Lockheed Martin has rolled out the first new-build F-16C/D Block 70/72 fighter. The aircraft is also the first F-16 to be produced at the new factory in Greenville, South Carolina.
The aircraft, which is also the first of 16 Block 70 aircraft on order for the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF), has been transferred to the flight test facility ahead of its first flight, which is expected in early 2023. It will subsequently deploy to Edwards Air Force Base in California for U.S. government testing before being handed over to the RBAF in 2024, with the first batch of four being due in the first half of the year.
Bahrain already operates earlier F-16s in the form of two squadrons of Block 40s. These are due to be upgraded to the F-16V, which equates to the new-build Block 70.
In 2017, Lockheed Martin announced that it would close the long-running F-16 production line at Fort Worth, Texas, to create extra space for F-35 fighter production. A new factory was constructed at Greenville to fulfill orders for Block 70/72, the introduction of which has rejuvenated the F-16 and resulted in a fresh batch of orders. Greenville currently has an order backlog of 128 aircraft, with a further contract for eight for Jordan expected to be signed shortly.
In addition to the Bahraini aircraft Block 70/72s are being produced for Slovakia, Taiwan and Bulgaria. The latter is currently looking to lease an interim fighter to maintain its air defenses until the F-16s can be delivered later in the decade, allowing its aging MiG-29s to be retired. Sweden is reportedly offering Gripens, while France is believed to be proposing Mirage 2000s or Rafales.