During a presentation at Le Bourget on Tuesday, Lockheed Martin officials and a panel of both present and former customers extolled the virtues of the lightweight fighter that is still operating 32 years after it was originally designed. LM spokesperson June Shrewsbury explained that the Advanced Block 50 and Block 60 versions are the two main models being offered to export customers and that “the company sees a potential of up to 200 more aircraft to be sold in the future.” The present order book carries the aircraft’s production out to 2008, but this could stretch to 2010 with new sales to some of the company’s prospective customers.
The main praise for the aircraft by far came from testimonials of the special guests present–retired Gen. Chuck Horner of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and architect of the air campaign in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, retired USAF Gen. William Begert and Lt. Col. Khalaf Al-Qubaisi of the United Arab Emirates air force. “The Block 60 shares a lot of technology from the F/A-22 and F-35 programs, such as the radar, FLIR and avionics,” said Shrewsbury. The Block 60’s APG-80 radar is very close to the F-35’s APG-81–both made by Northrop Grumman–and comes from the same design lineage as the F/A-22’s APG-77.
Horner and Begert pointed out that Block 60 is now being manufactured based on the lessons learned from producing the F/A-22 and F-35 and in this respect “from a production standpoint the Block 60 is most advanced fighter being built today. The advancements in the aircraft over its predecessors are profound.” Lockheed Martin’s Shrewsbury would not be specific about the relative costs between the Block 50 and 60 models but would say that the latter is “about 10 to 15 percent more expensive depending on the customer’s requirements.”
Perhaps the greatest endorsement for the aircraft came from the Lt. Col. Khalaf of the UAE air force. “The Block 60 is a very advanced aircraft,” he said, “ and from a performance standpoint it is hard to compare with the [Dassault] Mirage 2000-9. Some missions complement one another and other missions have the aircraft performing two separate roles.” But, from a cost standpoint, he said there is no comparison. “You can have two to three Block 60s for the cost of one Mirage 2000-9.”