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F-16 Viper back in production

Bahrain has ordered 16 F-16 Viper Block 70/72 fighter aircraft, which has seen a resurgence in the well proven F-16. For those countries that can’t afford an F-35, the ‘New’ F-16, is considered to be the next best fighter available, especially in the block 70/72 configuration.

Images: Lockheed Martin

The first F-16A rolled out on the 20October 1976 for the United States Air Force, first flying on the 8 December, with the first two-seat model flying on the 8 August, the following year. The U.S. Air Force took delivery of its first F-16 in 1978.

The F-16 was initially designed in 1972 under an order for a “lightweight cost-effective air-to air fighter”. The F-16’s official name is actually “Fighting Falcon”, but “Viper” is more commonly used by its pilots and crew, due to a perceived resemblance to a viper snake.

In 2017, Lockheed Martin moved production of the F-16 Viper from its main manufacturing facility in Fort Worth, Texas, to its plant in Greenville, South Carolina. This came amid a growing focus on the F-35, which is still produced at Fort Worth, and what appeared at the time to be dwindling demand for the Viper.

According to Lockheed Martin, the Greenville production line already has a backlog of 128 F-16s, including the 16 for Bahrain. Additional Vipers are under construction for Slovakia, Bulgaria, Taiwan and another unspecified country.

The first F-16 Viper Block 70/72 completed the final assembly and checkout (FACO) and paint phases of its production and is now ready for its maiden flight.

O.J. Sanchez, Integrated Fighter Group Vice President and General Manager at Lockheed Martin described the roll-out in a post on LinkedIn as an “outstanding accomplishment,” and said “more to come and eyes forward!” 

Interest in the advanced Block 70/72 variants of the F-16 has surged and translated into significant orders for Lockheed Martin.

The Block 70/72 configuration is based on an advanced upgrade package that Lockheed Martin developed for older F-16 Vipers, with the first examples of entering service with Taiwan in 2021, re-designated as F-16Vs.

The new production Block 70/72 F-16s notably feature Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR), an active electronically scanned array type that is also being refitted to many older US Air Force F-16s. The advanced new-production Vipers also have a revised glass cockpit with new digital multi-function displays, updated mission computers, an advanced electronic warfare suite for self-defence, new data links, plus provisions for the (JHMCS) Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System.

The difference between the Block 70 and 72 sub-variants is the engine, with the former jets featuring the General Electric F110, with the latter are powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100. 

Other options are available in combination with the Block 70/72 configuration. The first Block 70 F-16 for Bahrain is a two-seat jet with an enlarged dorsal spine that accommodates additional avionics, communications systems and countermeasures equipment. Bahraini Block 70 F-16s, are also fitted with the external range-extending conformal fuel tanks.

Lockheed Martin said two years ago that it will move to a more standardised configuration for the new versions, dispensing with individual demands of specific needs for each customer. This will ensure production costs are reduced and production can be significantly ramped up.

Lockheed Martin expects Block 70/72 F-16 production to keep the plant busy into the mid-to-late 2020s.

The first of the new F-16s for Bahrain will be  turned over to the U.S. government in the first quarter of 2023, after which it will undergo flight testing at US Edwards Air Force Base in California. Then it will be delivered to the customer. This is a common process under The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process.

It is said that Lockheed Martin’s first female test pilot Monessa “Siren” Balzhiser, could be the one to take the first Bahraini F-16 Viper on its maiden flight.

To date over 4500 F-16s have been built, supplying aircraft for 26 nations around the world.

Block 70/72 Fast Facts

• Advanced APG-83 AESA radar

• Radar Mode improvements

• Upgraded Modular Mission Computer and avionics architecture

• Infrared Search and Track (IRST)

• Advanced datalink, targeting pod and weapons

• New cockpit displays and safety improvements

• New Digital Flight Control Computer with enhanced Autopilot/Auto Throttle

• Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS)

• Digital Intercommunications System with 3-D Audio

• Precision GPS navigation




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