After a hiatus of about four years, Lockheed Martin has completed assembly of a new F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter. The Block 70/72 aircraft belongs to the Bahrain Air Force and was produced at the company’s new factory in Greenville, in South Carolina. The first flight of the fighter is scheduled for early 2023.
F-16 production was halted in 2018 at Lockheed Martin’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, to make room for the new assembly line for the F-35 Lightning II, which became the focus of the facility.
In the meantime, the US company has set up an additional plant in Greenville to continue production of the F-16. The unit opened in 2021.
According to Lockheed, the new production line in South Carolina is set to build at least another 128 Block 70/72 F-16s by the end of this decade for five customers.
In addition to Bahrain, the new F-16s will be assembled for Slovakia, Bulgaria, Taiwan and an as-yet-unidentified customer. Another country negotiating the acquisition of the fighter is Jordan, which plans to purchase eight aircraft.
Last variant of the F-16
The Block 70/72 is probably the last variant of the F-16, whose production should end definitively in mid-2030, when the US Air Force (USAF) intends to deactivate its aircraft – the most modern F-16s of the USAF are of the Block 50 variant, delivered until 2005.
The latest F-16s, however, may be the longest-lived in the series. One of the improvements included in the Block 70/72 are structural reinforcements that extend the useful life of the aircraft to 12,000 hours, 50% more than previous versions of the fighter. Therefore, fighter jets produced in this decade could remain in service until 2060 or beyond.
Other features in the updated version of the F-16 are the AESA (electronically scanned) radar, new electronic warfare suite, mission computer with greater processing capacity, renovated cockpit with larger and color displays, improved engine, inclusion of fuel tanks additional wings, ability to use more advanced weapons, among others.
Originally designed by General Dynamics, the F-16 first flew nearly 50 years ago on January 20, 1974. In 1993, the program was taken over by the then Lockheed Corporation, which would later change its name to Lockheed Martin, after merging with the Martin Marietta Corporation in 1995. Currently, the fighter is in service in 25 countries.