By Paolo Valpolini
Lockheed Martin is building the elements for the first F-16 Block 70 to be produced for Bahrain, the work on the assembly line scheduled to start in December, Lockheed Martin representatives told EDR On-Line at BIDEC 2019. Bahrain was the first Gulf state to acquire the Block 40, around 20 aircraft being still in service, and will now be the launch customer for Block 70 aircraft. Sixteen aircraft were ordered through the Foreign Military Sales scheme, other two international customers having already finalised the contract, Slovakia for 14 aircraft and Bulgaria for eight. Morocco and Taiwan both notified their request to the US, their requests having been approved, respectively for 25 Block 72 and 66 Block 70 aircraft, the FMS process having however not yet been fully finalised.
Work will start at the Lockheed Martin factory in Greenville, South Carolina, where the F-16 assembly line was moved from Fort Worth, Texas, a new facility having been built on purpose, the new line having been inaugurated in April 2019. The contract for the provision of the new aircraft to the Royal Bahraini Air Force was signed in June 2018, the landing of the first Block 70 aircraft in the Gulf state being planned for Summer 2022, the last aircraft to be delivered in late 2023.
Morocco also required the upgrade of its current F-16s to the F-16V standard, the latter having been the starting point for the development of the newly built Block 70/72 aircraft. Four different customers, including Morocco, decided to upgrade their F-16 to the new configuration for a total of over 400 aircraft, further discussions being ongoing in the Middle East and Gulf states, although no more details were revealed. The V version is very similar to the Block 70/72, however the latter has its flight life increased from the 8,000 hours of the previous Blocks to 12,000 hours, the 4,000 extra hours representing 20 years of flight according to current USAF standards. Structural upgrades can be adopted also on F16 Vs however with a reduced impact on the life time compared to the plus 50% of the newly built Block 70s. A quick reminder on the main improvements of the Block 70s: a new AESA radar, better sensors, the new Modular Mission Computer, Link 16 and IFF Mode 5, while a third display was added between the two existing ones and known as CDP (Centre Pedestal Display). The Block 70 aircraft also features embedded EW systems as well as conformal fuel tanks, which free the pylons from EW pods and external fuel tanks, allowing carrying a higher number of weapons.
Since its first flight 4,588 F-16s were delivered, around 3,000 of them being still in service, the F-16 fleet having logged overall 19 million flight hours, Gulf and Middle East countries equipped with the Lockheed Martin Fighting Falcon being Bahrain, Jordan, the UAE, Oman and Iraq.
Pictorials courtesy Lockheed Martin