US defense giant Lockheed Martin has opened a new production line to build F-16 fighter jets in South Carolina to meet a renewed demand from United States’ allies, the US Air Force announced on Tuesday.
“To support the growing demand for new F-16 Fighting Falcon from partner nations, the US Air Force has teamed with Lockheed Martin Corp. to open a new production line to build the F-16 Block 70/72 fighter aircraft at the company’s facility in Greenville, South Carolina,” the Air Force News Service said in a report.
Launched in 2019, the operation is now the only production facility for F-16s in the world, opening three years after Lockheed Martin’s long-time F-16 line in Fort Worth, Texas, ceased production, the report said.
“Recently, and on behalf of five foreign military partners, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. approximately $14 billion, to build 128 F-16s at the facility through 2026,” the report added.
“This new production line is very significant,” said Col. Brian Pearson, integrated product team lead for F-16 foreign military sales, with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, which is leading the effort to build and deliver the new F-16s.
“There are 25 nations operating F-16s today, and they have a lot of expertise with the airframe. The line helps us meet the global demand that a number of nations have for [F-16] aircraft and gives us the additional capability to provide the aircraft to countries interested in purchasing it for the first time.”
The first F-16s are expected to roll off the production line in 2022, and production is expected to increase after the first year. The aircraft will be delivered to multiple foreign military partners, including Bahrain, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Taiwan, and others, many of whom have expressed interest beyond the first deliveries.
More aircraft are expected to be built in the upcoming years, and there are requests for F-16s under review from additional foreign military partners.
“Since the LM production line opened, AFSAC [AFLCMC’s Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate] has seen an uptick of our partner nations requesting detailed information and requests for U.S. government sales,” said Col. Anthony Walker, International Division senior materiel leader. “We are excited about the new workload and increased opportunity to deliver airpower capabilities that strengthen international partnerships and advance national security.”
In addition to leading efforts to field new F-16s, the Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate is also modernizing 405 F-16s – operated by four partner nations – with the V-Configuration, which consists of new radar and other upgrades to make them similar to the aircraft that will come off the production line.
“F-16s are operational across the globe and are a key capability fortifying the security of our international partners,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, Fighters and Advanced Aircraft program executive officer.
“Every F-16 we equip our foreign partners with improves their ability to defend their interests and support our mutual security interests. The caliber and talent of our foreign military sales program office teams is top-notch, and their impact is felt globally.
The F-16 is an enduring, highly capable compact fighter that will have a large role in many partner nations’ security for years to come.”