New F-16s Will All Be Sold In A Single Base Model Configuration With A Standardized Price

Lockheed Martin says the new sales concept will save time and money, both in the contracting process and when it comes to actually producing the jets.

Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin says that it plans to "commoditize" its F-16 Viper fighter jet line by offering jets in a single standardized configuration, based on the latest Block 70/72 variant, with a standard base price tag. The goal here is to streamline things for both the manufacturer and potential customers, especially foreign buyers, and it follows a massive U.S. Air Force-managed contract for the production of Vipers for export over the next decade.

FlightGlobal was first to report on Lockheed Martin's new plans for its F-16 product line on Sept. 4, 2020. The Air Force had awarded the company an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract, valued at up to $62 billion over 10 years, to build at least 90 Block 70/72 Vipers – 66 for Taiwan and 24 for Morocco – for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers on Aug. 12, 2020.

"The development of the pricing, and the back and forth with the country on the pricing, and then the actual pricing when we deliver it to them in the form of an offer and acceptance letter, that takes a very long time," J.R. McDonald, the Vice President of Business Development for Lockheed Martin's Integrated Fighter Group, told FlightGlobal. “And, it takes a lot of money to develop those individual contracts for each individual country.”

"It’s a way to streamline contracting, make the pricing as transparent as possible in an [Foreign Military Sales] environment," he continued, referring to the new plane for a standardized base F-16. “Everybody knows what the baseline is.”

Lockheed Martin

An artist's conception of a Block 70/72 F-16 Viper.

The new standard Viper configuration will have a default set of "avionics, mission systems, an active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, electronic warfare suite, Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System and an engine," according to FlightGlobal, though it is not clear what those specific systems will be. Lockheed Martin has already been pushing toward standardizing the Viper line with its Block 70/72 F-16s and the related F-16V upgrade package that brings older jets up to a similar configuration.

These versions, outgrowths of the F-16IN Super Viper variant developed for India, all feature the AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR), an AESA type from Northrop Grumman that you can read about in more detail in this recent War Zone piece, as well as other common avionics and other mission systems. Lockheed Martin presently offers Block 70 F-16s with General Electric F110 engines and Block 72 variants with Pratt & Whitney F100s.

Lockheed Martin

A page from a Lockheed Martin brochure from 2016 regarding its pitch at the time to sell Block 70 F-16C/D Vipers to that country that specifically mentions that configuration becoming the new baseline variant.

Lockheed Martin

Another slide from the same brochure highlighting some of the mission systems found on Block 70 Vipers, including the AN/APG-83 AESA radar.

McDonald told FlightGlobal that the baseline configuration will have the lowest price point, but did not say what that might be. Like when one buys a car, Lockheed Martin will continue to offer other features and functionality for customers who want specific capabilities and are willing to pay for them. However, these additions will be handled under separate contracts, effectively as modifications to base variant aircraft.

The country-specific version of the Viper that Lockheed Martin is presently pitching to India, which it is marketing as the F-21, is a prime example of what the company could offer on top of the base variant. The F-21, compared to Block 70/72 types, has a completely different cockpit arrangement with a single large flat panel multi-function display, a probe-and-drogue refueling system that fits inside a modified conformal fuel tank, and an enlarged dorsal spine, seen on other F-16 variants, capable of holding various mission systems, among other features. You can read more about this advanced Viper in detail in this past War Zone piece.

The U.S. Air Force's System Program Office first proposed the idea of a standardized Viper to Lockheed Martin as a way to help simplify FMS cases by creating a universal price list that a potential customer could review, according to FlightGlobal. The company also said that it expects virtually all future F-16 sales to go through the U.S. government-managed FMS process via contracting vehicles such as the multi-billion dollar IDIQ deal it received in August. The F-21 pitch to India will remain an unrelated direct sale, no doubt in part due to the Indian government's requirement for companies competing in the tender to supply 110 new fighter jets to the Indian Air Force to offer significant industrial cooperation packages as part of their offers.

Beyond helping with the contracting process, a standardized F-16 would also help simplify production, supply chain management, and sustainment. Back in 2017, Lockheed Martin announced that it would move its Viper production line to South Carolina from Texas as part of a restructuring at the latter facility to focus more on building F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The South Carolina site was smaller, but could also concentrate more on F-16 work, amid what appeared to be at the time dwindling demand for the older jets.

Even after building more than 4,600 F-16s of all types, and with some 2,280 still in service worldwide, Lockheed Martin is optimistic that there will be more new Viper sales on the horizon. In addition to the Block 70/72 jets it is building for Taiwan and Morocco, it is also producing additional examples for Bahrain and Bulgaria. Indonesia, among other potential customers, has also considered new Vipers to meet its future fighter jet needs

“Those are in the end of service life and countries around the world are having to find themselves in a situation where they need to replace them,” McDonald told FlightGlobal, specifically referring to fleets of older Soviet-era combat jets, such as MiG-21s and MiG-23/27s, as well as early MiG-29s, that remain in service around the world. In addition, the outlet noted that some countries that still fly these and other Soviet-designed types have faced challenges in modernizing them or otherwise extending their service life due to U.S. sanctions on Russian aviation and defense companies. 

Operators of these jets, many of which are former Soviet republics, as well as other countries that have been in its sphere of influence during the Cold War, are a major potential market for U.S. firms looking to sell new advanced fourth-generation fighter jets. Many of them, including some that are now NATO members, are looking to modernize their fleets, but are very unlikely to be able to secure approval to buy the F-35, opening the door for the F-16. 

All told, the F-16's future already seems very bright still and Lockheed Martin's new effort to simplify production and sales can only help keep the Viper front and center for countries looking for new fighter jets for the foreseeable future.

Contact the author: Joe@thedrive.com