Lockheed Martin is confident in its ability to maintain F-16 production in the USA pending a decision by India for a single-engined fighter, which could extend production for many years.
Orlando Carvalho, executive vice-president of aeronautics at Lockheed Martin, notes that prior to a Bahraini letter of agreement for 16 F-16Vs in late 2017, the company had not received an LOA for the single-engined type since June 2012, when Iraq topped up its original order for 18 F-16 Block 52 C/Ds with 18 more.
“We kept the supply chain sufficiently warm to enable the re-start of the production for Bahrain,” says Carvalho. “Now that Bahrain has committed, we are fully moving forward with standing up the line again, energizing the supply base to provide all the components. The first Bahrain airplane will be delivered in 2021.”
He contends that the line is viable with production rates of just one F-16 a month, without significant cost growth.
The Bahraini F-16s will be built on a new line in Greenville, South Carolina. This facility will also produce the Lockheed/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50A advanced jet trainer should Lockheed win the US Air Force’s T-X competition to replace the venerable Northrop T-38. The move to Greenville follows the closure of the line’s home for 40 years in Fort Worth, Texas, in late 2017.
“We’ve worked closely with the supply base to manage any decisions we’re making about tooling, even something as simple as floor space to start again,” he says. “There will be some new suppliers we’ll be taking advantage of as we restart the line.”
Overall, Carvalho says there is potential for sales for over 400 new-build F-16s in the coming years given fighter competitions in India, Indonesia, Slovakia, and Colombia. Poland, which already operates F-16s, may also obtain additional aircraft.
While the Indonesian deal would call for 48 aircraft, the real prize for Lockheed would be India. There has been significant engagement between the US and Indian governments on the requirement, which calls for an unspecified number of single-engined fighters to replace legacy types such as the Mikoyan MiG-21 and MiG-27.
“Our fundamental offering to the Indian Air Force is the Block 70, the most advanced F-16 we have ever offered,” he says. “It has AESA [active electronically scanned array] radar, as well as structural upgrades to go to 12,000 hours, which is not insignificant. A lot of airplanes in the past have been 6,000-8000 hours. It also includes computing and cockpit upgrades to take advantage of the latest technology for the pilot, and for the capability the airplane carries.”
The core of Lockheed’s India offering, however, is its promise to setup an F-16 production in line with India in conjunction with a local partner, Tata Advanced Systems. This deal will be contested with Saab, which is offering its Gripen NG as well as comprehensive industrial participation.
“Once we get the commitment from India to procure F-16, then we would begin a process where we’d bring our industry partners from India over to Greenville to help them learn and understand the production line,” says Carvalho. “Then we can replicate it in India. Basically as we ramp up the Indian production line and build airplanes for the Indian air force, we would make a logical decision about when we’d ramp down production in Greeneville, and put all production in India.”
Apart from supply F-16s for the Indian Air Force, the India line would also provide F-16s for any other international buyers that may emerge.