The F-16 Block 70, destined for Bahrain, should be accepted by the US government early in 2023.
As the photo in this post shows, in preparation for first flight early in 2023, the first F-16 Viper of the Block 70/72 configuration has rolled out of Lockheed Martin’s Greenville, S.C., after having completed final assembly and checkout (FACO) and painting there on Nov. 21, 2022, Air & Space Forces Magazine reports. The factory is geared up to build at least 128 more of the jets through the end of this decade.
The aircraft, destined for Bahrain, should be accepted by the US government early in 2023. It will undergo flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), Calif., before it’s delivered under the Foreign Military Sales program.
According to Lockheed Martin five countries are on contract for the Block 70/72: Bahrain, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Taiwan, and “one other.” Jordan has also signed a letter of offer and acceptance for eight aircraft; when awarded, that contract will bring the backlog to 136 aircraft. Bulgaria has also begun the process of buying additional aircraft. A Lockheed Martin spokesperson said that Greenville has “multiple other jets” in various stages of work. A company spokesperson also added that the rate of work on Block 70s under construction at Greenville will “increase significantly” in fiscal 2023, building to a production rate of up to four aircraft per month.
In January Lockheed Martin got an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract worth up to $64.3 billion for production of new F-16s for FMS customers as well as upgrades of 405 jets in foreign hands to the F-16V configuration, if all potential work materializes.
F-16 production in Greenville enables Lockheed Martin to meet the growing international demand for new F-16s and increase F-35 production in Fort Worth, Texas. Launched on Veterans Day 2019 and now the global home of the F-16, Greenville Site Operations provides the F-16 with total lifecycle support – from the production line of the newest and most advanced F-16 to being the first industry F-16 depot in the continental US for sustainment support services. Moroccan F-16s, for example, will get an upgrade to Block 70/72 configuration at the plant. F-16 production orders between now and the mid-2020s, potentially even longer, will be completed in Greenville.
According to Air Force Magazine, Slovakia is planning to acquire 70 Block 70/72 F-16s, and that country has offered to give a dozen of its retiring MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine. However, sources have reported that Ukraine has sought to buy F-16s of its own. There has been discussion of providing F-16s from U.S. stocks to Ukraine, but no firm plans have been announced.
“This new production line is very significant,” said last year Col. Brian Pearson, integrated product team lead for F-16 foreign military sales, with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, which is leading the effort to build and deliver the new F-16s. “There are 25 nations operating F-16s today, and they have a lot of expertise with the airframe. The line helps us meet the global demand that a number of nations have for [F-16] aircraft and gives us the additional capability to provide the aircraft to countries interested in purchasing it for the first time.”
The USAF indicated last year that according to its “4+1” fighter roadmap, it plans to keep flying the F-16 well into the 2030s, assuring potential buyers of a strong pipeline for parts and support into the next decade. As already reported, the US Air Force (USAF) has decided to modify 608 Block 40 and 50 jets to that standard. In one of the largest modernization efforts in the USAF history, 608 F-16s – comprised of Blocks 40 and 50 – will undergo up to 22 modifications designed to improve lethality and ensure the fourth-generation fighter remains effective in meeting current and future threats. The service has also apparently dropped plans for an F-16 replacement.
The USAF F-16s are being fitted with active electronically-scanned array radars to expand the sensing range of the aircraft, the number of targets it can track, and the modes with which it can prosecute ground targets.
The jets will also get a host of other upgrades such as a new EW (electronic warfare) which, along with the radar, are the big mods being done on the fighter.
Most of the Air Force’s F-16s will also eventually wear the “Have Glass” finish, which substitutes a new radar-absorbing coating for the jet’s traditional gray-on-gray paint scheme.
While Lockheed Martin has tooled for four aircraft a month, “we are always evaluating and looking at ways to increase production to meet customer needs,” the spokesperson said.
“New digital engineering technologies have been implemented into the production line to maximize efficiency and decrease span time. Additionally, we have added more suppliers for certain components, such as our Johnstown, Pennsylvania, facility, to allow us to meet current program needs and future opportunities for new production F-16s,” she said.
The F-16A, a single-seat model, first flew in December 1976. The first operational F-16A was delivered in January 1979 to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
The F-16B, a two-seat model, has tandem cockpits that are about the same size as the one in the A model.
All F-16s delivered since November 1981 have built-in structural and wiring provisions and systems architecture that permit expansion of the multirole flexibility to perform precision strike, night attack and beyond-visual-range interception missions. This improvement program led to the F-16C and F-16D aircraft, which are the single- and two-place counterparts to the F-16A/B.
The Block 70/72 is the newest and most advanced F-16 production configuration, combining numerous capability and structural upgrades.
The F-16 Block 70/72 in fact combines capability upgrades, most notably the advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar with a new avionics architecture, and structural upgrades to extend the structural life of the aircraft by more than 50 percent beyond that of previous production F-16 aircraft. F-16 Block 70/72 software takes advantage of technologies not available when earlier Block F-16s were developed and produced. Operational capabilities are enhanced through an advanced datalink, targeting pod and weapons; precision GPS navigation and the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS).
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin