By Dave Majumdar,The National Interest
Lockheed Martin has received a massive $1.12 billion contract from the U.S. government to produce 16 advanced F-16 Block 70 Fighting Falcons for Bahrain.
The “undefinitized contract action award” means that the Royal Bahraini Air Force will become the first operator of the most advanced and capable version of F-16 ever designed.
Moreover, unlike previous versions of the F-16—which were built in Fort Worth, Texas—these new “Vipers” are to be manufactured in Greenville, South Carolina.
With production of Lockheed Martin’s stealthy new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ramping up while Fighting Falcon production is ramping down, the company was compelled to move the F-16 line to a smaller plant that could handle lower volumes. Nonetheless, the move represents a new beginning for the F-16, which is still expected to generate strong sales over the coming years.
"We value our long-standing relationship with the Kingdom of Bahrain and look forward to beginning production activities on their first Block 70 aircraft at our facility in Greenville," Susan Ouzts, vice president of Lockheed Martin's F-16 Program, said. "This sale highlights the significant, growing demand we see for new production F-16s around the globe."
Lockheed Martin has invested significantly in the new South Carolina F-16 plant. The company expects that F-16 production at the site will create somewhere between 150 and 200 new jobs in Greenville.
The company also notes that F-16 production supports hundreds of U.S.-based Lockheed Martin engineering, procurement, sustainment and customer support jobs and thousands of U.S. supplier jobs. Indeed, 450 U.S. suppliers in 42 states currently support the F-16 supply chain.
Lockheed Martin has good reason to be optimistic about securing further F-16 sales. The Block 70 version of the venerable F-16 is a capable warplane by any measure and draws much of its technology from its more advanced F-35 stablemate. But while the F-35 is a much more advanced and capable warplane than any version of the F-16, not every country needs a Joint Strike Fighter or is even cleared to receive the stealth fighter. In those situations, the F-16 Block 70 might be the most capable fighter aircraft available to those U.S. allies.
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At the core of the F-16 Block 70 is the Northrop Grumman APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, which is based on technology leveraged from the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 and can track more than 20 targets simultaneously. The radar can also generate 1ft resolution synthetic aperture radar maps and has a range greater than 160 nautical miles against ground targets.
The jet also has a new state of the art electronic warfare system.
The Block 70 jet features a modernized cockpit with a new Center Pedestal Display (CPD) that provides tactical imagery on a high-resolution 6”x 8” screen. The new display will allow pilots to take full advantage of the Block 70’s new sensors.
The cockpit also has provisions for the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System II (JHMCS II) display, which lets pilot take full advantage of the Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder. Further, a new automatic ground collision avoidance system helps to prevent pilots from crashing the aircraft.
The F-16V has an upgraded airframe with an extended structural service life of 12,000 hours and can carry conformal fuel tanks.
To push the aircraft around the sky, Lockheed says that the new Block 70 jet features an “advanced engine.” While Lockheed Martin did not specify which engine, given the Block 70 designation, the aircraft will most likely be powered by a General Electric F110-GE-132 rated at 32,500 lbf (144 kN) of afterburning thrust.
Lockheed Martin also boasts about the F-16V’s capability to carry a vast arsenal of weapons.
“Lockheed Martin has more than 36 years of weapon integration experience with the F-16,” the company states. “No other organization can match this weapons integration experience. In concert with the U.S. Air Force and multiple F-16 Foreign Military Sales customers, Lockheed Martin has certified more than 3,300 carriage and release configurations for greater than 180 weapon and store types. Our experience as a weapon integrator has enabled the F-16 to be one of the most versatile multirole fighters ever.”
The F-16 will still be flying for decades to come. There are still 3,000 operational F-16s are flying around the world with more than 25 different air forces. At least jets will have to be upgraded to the Block 70 standard as time goes on. The future is still bright for the F-16.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor of The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter@DaveMajumdar.