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On 17 October, at the Bahrain international defence exhibition and conference (BIDEC) 2017, the Commander of the Royal Bahraini Air Force, Maj.Gen. Hamad bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, confirmed the purchase of 16 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 aircraft with an option on three additional aircraft.

The FMS contract worth U$3.8 billion covers weapons, sensors and training with first deliveries scheduled for 2021. The F-16 Block 70, which has been selected by India, features the Northrop Grumman advanced APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar with a new avionics architecture, and structural upgrades to extend the structural life of the aircraft by more than 50 percent beyond that of previous production F-16 aircraft. Operational capabilities are enhanced through an advanced datalink, targeting pod and weapons, precision GPS navigation and the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS). New cockpit displays and avionics are based on F-35 technologies.

The General said that Bahrain had made a wise choice with what he considered to be a Fourth-plus generation aircraft. The decision was influenced by the good record of the F-16s that the Royal Bahraini Air Force has operated for more than 25 years. An order for 12 F-16C/D Block 40 Fighting FALCONs was placed under the Peace Crown programme with deliveries commencing in May 1990, just before the country became involved in the Gulf War. The F16 flew their first offensive Gulf War missions in January 1991. The F-16 unit was based at the newly constructed Sheik Isa Air Base and a second batch of ten F-16s commenced delivery in 2000 under the Peace Crown II programme.

On 30 December 2015, a Royal Bahraini Air Force F-16C crashed in Jizan Province, Saudi Arabia while supporting the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. The pilot was recovered safely and the crash was attributed to technical issues. More than 15 F-16C/D remain in service.

Bahrain had planned to replace its F-5E/F TIGER II fighter fleet with additional F-16 orders in the short term, while looking at for a more capable aircraft to be acquired to add to or replace the F-16 fleet. Bahrain considered buying the Eurofighter TYPHOON but In September 2016 it was announced that the sale of up to 19 late model F-16s had been submitted to the US Congress for approval. At that time the White House advised that it would not complete the approval unless it showed progress on human rights issues arising from the Bahraini protests of 2011. In September 2017, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved the sale of up to 22 F-16V Block 70 aircraft, as well as the sale of 20 upgrade kits for Bahrain's existing F-16 fleet to F-16V Block 70 standard.

David Oliver

 

 

The Bahraini F-16V Block 70 aircraft will be the first in the region and even more advanced than the UAE Air Force Block 60 fighters. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

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