Paul Lewis/Fort Worth

Lockheed Martin says it needs to secure further international sales of F-16s in addition to a planned US Air Force follow-on order, to bridge a shortfall in production beyond early 2001.

The gap is set to widen as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continues to delay ordering 80 new Block 60 versions until it can agree software source code access with the US Government.

The UAE had been due to receive its first improved F-16 in 2002. Lockheed Martin does not expect a deal to be finalised "before mid-year". UAE demands for access to source codes for the Block 60's planned new active array radar and electronic warfare suite continue to block a deal.

The F-16 order backlog totals 154 aircraft, including licence-produced fighters for South Korea and Turkey. Deliveries extend to April 2001, when the USAF is due to take the last of three aircraft ordered last year. Bill Anderson, vice-president for the F-16/F-2 business area, says: "We're at a critical time to ensure we don't have a production gap."

A USAF request for funding in fiscal year 2000 for 10 new F-16CJ defence suppression versions, if approved, would "-help fill the gap", says Lockheed Martin, but it adds: "It's a stepping stone-we need more than this." Its goal is to secure more immediate new and follow-on export orders to fill the production line until the UAE shipments begin.

Attention is focused on selling the proposed improved Block 50 plus F-16C/D to Greece, Israel and Norway. Proposals have been submitted to Greece for 20-60 additional fighters and "-we expect an answer by April", says Anderson. Block 60 development delays will not affect these offers, he adds, saying: "We're looking at other configurations that satisfy these particular customers."

Lockheed Martin sees a requirement in the longer term for up to 600 more F-16s through to 2009, by which time it hopes to have switched to production of the Joint Strike Fighter, should it beat Boeing to the contract.

Scheduled deliveries this year total 110, down from 149 in 1998, as production for Bahrain, Greece, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan winds down. With Lockheed Martin having cut production time from 36 to 21.5 months, it needs fresh orders by mid-year to avoid a gap developing.

The company's output on other projects is starting to pick up, with delivery of a sixth F-22 mid-fuselage section to its Marietta sister plant and a fourth composite wing shipset for the derivative Mitsubishi F-2A/B. The F-16, however, is the Fort Worth plant's largest programme, directly employing 3,000 production workers out of an 11,000 workforce.

Source: Flight International