US F-16, Pakistani JF-17 Fighters Participate In Falcon Talon Drills; Comes After Rafale, F-15 Combat

The US Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) have successfully concluded Falcon Talon 2024, a bilateral exercise held from June 1 to June 11. The annual event, hosted by the Pakistan Air Force, is designed to enhance the critical relationship between the two nations.

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The US Air Force released details and images of the exercise on June 25, highlighting the focus on tactical-level counter-terrorism, air-to-ground weapons employment, and subject matter expert exchanges.

Airmen from the US Central Command area of responsibility were deployed to Pakistan, supported by the Air Mobility Command’s C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, which delivered personnel and cargo.

The exercise also involved the US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from Aviano Air Base’s 510th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, known as the Buzzards. Images from US and Pakistani sources showed that the Pakistani Air Force deployed its F-16s and JF-17 Thunder jets during the exercise.

U.S. Air Force and Pakistan Air Force aircraft sit parked on a flightline in an undisclosed location in Pakistan during Exercise Falcon Talon, June 6, 2024. The Pakistan Air Force hosted Exercise Falcon Talon a training event that builds on the crucial relationship between the two nations and brings together a powerful multinational force to promote and advance mutual security in the region. USAF

According to the US Air Force, Falcon Talon 2024 concentrated on three primary areas: tactical execution, logistics support, and planning integration.

US Airmen collaborated with their Pakistani counterparts, engaging in hands-on experience and knowledge exchange sessions in various fields, including firefighting, explosive ordnance disposal, medical support, and joint terminal attack control.

Airmen from the 378th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department integrated with the Pakistan Air Force Fire Department to conduct aircraft pilot egress drills, fuel, munitions, and aircraft firefighting, policy creation exercises, and effective debrief sessions, including the introduction of the “hot wash” briefing style.

The exercise concluded with a friendly firefighter competition to test the new skills learned by both teams, said the USAF. The exercises involved practicing close air support operations and infiltration/exfiltration methods.

“The impact has been immeasurable but positive; some of the small details have received extremely positive attention, and many of our suggestions or methods of doing things have already begun to gain traction,” said US Air Force Master Sgt Jonathan Campos, 378th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department fire chief.

“These exchanges not only help us showcase our expertise but the personal relationships and bonds created and sense of community is palpable after such exercises,” added Campos.

The Chief of Operations for Exercise Falcon Talon 2024, Lt. Col. Nicholas Gardner of the U.S. Air Force, said, “The enduring partnership between our nations remains critical for the security of the region as the US continues to stand with Pakistan in tackling the most pressing global and regional challenges, as we have since our mutual defense assistance agreement in 1954.”

He added that 70 years on, Falcon Talon 2024 continues to strengthen the partnership by promoting peace, security, and stability.

Falcon Talon enhances the airmen’s combat effectiveness. He eagerly anticipated working side-by-side to maintain aircraft, safeguard personnel, and forge bonds that would endure for another 70 years.

While a US Air Force official highlighted the enduring partnership between Washington and Islamabad as critical for regional security, the United States has deprioritized its relations with Pakistan.

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The Trump administration halted military cooperation, and under the Biden administration, relations have further declined, especially after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Conversely, the US has strengthened its defense partnership with India to bolster alliances in the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s influence and to further isolate Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

In April 2023, for example, B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth Air Force Base participated in Cope India 2023. That was the first time these bombers took part in the joint exercise.

The Cope India exercise, initiated in 2004, has seen the participation of US Air Force F-15s, F-16s, C-130Hs, C-130Js, and C-17s in subsequent years.

In May 2024, the Indian Air Force’s Rafale fighter jets and aircrew traveled to Alaska for the US multinational exercise Red Flag 24. The exercise, held from May 30 to June 14, 2024, involved eight Rafale jets, a C-17 Globemaster, and an IL-78 air-refueller.

Additionally, India has emerged as a strategic partner of the US, receiving critical technology, armed drones, and co-producing GE F414 jet engines.

Further collaboration is planned in the military space, with Indian officials set to participate in US Space Command’s Global Sentinel exercise next year. This is part of the US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET), launched in January 2023, which aims to enhance cooperative space domain awareness.