The US State Department has approved the sale of 19 Lockheed Martin F-16V aircraft to Bahrain, offering a critical lifeline to the Falcon’s production line.
The possible $2.78 billion sale would include 19 aircraft equipped with Northrop Grumman APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. Bahrain plans to integrate the new aircraft into their existing fleet of 20 Block 40 F-16s. The State Department's 8 September announcement also included a potential $1 billion contract with Lockheed Martin to upgrade Bahrain existing fleet of 20 Block 40 F-16 aircraft to the F-16V configuration, including AESA radar, navigation systems and F-16V simulators.
The potential sale could save the dwindling F-16 line, which faces the risk of shuttering at the end of this year unless the company nabs enough foreign sales. The company made an aggressive pitch at the Paris air show this summer, with the announcement that Lockheed would partner with with Tata Advanced Systems on Block 70 F-16 production. However, Lockheed made clear it would only consummate that partnership if it wins the contract in India.
Lockheed has planned to move F-16 production from its Ft. Worth, Texas facility, which has expanded to accommodate the growing F-35 Joint Strike Fighter line, to its location in Greenville, South Carolina. That move could leverage some commonality between the F-16 and Lockheed’s Greenville-based T-50 trainer, its bid for the US Air Force’s T-X competition. The Lockheed and Korea Aerospace Industries trainer inherits the basic shape, flight controls and wing from the F-16.
Still, the Greenville facility would only perform Falcon production with Bahrain’s order in hand. Meanwhile, Lockheed is pursuing F-16 sales in Indonesia and Colombia, which could also sustain the line.