Lockheed Martin formally rolled out the first dual-seat F-16D Block 70 Fighting Falcon for the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) during a ceremony at the firm’s production facility in Greenville, South Carolina, on March 10.
The official rollout came just over a month after the multi-role fighter completed its first flight from Lockheed Martin’s Greenville facility – where production of new-build F-16s has taken place since 2019 – on January 24. This advanced, two-seat F-16D Block 70 is the first new-build Fighting Falcon to be built at the Greenville plant and is the first of 16 aircraft – comprising ten single-seat F-16Cs and six dual-seat F-16Ds – that are destined to join the RBAF. Before this aircraft is formally delivered to Bahrain in 2024, it will be used to carry out additional flight tests at Edwards AFB in California.
On June 22, 2018, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.12bn contract for the production of 16 new F-16 Block 70s for Bahrain, with the RBAF becoming the launch customer for the type after the Kingdom had reached an agreement with the US government. In addition to the 16 new-build F-16 Block 70s, the RBAF also plans to upgrade its 20-strong fleet of F-16C/D Block 40s to the latest standard, increasing the fleet of Block 70 airframes to 36.
Speaking during the rollout ceremony, OJ Sanchez – vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Integrated Fighter Group, which includes the F-16 programme – said: “Today’s ceremony represents the next generation of the powerful and proven legacy of the F-16, and demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s commitment to advancing this program and getting this much-needed aircraft and its advanced 21st Century security capabilities to the warfighter… With the Block 70 iteration, we are transforming fourth-generation for the next generation for the Royal Bahraini Air Force and other partners and allies around the world.”
Bahrain shares a long history with the Fighting Falcon. The Kingdom became the first operator of the multi-role fighter in the Gulf Cooperation Council, when the first of 18 F-16C Block 40s and four F-16D Block 40s entered operational service with the RBAF in May 1990. Of the 22 aircraft delivered, the RBAF has lost just two single-seat F-16Cs to attrition, leaving 20 examples in use. These aircraft will eventually be upgraded to Block 70 standard and are operated by the RBAF’s 1st and 2nd Fighter Squadron at Isa Air Base.