Lockheed Martin targets Bulgarian Air Force in latest sell of Greenville-built fighter jet

Lockheed Martin F-16 Greenville
Photo provided

Although Lockheed Martin spokesperson, Leslie Farmer, told the Upstate Business Journal “it is premature to speculate on production and delivery,” the aerospace and defense company’s Greenville location will supply the Bulgarian government with the F-16 Block-70 fighter jet.

Defense News reported last week the global company would deliver eight fighter jets and related equipment worth $1.3 billion. The F-16 was originally built in Texas before the production line of the fighter jet’s new home was unveiled in Greenville County in April.

Farmer said Lockheed’s Upstate facility has a highly skilled, technical workforce and a proven record of performance.

“That tradition will continue with the F-16,” she said. “Greenville has the capacity and experience to produce the jets for our international customers and allies.”

In purchasing the American-made fighter jets, the Bulgarian Air Force plans to replace its outdated Soviet-designed MiG-29’s.

Bulgarian Defense Minister, Krasimir Karakachanov, told Defense News the cabinet hoped U.S. lawmakers could reduce the final price by $60 million.

Of the eight aircraft, six fighter jets will be supplied in a one-seat variant and two in a two-seat variant. Deliveries are scheduled for completion by 2023.

In addition to supplying the Bulgarian Air Force, the Greenville County plant will begin churning out fighter jets in December for a growing list of clients around the globe.

Farmer said Bahrain became the first F-16 Block-70 customer in June 2018 after ordering 16 aircraft, while Slovakia signed a Letter of Agreement for 14 jets that December.

“With plans to procure an additional eight aircraft, Bulgaria is currently determining the details of their planned purchase,” she said.

In March 2019, the U.S. State Department approved the proposed sale of 25 new F-16 Block-70 aircraft and F-16V upgrades for Morocco.

Farmer said, “Lockheed is also in discussions with other international customers about new F-16 production orders and F-16V upgrades.”

The total value of these contracts is determined at the government-to-government level and often include elements outside the aircraft purchase such as weapon systems, support services and pilot training, she said.

Will the Upstate see a spike in defense suppliers?

While Don Myers, SC Aerospace’s newest Chair and Director of Aerospace Sales at Toray Composite Materials, cautioned the F-16 supply chain is well established, he said “it would not surprise me if moving the production to Greenville will have some natural effects.”

It is common to have suppliers locate near production and final assembly these days, he said. “The OEM’s see an advantage to having some critical components and processes nearby.”

While industry pro’s doubt a major shift in the supply chain, they do point to local firms as having the greatest chance to link with one of the large OEM’s.

“Having the F-16 built here may offer a unique opportunity to tap into the defense sector,” Myers said. Farmer added Lockheed “will continuously evaluate supplier opportunities as additional F-16 production orders drive corresponding changes to the geographical footprint of the fighter jet’s supply chain.”

Currently, South Carolina is home to 400 aerospace firms in the private sector while employing more than 22,000 and generating 5,200 jobs between 2011 and 2018 alone. When including the Palmetto State’s military facilities, the employee numbers balloon to 55,000 and the aerospace cluster’s sum economic output revs to nearly $25 billion annually.


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