| FORT WORTH, Texas
FORT WORTH, Texas Dec 13 Lockheed Martin Corp
has enough orders to keep its F-16 fighter jet
production line humming through the third quarter of 2017, and
hopes to land additional orders that would keep the line running
through 2020, company executives say.
Around that time, the cost of Lockheed's new F-35 stealth
fighter will have dropped so far that potential customers will
likely opt for the newer jet, Bill McHenry, Lockheed's head of
F-16 business development, told Reuters in a recent interview.
But for now, the company is continuing to pursue potential
F-16 sales and upgrades in the Middle East, South America and
other markets, he said.
"We wake up every day and go out and do what we can," he
said. "But there's a crossover point out there ... sometime in
the 2020 timeframe, where it'll make more sense to procure F-35s
than F-16s." Lockheed on Friday marked completion of its 100th
Lockheed has produced over 4,500 F-16s since the program
began in 1975, making the F-16 the best-selling fighter jet in
history. The jets are flown by 26 countries, including 15 that
have placed follow-on orders, McHenry said.
The United Arab Emirates is weighing new F-16 orders and
possible upgrades, but failed to announce an order at the Dubai
air show as some experts had expected.
Lockheed has dramatically scaled back production of the F-16
at its sprawling facility in Fort Worth, Texas, to about one
plane a month now - from a peak production rate of 30 planes a
month in June 1987, said spokesman Mark Johnson.
At the moment, the company is completing work on the last
one of 20 F-16s it built for Egypt. That jet and seven others
are being stored at the Fort Worth plant after the United States
announced it would withhold most military aid due to concerns
about democracy and human rights.
It is also working on 12 F-16s for Oman, several of which
are in varying states of completion at the slimmed-down F-16
production line in Building 8, also known as the "Falcon's
Nest," plus a total of 36 jets ordered by Iraq.
One of the 145 jets being upgraded for Taiwan is also in the
factory, its nose cone already open for insertion of the new
Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.
McHenry said Lockheed saw additional opportunities to
upgrade existing F-16s to the new F-16V configuration, which
includes the AESA radar, embedded global positioning, updated
electronic warfare equipment and avionics systems.
He acknowledged that other companies, including Britain's
BAE Systems, were trying to capture some of that
upgrade work, but said Lockheed offered lower costs and greater
economies of scale given the breadth of its existing work with
the 26 countries that already operate the jet.
The Pentagon last month approved a deal under which BAE will
upgrade 134 older F-16 fighter jets for South Korea, a move that
could pressure Lockheed to compete more aggressively in the hunt
for upgrade deals.