* Taiwan has sought new F-16s, a sale opposed by China
* Lockheed CEO expects demand for F-16s to keep line open
* Current order backlog enough to keep line open until 2016
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Dec 13 The end of the line for the
F-16 jet fighter is set to go on receding, the top executive of
manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp said on Thursday.
"We've been having that conversation for over a decade,"
Chief Executive Robert Stevens said in an interview. Pressed on
his current expectation when it would close, he shot back:
"We'll have that conversation for over a decade."
As recently as last year, the last jet had been projected to
emerge from the company's Fort Worth, Texas, plant by mid-2013
unless new export orders came.
They did. Lockheed is now building F-16s for Egypt, Oman and
Iraq - enough to keep the line going until at least January
2016, Joseph LaMarca, a company spokesman, said by email.
More than 4,500 F-16s have been delivered to 26 nations
since production began in 1975. Major upgrades to all F-16
versions are being offered by Lockheed, the Pentagon's No. 1
supplier by sales.
Stevens said he expected continuing demand for the F-16 even
as customers start to trade up to Lockheed's radar-evading F-35
Joint Strike Fighter, now in early production.
"We'll certainly have a line in position to satisfy that
demand," he said in an interview with Marillyn Hewson, the chief
operating officer who is to replace him as Lockheed CEO
effective Jan. 1.
One significant potential customer is Taiwan, which has
sought as many as 66 new F-16C/D models for years. Lockheed
representatives steered questions about any such sale to the
President Barack Obama's administration told Senator John
Cornyn in a letter dated April 27 that it shared his concerns
about Taiwan's "growing shortfall" in fighter planes as its F-5s
are retired, notwithstanding an upgrade of 145 early-model
F-16A/Bs that is getting under way. Cornyn is a Texas
The White House promised him at the time that Mark Lippert,
a new assistant secretary of defense for Asian & Pacific
security affairs - whose nomination to the job previously had
been blocked by Cornyn to press for the sale - would seek a
"near-term course of action" to address Taiwan's fighter gap,
"including through the sale to Taiwan of an undetermined number
of new U.S.-made fighter aircraft."
Sampson Li, director of the military mission of the Taipei
Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington,
declined in an emailed statement to comment directly on whether
Taiwan still wanted new F-16s now that the A/B upgrade is to
"Our future procurement of advanced fighters from the United
States should be comprehensively evaluated by both sides to
conform to Taiwan's future defense needs," he said.
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan
Business Council, said Taiwan's fighter gap was becoming more
"acute" as the upgrade of its A/B models took them out of
"It is clear that the White House sees the sale of new
fighters as part of its future commitment to Taiwan," he said by
A spokesman for Cornyn, Drew Brandewie, said that the United
States was obligated to make sure Taiwan can defend itself
against China, which deems the self-governing island a rogue
province subject to a return to the fold, by force if necessary.
Asked whether Cornyn might use his senatorial privilege again
to hold up confirmation of President Barack Obama's nominees,
Brandewie said in an email that all options were being left
In December, the administration notified the U.S. Congress
of plans to sell a second batch of 18 F-16s to Iraq, a deal that
is expected to close soon.
In addition, Romania and Bulgaria are among those interested
in either second-hand aircraft or new models, said LaMarca, the