Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

After lengthy negotiations, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has signed "contractual agreements" to purchase 80 Lockheed Martin Block 60 F-16s. The deal is worth $6.4 billion to the US company, plus$1.5 billion to the US Government, which will supply weapons and support.

The long-awaited agreement boosts Lockheed Martin's prospects of selling advanced F-16s, as the UAE contract underwrites development of an active-array radar, internal infrared sensor and electronic warfare systems.

The Gulf state selected the F-16 in May 1998, at which time deliveries were expected to begin in 2002. Protracted negotiations with the US Government over technology releasability delayed contract signature. Deliveries are due between 2004 and 2007. UAE aircraft will be known as Desert Falcons.

The Block 60 aircraft incorporates the active-array Agile Beam Radar (ABR), internal forward-looking infrared and targeting system (IFTS) and integrated electronic warfare system (IEWS) - all developed by Northrop Grumman.

The ABR will simultaneously perform air-to-air and air-to-ground functions, including multitarget tracking, synthetic-aperture radar imaging and terrain following. The IFTS will detect and track air and ground targets and provide laser ranging and designation. The IEWS integrates a wideband receiver and digital jammer.

The UAE aircraft will have an increased maximum take-off weight of 22,680kg (50,000lb) and uprated, 32,000lb-thrust (142kN) engine from General Electric or Pratt & Whitney. Conformal fuel tanks and 2,275 litre (600USgal) underwing tanks will increase range by up to 50% over the Block 50 F-16. Some elements of the Block 60 configuration will be exclusive to the UAE, according to the company.

Meanwhile, Netherlands armed forces sources say the UAE is interested in former Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16s and that negotiations for 20 are at an advanced state.

The RNLAF retired some F-16s with the shrinkage of European forces following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Fokker Woensdrecht would update the F-16s with the European Mid-Life Update and the UAE would use the aircraft to gain experience of the F-16 before the Block 60s are delivered.

Source: Flight International