Lockheed Martin to produce new F-16 fighter jets in Greenville

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A rendering shows the F-16 Block 70 that will be built for Bahrain at Lockheed Martins facility in Greenville. Photo by PRNewsfoto/Lockheed Martin Aeronautics

The latest version of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 fighter jet will be built in the Upstate.

The Maryland-based aerospace and defense company announced on Tuesday, June 26, that it has received a $1.12 billion contract from the U.S. government to produce 16 advanced F-16 Block 70 Fighting Falcons for the Royal Bahraini Air Force.

Lockheed said production of the fighter jets will take place at its 16-hangar facility at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center in southern Greenville County.

“We value our long-standing relationship with the Kingdom of Bahrain and look forward to beginning production activities on their first Block 70 aircraft at our facility in Greenville,” Susan Ouzts, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 program, said in a news release. “This sale highlights the significant, growing demand we see for new production of F-16s around the globe.”

As the Upstate Business Journal reported, Lockheed announced plans last year to relocate its F-16 production line from Fort Worth, Texas, to Greenville to accommodate the F-35, a fifth-generation fighter jet with stealth capabilities.

Don Erickson, site director for Lockheed’s Greenville operations, said the company plans to modify an existing 110,000-square-foot hangar and hire up to 200 people during the third quarter of 2018 to support the F-16 contract.

Production will begin with one aircraft a month but could expand to two a month should Lockheed sell the F-16 Block 70 to other countries, Erickson added. The company is currently anticipating orders from Indonesia and Colombia.

Lockheed is also working to secure a contract with the Indian government that would reportedly involve the purchase of 200 fighter jets.

The company’s Greenville facility would assemble some of the initial aircraft if the deal happens, according to spokesperson John Losinger. The remaining work, however, would probably occur in India due to a partnership between Lockheed and the aerospace and defense arm of the Tata Group, India’s leading global enterprise.

The contract would also allow India to export its F-16s, which means India could end up competing with Lockheed’s Greenville operations for any work to upgrade about 3,200 F-16s currently in use by various countries, according to Defense News.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy in Fairfax, Va., told the Upstate Business Journal last year that he doesn’t expect Greenville to produce many of the supersonic jets. “The F-16’s only real hope for a sustainable line is an India order, and that means building in India,” he said.

Nonetheless, Lockheed expects its F-16 production line to generate strong sales over the coming years. The company’s first-quarter sales in aeronautics jumped $278 million, or 7 percent, to $4.4 billion in part due to higher volume on modernization activities for the F-16 program.

Lockheed said the F-16 Block 70 aircraft is fitted with advanced avionics, a proven active electronically scanned array radar, advanced weapons, conformal fuel tanks, and an automatic ground collision avoidance system. It also features an upgraded cockpit and advanced engine, as well as an extended structural service life of 12,000 hours.

To date, a total of 4,604 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets have been purchased by 28 customers worldwide, according to Air Force Technology. About 3,000 of those aircraft are flying today.

“Lockheed Martin has more than 36 years of weapon-integration experience with the F-16,” according to the company’s website. “No other organization can match this weapons-integration experience. In concert with the U.S. Air Force and multiple F-16 Foreign Military Sales customers, Lockheed Martin has certified more than 3,300 carriage and release configurations for greater than 180 weapon and store types. Our experience as a weapon integrator has enabled the F-16 to be one of the most versatile multirole fighters ever.”

For more information, visit lockheedmartin.com.

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