Until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is in production, the ageing but still effective F-16 will remain Lockheed Martin's only export fighter, and the company continues to market the aircraft aggressively.

Combat-proven in Operation Desert Storm, in Bosnia and Kosovo theatres, and also by Israeli and Pakistani air forces, the F-16 added to its credentials during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During the Iraqi conflict, the F-16 was known as "the workhorse of the war", says John Bean, vice-president for F-16 programmes, who points out that the type flew 4,000 of the USAF's 8,828 sorties.

The aircraft was flown on vital and demanding all-weather, time-critical precision-strike missions over Iraq, demonstrating a winning blend of performance and rugged dependability.

Lockheed Martin has continued to develop the basic F-16, and the latest Advanced Block 50/52 and Block 60 models incorporate advanced radars, higher thrust engines, upgraded avionics, advanced internal EW suites and are fitted with conformal fuel tanks. These aircraft are also compatible with the latest precision weapons.

The company has also made considerable efforts to establish maximum commonality throughout the worldwide F-16 fleet, drawing up a 'roadmap of convergence' and integrating the mid-life update (MLU) and the common configuration implementation programmes (CCIP).

Perhaps the F-16's most crucial sales advantage is one which usually remains unstated. By buying into the F-16, any foreign nation is making a clear statement of its pro-American credentials, and of its desire to become a friend and ally of the USA.

Existing orders will keep the F-16 line open until 2008 (the 30th anniversary of the international F-16 programme), and further sales seem inevitable. Some 24 countries already operate the F-16, nine having joined the family since 1999.

Source: Flight Daily News