Tim Ripley

This year is a "watershed year" for Lockheed Martin's F-16 Fighting Falcon programme if the company's best-selling fighter is to stay in production beyond the year 2001 and win up to 600 new orders.

Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth, Texas, plant has orders to keep it working to 2001, but the three-year lead time on new aircraft means fresh orders have to be taken this year to keep the line continuously active.

F-16 programme vice-president Bob Elrod says it is "-too early to write the F-16 off - 10 years premature. We are competing to sell 600 more aircraft around the world. The F-16 is the fighter aircraft of choice prior to the Joint Strike Fighter."

High profile contests in Chile, Greece, South Africa and the Gulf area need to be won this year to ensure continuity on the line, says Elrod.

"Those lead times and selections fit. There are also ways to reduce the lead time to two years."

Elrod says the production problem depends on how large the gap is and whether follow-on orders are ready to come on line further down the road.

"It is our intention to continue making four to six airplanes a month until well into the next century," says Elrod.

All the contests involving the F-16 are likely to be tightly fought against the Europeans, Russians and Boeing.

A good prospect for the company is further low-rate production to fill USAF upgrading and attrition requirements.

By the end of 1998 some 3,800 F-16s will have been built for 19 air forces.

Elrod says work on F-16 production for Taiwan and Korea is almost 50% complete and future funding looks unaffected despite the regional economic crisis.

Other projects do not appear to be affected as yet by the crisis, says Elrod.

A co-operation deal with Korea's Samsung to build the KTX-2 trainer is just starting in the design phase and production of the Japanese F-2 derivative is being stretched out over five years.

Source: Flight Daily News