Lockheed Martin is marketing the latest version of the F-16, the Block 70, as both the F-16V upgrade and as a new-build aircraft. Having already signed up South Korea and Taiwan for the F-16V upgrade, which has also been selected by Singapore, Lockheed Martin is hoping that Bahrain may be the next customer for the advanced F-16.
Bahrain currently operates 20 F-16C/D Block 40 aircraft, and has sought a follow-on batch of aircraft for some time. This was held up by US congressional approval issues, but with the change of President it is expected that this approval will be forthcoming. As well as upgrading its current aircraft to the Block 70 standard, Bahrain is also seeking between 16 and 19 new-build machines.
The F-16V/Block 70 is the latest iteration of the much-developed fighter. The principal change is the inclusion of the APG-83 AESA (active electronically scanned antenna) radar, which offers significantly improved operational effectiveness as well as reduced maintenance requirements. New cockpit display and avionics technologies are included, some of which have been transferred across from the F-35 programme.
Here in the UAE, the Air Force and Air Defence has been flying the Block 60 F-16E/F since 2004, and it has performed well in various combat operations. Lockheed Martin is working hard through the AMMROC maintenance, repair and overhaul company that supports the fleet to maintain fleet availability, which has come under pressure due to the increased operational tempo of recent times. The F-16 Block 60 is expected to serve with the UAE until at least 2030 or even 2040. It also has an AESA radar in the form of the APG-80.
Lockheed Martin is exploring many other avenues for new sales and upgrades, including a programme to bring 30 Egyptian air force Block 15 aircraft up to Block 50 standard for commonality with the rest of the fleet. Regarding new-build aircraft, Lockheed Martin’s current order commitments are due to be completed around the end of the year with the delivery of the last of Iraq’s 36 aircraft.