On 28th March 2023, the first Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70 landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California, USA. The aircraft, manufactured for the Royal Bahraini Air Force, will be the subject of flight test campaign at Edwards AFB, before its final delivery to the Bahrain Defence Force.
The newest iteration of the worldwide popular and one of the most known 4th generation jet fighters was for the first time announced in 2012, during the Singapore Air Show. In 2015, the first prototype of the new F-16 performed its maiden flight.
The latest variant of the F-16 was created to cooperate with the 5th generation fighters. The aircraft is equipped with an advanced APG-83 AESA radar, upgraded Modular Mission Computer, new avionics suite, cockpit displays and modern datalink, as well as new navigation suite, Digital Intercommunications System, Infrared Search and Track System and modernized targeting pods and weapons.
Interesting fact is that the Block 70/72 was developed not only as the new variant for future manufactured aircraft. Features of the newest fighter can be also retrofitted into existing versions of the Fighting Falcon – such modernization is currently being offered by Lockheed Martin within the so-called F-16 Viper Upgrade pack.
In 2018, Bahrain became the first country to place an order for sixteen brand new fighters, while the upgrade packs were acquired by Taiwan and Greece. Later the same year, Slovakia announced its intention to buy fourteen F-16 Block 70/72 jets.
Currently the F-16 Block 70/72 was selected by six countries, making a total of 148 fighters to be produced by Lockheed Martin newly established aviation plant in Greenville, Southern California.
It was expected that deliveries of the newest variant would commence at the end of 2022 but the initial schedule was highly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and following shortage in availability of electronic components. As a result, deliveries of the F-16 Block 70/72 jets are approximately twelve to fourteen months delayed.
The first Bahraini Viper performed its maiden flight on 24th January 2023, piloted by Lockheed Martin test pilots Dwayne ´Pro´ Opella and Monessa ´Siren´ Balzhiser. At the end of March 2023, the aircraft was flown to Edwards AFB for final flight test campaign. The pre-delivery evaluation at Edwards is being performed by the 416th Flight Test Squadron of the 412th Test Wing USAF.
Currently, there are more than 3,000 F-16 Fighting Falcons operated by twenty-five air forces all over the world. The F-16 fleet has already clocked approximately 19.5 million flight hours and performed at least thirteen million sorties.
The newest modification of the Viper enables the aircraft to stay up to date with the current market requirements and the latest developments in aerial warfare, including the aforementioned cooperation with the 5th generation aircraft. According to the manufacturer, it allows the F-16 to be fully operation-capable fighter until the year 2060.
Cover photo: The first Royal Bahraini Air Force F-16 Block 70 lands at Edwards Air Force Base, California, March 28. (Chase Kohler, 412th Test Wing Public Affairs, USAF)
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