Lockheed Martin has resumed talks with Bahrain over the sale of F-16 fighter jets, whilst the company remains in discussion with the UAE government to upgrade its fleet of F-16 aircraft, the company’s Vice President for the region, Rick Groesch, said at Idex 2017 (International Defence Exhibiton and Conference).
The sale of F-16s to Bahrain was delayed by Congress in the United States under the previous administration, although talks have resumed since President Donald Trump took office, Groesch revealed.
The first owner of F-16s in the region, purchased before the Gulf War in 1990, Bahrain has been trying to acquire a new batch of the advanced fighter jet for some time.
“We are talking to them Bahrain about it, and the US government is talking to them about buying an additional production aircraft which will be designated Block 70,” Groesch said.
A Block refers to a model that varies from the original design. New modifications are made regularly for different reasons, each resulting in a new Block.
Bahrain is understood to have ordered as many as 19F-16Vs, all Block 70, the latest iteration of the iconic fighter jet.
Regarding the UAE, Groesch would only say that “we are doing everything right now in conjunction with the UAE Air Force to be able to have them fly those aeroplanes to 2030 to 2040.”
In addition to the Gulf countries, Lockheed Martin is also exploring other ways in which it can capitalise on growing tensions in the Middle East.
The US defence contractor is in talks with Egypt about upgrading 30 of their Block 15 aircraft to Block 50 standard, in unison with the rest of their fleet.
It is also expected to deliver the last of Iraq’s 36F-16 Block 52 aircraft, the first of which arrived in 2014.
On a separate note, Lockheed executives also provided updates on the company’s missile systems division.
Tim Cahill, the Vice President for Air and Missile Defense Systems, described the Middle East as a strong market for the company. He noted a strong demand for Lockheed Martin’s systems, and hinted at increased sales to the region off the back of increasing international tensions.
“We’ve had some great dialogue this week. There’s a lot of great interest in this region,” Cahill said in an interview at Idex, Abu Dhabi’s regional defence exhibition.
“I don’t see that interest declining, I actually see it accelerating. The local threats are pretty clear — they’re in the news practically every day. This region is looking for good, solid, capable products to ensure their safety and security. This is a great market for us,” he added.
Cahill referenced a number of products that are currently in the process of being delivered, the most popular of which include the PAC-3 missile, the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement, and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence).
“For the UAE, they have PAC-3s deployed, and we have already delivered a significant number of THAAD missiles in batteries, and they have more THAAD’s still coming,” said Cahill.
“For the future, they’re looking at all of our products, and we’re in dialogue with them now.”
In terms of the issues driving this defensive mindset, Cahill noted the evolving threats from Iran as a key concern for its Middle East partners.