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Lockheed's blockbusters

Posted 12 February 2019 · Add Comment

Lockheed Martin has received a $1.12 billion contract from the US Government to produce 16 new advanced F-16 Block 70 fighters for the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF). Jon Lake reports.

This sale makes Bahrain the first country to procure the newest F-16V – or Block 70 configuration – as a new build aircraft. Taiwan was the launch customer for an F-16V upgrade.
Lockheed Martin is offering the F-16V as both new-build machines and as an upgrade to older Block 40/50 aircraft.
The upgrade could be applied to earlier aircraft, but the process would be more invasive and might not be cost-effective for high-time aircraft, the company said, although Taiwan is upgrading 144 Block 20 F-16A/Bs to F-16V standards.
The F-16, officially known as the Fighting Falcon, has long been nicknamed the Viper, and that same Viper name has now been formally chosen by Lockheed Martin for the new variant.
Bahrain submitted a request for up to 19 further F-16s to the US Congress for approval in September 2016, but this was initially blocked by the White House on human rights grounds.
The US State Department finally approved the sale of 19 Block 70 Lockheed Martin F-16V aircraft to Bahrain in September 2017. At the same time, approval was given to upgrade Bahrain’s existing fleet of 20 Block 40 F-16C/D aircraft to the same standard. The two separate contracts had a combined value of $3.86 billion.
Bahrain originally acquired 12 F-16C Fighting Falcons (including four two-seat F-16Ds) under the Peace Crown programme in 1990, and received 10 more (all single-seaters) under Peace Crown II in 2000.
Two aircraft have been lost in service, one of them while supporting the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in December 2015.
The aircraft are used as multi-role tactical fighters. In the air defence role, they are armed with Sidewinder and AMRAAM missiles, while they are also able to use 500lb GBU-12 and 2,000lb GBU-10 laser-guided bombs, as well as TV-guided AGM-65B and IR-guided AGM-65G Maverick missiles in the air-to-ground role.
Lockheed Martin AN/AAQ-14 Sharpshooter low-altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night (LANTIRN) targeting pods can also be carried.
Cost-reduction measures forced Bahrain to scale back its procurement from 19 to 16 aircraft by the time a Bahraini letter of agreement was received in late 2017, while the status of the proposed upgrade of its existing F-16Cs and F-16Ds remains uncertain.
Despite this cutback, the sale came at the right time for Lockheed Martin, which had not received an F-16 letter of acceptance from December 2012, when Iraq bought a second batch of 18 aircraft.
The final jet for Iraq was also the last F-16 to be built at Fort Worth (‘Cowtown’), and it was delivered on November 14 2017. This brought to an end 40 years of F-16 production at the plant, during which Fort Worth delivered 3,620 F-16s, of the 4,588 aircraft built – the remainder being built by Fokker and SABCA in the Netherlands and Belgium, KAI/Samsung in Korea and TAI in Turkey.
The Bahraini order represented “Lockheed’s pass to keep its F-16 production line open for the next three to five years”, according to one senior RBAF officer, effectively facilitating further exports, since it is easier to sell from a ‘hot’ production line.
That production line will no longer be located at Fort Worth, however. Instead, Lockheed will produce the 16 aircraft on a new production line in Greenville, South Carolina, which is also home to the company’s T-50 trainer programme. The Bahraini aircraft will be the first F-16s to be produced at the new facility, with deliveries expected from 2021.
Orlando Carvalho, executive vice-president of aeronautics at Lockheed Martin, said the company had: “kept the supply chain sufficiently warm to enable the re-start of the production for Bahrain. Now that Bahrain has committed, we are fully moving forward with standing up the line again, energising the supply base to provide all the components.”
The Block 70 F-16V, purchased by Bahrain, is the latest variant of the Fighting Falcon. It draws much of its technology from the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, offering advanced combat capabilities in a scalable and affordable package, with a modern commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based open architecture avionics system with a high-volume, high-speed data bus to facilitate further upgrades and weapons and systems integration.
The F-16V combines new technology with a host of features that have already been incorporated in the latest F-16s and F-16 upgrades, including conformal fuel tanks, an advanced helmet-mounted sight, the Sniper advanced targeting pod (ATP), and Link 16 datalink. It also addresses some obsolescence or diminishing manufacturing sources (DMS) issues, replacing those systems that might become harder to support in years to come.
The F-16V also incorporates structural upgrades to extend the life of the aircraft and the new variant has a 50% longer airframe life than previous variants (12,000 flying hours compared to 8,000 hours).
The aircraft has a revised, fully night vision imaging system (NVIS)-compatible cockpit with two 4-inch square side displays and a 6- by 8-inch high resolution centre pedestal display.
But, most notably, the F-16V is the first of its type with an active electronically scanned array (AESA or E-scan) radar. This is the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 scalable agile beam radar (SABR), an advanced AESA radar based on technology from the F-35’s APG-81, with which it shares greater than 90% software commonality and more than 70% hardware commonality.
The APG-83 radar has greater detection and tracking ranges, and can simultaneously track more than 20 air-to-air targets. It offers high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) mapping and can simultaneously interweave air-to-air and air-to-surface modes, while being able to operate in dense radio frequency (RF) environments.
With fewer moving parts and an ability to function with some degraded transmit receive modules, it has been estimated that the solid-state AN/APG-83 radar will be three-to-five times more reliable than legacy mechanically scanned radars.
The F-16V prototype (a converted Taiwanese Block 20 aircraft, 93-0702) made its maiden flight on October 16 2015, joining a US Air Force Block 40 F-16D (87-0392), which served as an AN/APG-83 radar testbed. Lockheed Martin is now more than two years into the flight-test phase of the programme.
Randy Howard, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 business development executive, said customer interest in the F-16V remains strong, particularly now that the F-16V programme is well into its flight-test phase, with a launch customer for the type and a hot production line at Greenville. “We’re seeing a remarkable resurgence in interest in the F-16. A lot of it has to do with the Block 70.”
Not every air force needs or can afford the Joint Strike Fighter – and some are unlikely to be cleared to purchase F-35s. In such cases, the F-16 Block 70 could be the most interoperable alternative available to US allies, giving it an edge over rivals like the Saab JAS39 Gripen.
The Slovak Republic has requested the sale of 14 advanced Lockheed Martin F-16V Block 70/72 Fighting Falcon fighters to replace its ageing Mikoyan MiG-29 ‘Fulcrums’ and Lockheed believes that there is a realistic prospect of selling more than 400 extra new-build F-16Vs in the coming years. The company is offering the type in Bulgaria, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and Poland.
Lockheed Martin, teamed with Tata Advanced Systems, has offered to move the production line to India, if the F-16 is selected. An Indian production line would then provide F-16s for any further international buyers that may emerge, perhaps with lower Indian labour costs allowing a price reduction.
Nearly 3,000 of the 4,588 F-16s built remain operational in 25 countries, providing a huge potential market for the F-16V as an upgrade configuration.
Howard has said that there are already four F-16V upgrade programmes under way, covering more than 400 aircraft. These include upgrades for Taiwan (144 aircraft), South Korea (134) and Greece (85).

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