US defence officials have confirmed that Oman has asked for a potential sale of 18 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 50/52 fighters for $3.5 billion in a move that dampens the UK government's hopes to offload a batch of new Eurofighter Typhoons.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) informed Congress on 3 August that the Royal Air Force of Oman is seeking a "possible" F-16 purchase, which is most likely aimed at replacing its remaining Sepecat Jaguars. Fifteeen are still in operation, as listed in Flightglobal's MiliCAS database.
The announcement comes five years after Oman purchased a batch of 12 F-16 Block 50s, which are powered by the General Electric F110-GE-129 engine.
The DSCA says the potential second batch of F-16s could be Block 50s or Block 52s. The latter is powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine. The deal also would include the ITT advanced integrated defence electronic warfare suites (AIDEWS) and Northrop Grumman APG-68(V)9 radar.
If the contract is signed, Oman would give Lockheed a fresh boost in the region as the manufacturer seeks to close more F-16 deals with Qatar and Iraq.
But a contract signing for F-16s would mark a surprise reversal for the UK government, which indicated in April that a Typhoon sale in Muscat could be imminent. UK officials hope to offload some of the aircraft that the government is committed to buying during the Tranche 2 or Tranche 3A production phases of the Eurofighter programme.
UK Trade & Investment's Defence and Security Organisation says discussions have continued since the announcement earlier this year, but that it is "up to the government of Oman to determine the timeframe for its requirement".
UK Eurofighter partner BAE Systems says: "The UK government announced Oman’s intention to procure Eurofighter Typhoon earlier this year, and BAE Systems is continuing to work closely with both governments to reach agreement for the supply of this new-generation fighter to meet Oman's national defence needs for the next 20-30 years.
"While these discussions continue, it would be inappropriate for us to make any further comment," it adds.
Meanwhile, the F-16 programme remains in demand despite the arrival in six years of its successor the F-35A. On 20 July, Lockheed officials noted the F-16 has a firm backlog of 86 F-16s, including 20 fighters recently ordered as part of Egypt's sixth follow-on order.
The production line in Fort Worth, Texas, is expected to continue through 2013, with new deals possibly extending the programme for several years beyond, Lockheed says.
As a member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Oman has joined a regional arms race as tensions with Iran escalate across the Strait of Hormuz.
Additional reporting by Craig Hoyle in London