Military Aviation

Vietnam could buy the F-16 Block 70/72, the newest and most advanced Viper production configuration

Vietnam could buy the F-16 Block 70/72

In a deal that could irk China and sideline Russia, the Biden administration is in talks with Vietnam over an agreement for the largest arms transfer in history between the ex-Cold War adversaries, Reuters reports.

This historic agreement, if successfully concluded within the next year, has the potential to mark a significant milestone in the ever-evolving partnership between Washington and Hanoi.

The package includes the potential sale of advanced Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets to Vietnam, a move that comes amid escalating tensions between the Southeast Asian nation and Beijing, particularly in the hotly disputed South China Sea.

According to Alert 5, even though the deal is still in its early stages, these discussions are emblematic of the US intention to bolster its relationship with Vietnam, both in terms of security cooperation and economic ties. The potential ramifications of the agreement are immense, potentially reshaping the geopolitical landscape in the region.

Even though the deal may not come together, it was it was a key topic of Vietnamese-US official talks in Hanoi, New York and Washington over the past month.

The structuring of special financing terms for the acquisition of these advanced F-16 fighter jets is one of the key elements under consideration. Hanoi in fact could be helped in diversifying its sources of military hardware by means of this innovative approach to financing. Vietnam’s interest in American-made military equipment signals a strategic shift given that the nation is traditionally reliant on more cost-effective Russian-made arms.

The acquisition of F-16s by Vietnam would be a historic moment, as the Vietnamese Air Force has traditionally operated Russian-made fighters such as the Su-30, Su-27, and Su-22.

The F-16 Block 70/72

Washington is expected to offer the F-16 Block 70/72 “Viper” variant. The Block 70/72, offers unparalleled capabilities and will be flown by at least six countries beginning in the mid-2020s.

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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).

It is interesting to see if Vietnam will follow in the footsteps of Malaysia and Indonesia by incorporating both Russian and Western main fighter aircraft into its air force fleet.

From a logistical perspective, this move may pose challenges for Vietnamese military leaders but according to Defense Security Asia they could benefit from the experiences and advice of Malaysia and Indonesia, which have faced similar challenges when integrating two different fighter aircraft sources.

Supplies and spare parts for Russian-made arms harder to acquire

Noteworthy since an arms embargo was lifted in 2016 while Russia has supplied about 80% of Vietnam’s arsenal, US defense exports to Hanoi have been limited to coast guard ships and trainer aircraft.

Washington is optimistic that the country can shift a share of the defense budget over the long term to weapons from the US or its allies and partners, especially South Korea and India.

Even though the cost of the US weaponry is a major obstacle, as is training on the equipment (and is among the reasons the country has taken in less than $400 million of American arms over the past decade), a US official said that “Vietnamese officials are well aware that they need to spread the wealth. We need to lead the charge in helping Vietnam get what it needs.”

In the meantime, supplies and spare parts for Russian-made arms are getting harder to acquire because of the war in Ukraine that has also complicated Hanoi’s longstanding relationship with Moscow. Nonetheless, Vietnam is also actively in talks with Moscow over a new arms supply deal that could trigger US sanctions, Reuters has reported.

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Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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