the purchase to eight to fit within its budget, he said.

Pakistan could order more F-16s in the future to fulfill its requirement, but is also ramping up domestic production of the JF-17 Thunder single-engine fighter aircraft the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex developed in partnership with China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation.

“The need for additional aircraft will remain but right now we are expanding our own…domestic production,” he said. “That is filling the need as far as broad deterrence is concerned.”

Aziz also did not rule out the possibility of Pakistan purchasing Russia’s Sukoi Su-35 Flanker twin-engine fighters. He noted that it already has cut out China as a go-between for JF-17 engines and is purchasing them directly from Russia.

“Our armed forces keep exploring all options for when the time comes,” Aziz said.