Lockheed Martin announced that it had begun production on the first F-16 Block 70 for the Royal Bahraini Air Force on 17 December. The announcement came after Shaikh Abdullah bin Rashed Al Khalifa, ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States, visited the new F-16 production line at Lockheed Martin’s new plant in Greenville, South Carolina.
Bahrain is the launch customer of the F-16 Block 70, with 16 airframes ordered. The Royal Bahraini Air Force’s 20 F-16 Block 40s are to be upgraded to Block 70 standard as well. The Foreign Military Sale to Bahrain was approved in 2017, with the production contract being awarded in July 2018.
Bridget Lauderdale, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Integrated Fighter Group, commented on the beginning of production:
‘Lockheed Martin’s partnership with Bahrain began more than 40 years ago and it continues today with the F-16. Bahrain was the first country in the Gulf region to acquire the F-16 and the first customer in the world to procure the advanced F-16 Block 70.’
The F-16 Block 70 is a derivative of the F-16V configuration currently available for new build F-16s or upgrades. It features the AN/APG-83 AESA radar and conformal fuel tanks like the F-16V. However, the Block 70 features structural upgrades not present on the F-16V that allow for significant extension of the airframe’s lifespan, with Lockheed Martin claiming a lifespan nearly 50 percent longer than that of previous F-16s. Another new feature of the Block 70 is the Center Pedestal Display, a high-resolution and night vision compatible 6×8-inch screen that allows for better display of tactical data to the pilot.
Other export customers for the F-16 Block 70 include Bulgaria, Slovakia and Taiwan. Morocco is purchasing Block 72 F-16s, a twin seat version of the Block 70. Indonesia seeks to purchase Block 72s as well, but has yet to receive Foreign Military Sale approval. Another derivative of the Block 70 optimized for Indian local assembly and technology transfer requirements, the F-21, is currently being offered to India for their rebooted Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program.