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​F-16 Production Increase Will Allow Re-Export of This Fighter to Ukraine But There Are Nuances, As Always

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F-16 multirole fighter aircraft / Illustrative photo credit: US Department of Defense
F-16 multirole fighter aircraft / Illustrative photo credit: US Department of Defense

Although Lockheed Martin is talking about increasing the production of F-16 so that other countries can transfer these aircraft to Ukraine, the overall picture looks somewhat different

American defense industry giant Lockheed Martin will increase the production of F-16 aircraft, the company's chief operating officer Frank St. John said in an interview with the Financial Times. The reason is that certain countries may start re-exporting the fighters to Ukraine and they will need a replacement.

At the same time, Lockheed Martin takes no part in the talks over F-16 jets for Ukraine. We should also note that even if such a decision is made, those countries will need consent from the US anyway before transferring them.

Read more: Slovakia is Ready to Discuss Transferring its Own MiG-29 to Kyiv
F-16 of the Danish Air Force
F-16 of the Danish Air Force / Photo credit: US Department of Defense

Though if we distance ourselves from the words of the Lockheed Martin representative and look at the bigger picture, either way the production of F-16 will increase. This is due to the transfer of F-16 production lines to Greenville, South Carolina. It was made to spare industrial capacity for production of the F-35.

This new industrial facility in Greenville was supposed to satisfy the potential demand from countries that cannot afford to buy F-35. But the COVID-19 crisis and logistical collapse following it undermined the plan, and the terms for delivery of ordered aircraft were already disrupted.

The current queue according to the company's notice from January 24 this year is 128 jets of the F-16 type. The latest orders from Jordan and Bulgaria are expected to add 20 more jets to the queue up to 148 in total.

F-16 of the Danish Air Force
F-16 of the Jordanian Air Force / Photo credit: US Department of Defense

As for the re-export question, the list of potential donors of F-16 for Ukraine consists, in the first place, of the countries that seek to upgrade their fleet by replacing them with F-35. This way a transfer would not hinder the country's combat readiness. This kind of situation emerged in the Netherlands: the Dutch are currently decommissioning their F-16s and were planning to sell them to an American private company.

Another factor in favor of ramping up F-16 production, according to the Financial Times, could be a decision by some of the Eastern European countries to hand their Soviet-era fighter jets over to Ukraine. The F-16 in this scenario will act as a replacement for the sent aircraft.

F-16 of the Dutch Air Force
F-16 of the Dutch Air Force / Photo credit: US Department of Defense

Some of the countries looking for a replacement for their Soviet MiG-29 have already placed an order for F-16, e.g. Slovakia signed a contract on 14 units of F-16V in 2018, with a total value of EUR 1.6 billion; or Bulgaria that ordered 8 jets for USD 1.2 billion in 2019, and now asks for 8 more in the F-16 Block 70 version for $1.3 billion. The latter will arrive no sooner than in 2027.

Other countries witness all these long terms of delivery and search for a quicker and cheaper alternative. For example, Poland has bet on the Korean FA-50 with the intent to localize its manufacture. The contract on 48 jets in variations cost $3 billion: 12 FA-50 Block 10 for $0.7 bln, and 36 FA-50PL for $2.3 bln. That is, an FA-50 is roughly 2-2.5 times cheaper than an F-16V.

Thus the real positions of the F-16 look not as stable as they were in the 2010s. We should also take into account the active expansion of the French Rafale which enjoys demand for non-stop production till 2029.

On the other hand, the transfer of F-16 fighters to Ukraine well can reignite interest in the F-16 thanks to an update to its "effectiveness proven in combat" badge.

Read more: Ukraine Needs Multirole Fighters More, Than A-10s – Ukrainian Air Force Command