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Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Still Competitive in Fighter Market

February 2, 2009

Fuerza Aerea de Chile)

Chile, the largest user of F-16 in Latin America with 44, has a mix fleet of F-16 MLU and F-16 Block 50 (Source: Fuerza Aerea de Chile)

NEWTOWN: The Lockheed Martin F-16 has been continually upgraded since production began decades ago, and the latest Block 50/52 and Block 60/E/F variants remain highly capable and affordable multirole fighters.

Lockheed Martin received an order from Morocco at the end of 2007, snatching the 24-aircraft order away from Dassault’s Rafale in a last minute effort. Lockheed Martin is able to be aggressive on pricing the F-16, and as in prior years the purchase of F-16s is one way of increasing a nation’s ties with the American defense establishment.

Other recent customers include Turkey, which executed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance for 30 aircraft during 2007 (consisting of 14 single-seat C models and 16 two-seat Ds). The Turkish aircraft will be assembled and delivered by TUSAS beginning in 2011. The new aircraft will replace about half the TuAF’s elderly F-4 fleet in the near term as the service waits for the new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II to arrive on the scene.

Greece ordered 30-unit Block 52+ F-16s in December 2005, but the Greek government later announced that it would not be exercising a 10-aircraft option under the deal and would be looking elsewhere to fill an ongoing requirement for another 30 fighters.

The Pakistani Air Force has ordered 18 new fighters through the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales program at the end of 2007. The order is part of a bigger deal to upgrade the PAF’s existing fleet of A/B model F-16s. Pakistan took an option to purchase an additional 18 fighters under the deal. Pakistan may exercise these options, but funding the purchase will be difficult at the same time the PAF is purchasing large numbers of Chengdu FC-1s. Ongoing political turmoil in the country could also cause further deliveries of F-16s to be blocked by the U.S. government.

Israel noted back in mid-2005 that it was considering additional purchases F-16 fighters if the F-35 program were to suffer further delays. Israel has also made noises about cutting its requirement for F-35s than expected.

Taiwan has long been expected to order 66 F-16s as part of an effort to recapitalize a portion of its fighter fleet, but domestic political wrangling has held up the process, along with the Bush administration’s seeming ambivalence to the deal. Washington is currently looking to China to cooperate on a number of security issues, including efforts to end the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. The Taiwanese Air Force’s plan to order 66 new F-16s will likely never reach fruition.

The F-16 also is in the running for a potentially huge order by the Indian Air Force, which issued a long-awaited Request for Proposals in August 2007 to fill a requirement for 126-200 new multirole fighters. The Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft program is intended to replace many of the service’s elderly MiG-21s. Competing against the F-16 are the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, the MiG-35, and the Saab Gripen. Among the Western-built aircraft, the F-16 and Gripen are single-engined fighters that provide a “low-cost” alternative to the heavier, twin-engined Super Hornet and Rafale. The MiG-35 is a follow-on to the MiG-29, which is already in service with the IAF.

The RFP was not made available to the public, and it is not clear from the outside what factors the IAF considers most important in selecting a new fighter. In making its selection, India can be expected to be wary of offending long-time supplier Russia, but the nation is currently in a period of warming relations with the U.S. government, and U.S. recognition of India’s right to develop its nuclear facilities may be rewarded by a large aircraft purchase.

Elsewhere, Lockheed Martin notes that “several customers” are showing high interest in the F-16E/F (formerly the Block 60 model developed for the United Arab Emirates), but many nations that would offer the best prospects for a new order are the same nations Lockheed Martin believes will be drawn to the F-35.

The F-35 was designed with the idea of supplanting the F-16 as the pre-eminent “affordable” multirole fighter in the western and Asian defense markets. Looking ahead, and Lockheed Martin may find itself in the same position as Dassault when the latter was offering customers both the Mirage 2000 and Rafale at the same time. Offering two aircraft that compete against each other may become an undesirable position for Lockheed Martin, or the F-16 may continue to be offered to customers that cannot afford the expected higher cost of the F-35.

Forecast International’s projections call for production of the F-16 out to 2016, but additional orders could well extend production out several more years.

Eastern Europe has shown an affinity for cheap, single-engine fighters in recent years as countries in the region look to meet NATO responsibilities without breaking their limited defense budgets. Romania and Bulgaria is reported to be interested in acquiring 16 fighters, and the F-16 and Gripen are prime contenders for orders from these nations. Romania is looking for 48 fighters to replace 100 MiG-21s in its inventory. Funding is an obstacle, however. The near-term costs of the acquisition could be reduced by purchasing a mixture of new and refurbished aircraft or signing a lease deal.

The continuing interest in Lockheed Martin’s F-16 is keeping GE and Pratt & Whitney busy building F110 and F100 engines for export orders, while both companies are developing engines for 5th generation fighters like the F-22 and F-35.

Overall, production during the 2009-2018 forecast period is projected to total 215 aircraft.

Source: Forecast International via Defense Talk

Links: Forecast International

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