White House approves Greenville production of 19 F-16 fighter jets

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An F-16 pilot from the 169th Fighter Wing, South Carolina Air National Guard, flies a training mission over the North Carolina coast. U.S. Air Force photo by SMSgt Thomas Meneguin.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is a step closer to making at least 19 of its F-16 fighter jets in Greenville now that the White House has formally approved the sale of the jets to Bahrain.

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced Sept. 8 that it had given Congress formal notification of the proposed $2.78 billion deal.

Under the federal government’s process for selling arms to foreign governments, the Trump administration will be able to proceed with the sale unless Congress objects within 30 days.

While Congress has the power to block a proposed arms sale to a foreign government, it has not successfully done so since the 1980s, according to David McKeeby, a spokesman with the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, an arm of the State Department that is involved in the process.

If there’s no objection from Congress, U.S. military officials will hammer out a contract with Bahrain and work with Lockheed to complete it, McKeeby said.

Lockheed earlier this year disclosed plans to move F-16 production from Fort Worth, Texas, to the 16-hangar complex in southern Greenville County where the defense contractor has refurbished military aircraft since 1984.

It’s not clear, however, who’s going to buy Greenville-made F-16s after the 19 are delivered to Bahrain.

Lockheed has said it’s hoping to sell the latest-generation F-16 to India in a deal that could reportedly involve up to 200 aircraft.

But it has also said that any F-16s sold to India would be made in India through a partnership with Tata Group, a big Indian industrial conglomerate.

F-16 production would transfer from Greenville to India in the mid 2020s if Lockheed wins the Indian work, company executives have said.

Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed says it expects other future customers for the F-16.

Lockheed may end up making a different supersonic military aircraft at its Greenville complex.

The company has said it would perform final assembly of the South Korea-made T50A in Greenville if it wins a contract to supply 350 jets to the U.S. Air Force for training fighter pilots.

Lockheed Martin is competing with a Boeing/Saab alliance for that multibillion-dollar contract, as well as an Italian company called Leonardo.

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