Still sweet on 16

The Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) has become the first air arm in the world to receive a Block 70 production model of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Block 70 F-16

Handover: The deal is done as the first Block 70 F-16 is handed over in Greenville, South Carolina. Picture: Lockheed Martin.

On Friday March 10, Bahraini, American and Lockheed Martin officials celebrated the handover of the first Block 70 F-16D for the RBAF at Lockheed Martin’s factory in Greenville, South Carolina.

“This is the Falcon of the future – a shining example of how a legend can be reimagined for the modern world,” Lockheed Martin’s master of ceremonies intoned. “Coming soon to an airfield in the Kingdom of Bahrain.”

The agility and sheer kinematic performance of the F-16 Fighting Falcon remains extremely impressive – even by today’s standards, and the type remains a highly capable multi-role fighter.

The Block 70 represents a modernisation that adds state-of-the-art avionics, weapons systems, defensive aids and especially sensors – including a modern active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. This transforms the F-16 into a fighter that can meet the challenges of the 21st Century battlespace and offers many of the capabilities of the fifth-generation F-35 at a fraction of the cost.

The Block 70 is a new-build equivalent to the upgraded F-16V (for Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Greece, Bahrain, Morocco and Taiwan), and to the US Air Force’s upgraded F-16s.

It has an airframe cleared for a 12,000 flying hour life, and is fitted with a Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 scalable agile beam radar (SABR), an advanced AESA radar, plus other avionics, electronic warfare system and display enhancements.

One difference between the upgraded F-16V and the new-build Block 70/72 lies in its ejection seat; the new-build aircraft using Martin-Baker’s US18E seat in place of the Collins Aerospace advanced concept ejection seat (ACES II) used by all other F-16s (except the two YF-16 prototypes).

Greg Ullmer, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics executive vice president said: “The Kingdom of Bahrain has a unique history with the F-16. It was the first F-16 operator in the region and today we mark another first in our partnership together as the launch customer for the newest, most advanced Fighting Falcon, the Block 70.”

The F-16 Block 70 handed over is the first of 16 such aircraft for Bahrain (10 single-seat F-16Cs and six two-seat F-16Ds). It is the first new-build F-16 to be completed for four years,  following the move of the F-16 final assembly line from Fort Worth in Texas to Greenville in South Carolina.

The aircraft made its maiden flight on  January 24 this year with Lockheed Martin test pilots Dwayne ‘Pro’ Opella and Monessa ‘Siren’ Balzhiser (Lockheed Martin's first female F-16 and F-35 production and training pilot) at the helm.

The aircraft handed over will now undergo additional flight tests at Edwards Air Force Base before being delivered to Bahrain in 2024.

The 16 new-build Block 70 F-16s will be augmented by a $1 billion project to upgrade the RBAF’s 20 surviving Block 40 F-16Cs and F-16Ds to the F-16V standard.

Six countries have selected the Block 70/72 F-16, including: Bahrain, Slovakia, Morocco, Taiwan, Bulgaria and Jordan.

The two variants are identical, except that the Block 70 is powered by a General Electric F110-GE-129 turbofan, while the Block 72 uses a Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-229.

Major General Shaikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, the RBAF commander, said: “Under Peace Crown I and Peace Crown II, the RBAF obtained 22 F-16 Block 40 aircraft and today, under the Hamad Falcon programme, we became the first air force worldwide to obtain the first production Block 70.

“We are proud to be the first air force to own and operate the world’s first block 70 fighters – an aircraft second to none.

“The capabilities of the Block 70 Viper give us the edge against any foe, and will enhance Bahrain’s involvement in international coalition operations, playing a vital role and preserving world peace and stability.”

Jon Lake

Jon Lake

Jon is defence editor for both Arabian and African Aerospace magazines.