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Columbia Business Monthly

'The Global Home of the F-16’ - Lockheed, Bahraini Partnership Soars as First F-16 Block 70 Rolls Out in Greenville

Apr 25, 2023 09:33AM ● By David Dykes

When Bahraini, American, and Lockheed Martin officials came together March 10, 2023, in Greenville to celebrate the first F-16 Block 70 for the Royal Bahraini Air Force, it was more than a delivery celebration.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a key security cooperation partner for U.S. Central Command.

“Our focus is on partnership in the region,” Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, commander of 9th Air Force (Air Forces Central), the air component of USCENTCOM, said on the official U.S. Air Force website. “There is no better way to secure partnership than with the rollout of the Block 70 F-16. It is not just a deliberate capability for Bahrain; it is now an investment with a long-term relationship. We will be able to cooperate and be interoperable with them for decades to come because of this purchase.”

The Kingdom of Bahrain has a unique history with the F-16: It was the first F-16 operator in the Gulf Cooperation Council beginning in the early 1990s.

The country’s relationship with the U.S. dates back to 1903 with the establishment of the American Mission Hospital, the first modern hospital in the country and region, said Maj. Gen. Shaikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, commander of the Royal Bahraini Air Force.

Bahrain is also the home for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters, which has been in the country since the 1940s. Established in 1977, the Royal Bahrain Air Force has participated in regional coalition operations, including over Yemen and Iraq against Islamic State group fighters.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain’s relationship with the United States is based on mutual respect, common interests, cooperation in both military and civilian fields and above all, the friendship between both nations,” the U.S. Air Force website quoted Al Khalifa as saying.

James A. Hursh, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, further emphasized on the website to Lt. Col. Marnee Losurdo the importance of working with allies and partners in the region.  

“Events in history have taught us that our security interests don’t end at the water’s edge,” said Hursh, whose agency advances U.S. defense and foreign policy interests by building the capacity of U.S. allies and partners through oversight of programs such as Foreign Military Sales. “Our whole of government approach to leveraging ally and partner national capabilities helps us secure common interests and promote shared values. We’ve seen much more than the unveiling of an airframe. We’re witnessing the projection of defense capacity into the hands of a trusted partner, and in the process, we’re advancing our security interests to align with the challenges of today, many of which are still well beyond our shores.”

“Today’s ceremony represents the next generation of the powerful and proven legacy of the F-16, and demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s commitment to advancing this program and getting this much-needed aircraft and its advanced 21st Century Security capabilities to the warfighter,” said OJ Sanchez, vice president, Integrated Fighter Group, which includes the F-16 program. “With the Block 70 iteration, we are transforming fourth generation for the next generation for the Royal Bahraini Air Force and other partners and allies around the world.”

The F-16 Block 70 jet is the first of 16 jets for Bahrain, and took its first flight on Jan. 24, 2023. From here, it will begin additional flight tests at Edwards Air Force Base in California before arriving in Bahrain in 2024.

Six countries have selected Block 70/72 aircraft. In addition to the official backlog of 127 jets to date to be built by Lockheed Martin in Greenville, the F-16’s global home, Jordan has signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for 12 jets, and Lockheed Martin has received a contract to begin its long-lead activities. Bulgaria has also signed an LOA for an additional eight jets for its fleet. Once these are finalized, the backlog will increase to 147. 

“The F-16 celebrated today was built by our talented, committed workforce in Greenville,” said Danya Trent, vice president, F-16 Programs, and Greenville site leader. “We are proud to call Greenville the global home of the F-16 and look forward to continuing to produce jets serving missions around the world.”

Other speakers in Greenville included:

Greg Ulmer, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

Frank St. John, chief operating officer, Lockheed Martin.

Henry McMaster, South Carolina governor. 

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina (pre-recorded message).

William Timmons, U.S. Representative for South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District.

Joe Wilson, U.S. Representative for South Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District (pre-recorded message).

Al Khalifa

Al Khalifa and Ulmer also were at the certificate signing ceremony that included Maj. Gen. Julian Cheater, deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force for International Affairs.

Pilots Monessa “Siren” Balzhiser and Dewayne “Pro” Opella said the new F-16 has advanced radar that enables pilots to see more threats farther out, and it has more powerful computers.

“The outside of the airplane looks the same, but the inside is much different, especially the computing power and the advancements in sensors and things like that and the continued integration of new weapons,” Opella said. 

For his part, Graham also stressed the importance of the F-16s to world peace.

“It’s a dangerous world,” he told the gathering. “The common threats that Bahrain and the United States face have to be fought together. I’ve learned through my travels that having allies is better than doing it by yourself.”   

He added, “These jets are going to a reliable, stable partner. In a world that’s unstable and unreliable, thank God for Bahrain.”