One of the most popular fighters in the US military aircraft industry, with 4,604 units produced, the iconic F-16 Fighting Falcon will return to series production by Lockheed Martin starting next year, the manufacturer’s chief financial officer, Jesus Malave, revealed to Reuters.
Production of the aircraft was halted in 2018 at Lockheed Martin’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, making room for the new F-35 fighter assembly line, which became the focus of the facility.
In the meantime, the US company has set up a new factory in Greenville, South Carolina, to continue production of the F-16. The facility opened last year.
According to Malave, the first examples of the new batches of the F-16 (Block 70/72) will be delivered in 2024. The company still has a backlog of almost 130 orders for the fighter from various customers, including the air forces of Bahrain, Taiwan, Slovakia – other potential buyers are Bulgaria and Jordan.
The resumption of production of the F-16 scheduled for 2023 will take place with about a year delay. According to Lockheed Martin’s CFO, the delay was due to difficulty in hiring the new workforce and training employees, which he called a “small challenge” for the company beyond what was expected.
“There’s a lot of interest in the aircraft,” Malave said, adding that the unit in Greenville should likely be able to finish up to three F-16s a month.
Originally designed by General Dynamics, the F-16 first flew nearly 50 years ago, on January 20, 1974, in what might be considered an “accidental takeoff”.
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.