Lockheed Martin delivers first F-16 Block 70 fighter jet to Bahrain

Lockheed Martin delivers first F-16 Block 70 fighter jet to Bahrain

The Royal Bahraini Air Force has taken delivery of a first of 16 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 fighter jets in Greenville, S.C., during a ceremony held last week to mark the occasion, reported the website breaking defense, quoting a press release by Lockheed.

The first batch of four aircraft are expected to actually arrive in Bahrain by the first half of 2024, and all 16 contracted jets will be in the Gulf country by 2025. Bahrain was the first Gulf Cooperation Council member to receive F-16s in the 1990s and now becomes the first to receive Block 70 aircraft, according to Lockheed.

At the delivery ceremony, Commander of the Royal Bahraini Air Force Maj. Gen. Shaikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Khalifah, said, “This advanced capability will enhance Bahrain’s involvement in the international coalition playing a vital role in preserving peace and stability. The Royal Air Force is proud to be first Air Force to own Block 70 fighters.”

“The purchase of these block 70 F-16s will essentially double the size of Bahrain’s F-16 fleet and represents a significant upgrade in their force size,” said senior MENA analyst at RANE Network Ryan Bohl. “They are also modern aircraft that will be more capable of dealing with potential threats like drones from Iran.”

After Bahrain acquired the aircraft, other countries in the region “will be encouraged by this transfer,” Bohl said.

The first Bahraini F-16 Block 70 jet took its maiden flight on Jan. 24, 2023 and has been ordered by six countries, with Jordan signing most recently a letter of intent for 12 jets.

Sal Jafar, senior public policy expert in the MENA region, also said that the Block 70 deal to Bahrain is likely to increase demand for the aircraft.

“Today’s delivery is a continuation of the region’s next phase of F-16 [modernization], starting with UAE’s fourth generation [Block 60] jets, Bahrain and Jordan Block 70 programs, reflecting the USA’s solid strategic commitment towards its allies,” he explained. “This would also accelerate plans for potential uplift of F-16s in Egypt and Morocco.”

Bohl stressed that the Bahrain F-16 Block 70 fleet could also deter Iranian aggression.

“They will be better capable of intercepting drones and ballistic missiles that may emerge from Iran either as part of a harassment campaign or in a more cataclysmic regional war scenario,” he said. “[Secondly] if it is true that Iran is about to purchase advanced SU-35 [fighter jets] from Russia then these F-16s will help provide an offset to such an increase in Iran’s conventional air force capabilities.”

The new version of the F-16’s are expected to “significantly elevate the skills of Bahraini and Jordanian pilots, further enriching inter-regional training, knowledge sharing and cooperation at the highest levels,” Jafar said.

He added that the fighter jets provide additional security against modern threats, offering operational capabilities much sooner than F-35 fifth-generation fighters could bring.

In 2018, Lockheed was awarded a $1.1 billion contract by the US government to produce 16 Block-70 fighters for Bahrain, the first customer to acquire what Lockheed called the “newest and most advanced F-16 production configuration.”

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