A routine disclosure by the US Department of Defense reveals the UAE has increased the size and scope of a potential Lockheed Martin F-16 order, which now includes a mysterious “Block 61” designation.
The UAE government is continuing to negotiate a direct commercial sale with Lockheed, but the number of fighters in discussion has increased from 25 to 30, according to a Defense Security Cooperation Agency notice to Congress posted on 24 January.
The DSCA normally does not become involved in commercial sales, but the potential F-16 deal with the UAE could include support equipment that must be covered under a foreign military sale that requires congressional notification. The $270 million price tag of the proposed support equipment pales in comparison to the value of the commercial sale of the fighters.
Last April, a senior defence official who briefed reporters said that a sale of 25 F-16s to the UAE could be worth slightly less than $5 billion.
The UAE is now negotiating to buy 30 F-16s, the new DSCA notice says. If the average cost of the fighters remains about $200 million, the value of the deal could rise by nearly $1 billion with five more aircraft.
The DSCA notice describes the new F-16s as “Block 61” aircraft. Lockheed was not immediately available to describe how the Block 61 is different than the 80 F-16 Block 60s purchased by the UAE more than a decade ago.
The Block 60 is configured with General Electric F110-GE-132 engines, Northrop Grumman APG-80 agile beam radars and a Northrop electronic warfare system.
Lockheed and now BAE Systems are now offering upgraded F-16 configurations that include two options for an active electronically scanned array (AESA) – the Northrop scaleable agile beam radar (SABR) and the Raytheon active combat radar (RACR).
The DSCA notice also notes that the proposed commercial sale includes an upgrade package for the UAE’s existing F-16 Block 60 fleet, but does not provide any details.
The UAE had selected Dassault to supply the Rafale fighter to replace more than 60 Mirage 2000s. As pricing negotiations dragged on, the UAE was understood to split the order between the Rafale or the Eurofighter Typhoon and a second batch of F-16s.
Eurofighter confirmed recently that the Typhoon is no longer in consideration by the UAE, leaving only the Rafale in the running to claim the majority of the Mirage 2000 replacement.