[Editor’s Note: The F-16V represents a substantial leap in capability over all existing variants of the venerable Fighting Falcon, with the exception of the UAE’s Block 60. That being said, the new Viper took flight for the first time this past October, with Northrop-Grumman’s APG-83 SABR aboard at Lockheed-Martin’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Will Bahrain be the first to buy it?]

Facing increased operational demand due to its involvement in the coalition campaign against Islamic State militants in the Middle East, the Royal Bahraini Air Force is looking to boost capabilities, says Rick Groesch, regional vice-president, Middle East for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

“They are thinking about upgrading their airplanes – we have been in discussion for a while,” Groesch told Flightglobal during the Bahrain International Airshow.

Modernising Bahrain’s in-service fleet to the F-16V standard would include the integration of an active electronically scanned array sensor, already identified as Northrop Grumman’s scalable agile beam radar. With the US government, the progamme would also add precision-guided weapons, such as from Boeing’s joint direct attack munition series, and Lockheed’s Sniper targeting pod.

F-16 Radar Installation. July 23, 2015. Photographer: Bobbi Zapka
F-16 Radar Installation. July 23, 2015. Photographer: Bobbi Zapka

In parallel with the upgrade, the service could also acquire “17 or 18” new-build F-16Vs, Groesch says. These would differ through the installation of conformal fuel tanks, which he notes would enable the assets to operate with more weapons beneath the wing, in place of 370gal fuel tanks.

Confirming Bahrain has asked for pricing, availability and schedule data about a potential deal via the Foreign Military Sales framework, Groesch says: “In early February we will start to discuss the request with the US government. Bahrain has seen the need to get this going, due to the operational tempo now.”

Groesch says the lead aircraft involved in an upgrade would undergo modification and flight test in Bahrain with Lockheed, and subsequent examples would receive the enhancements with the assistance of the nation’s air force.

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Flightglobal’s Fleets Analyzer database records the Royal Bahraini Air Force’s inventory as including 16 F-16Cs and four D-model trainers, after a single-seat example was destroyed in a non-fatal accident in Saudi Arabia.

If concluded, the deal with Bahrain would enable Lockheed to extend production of the F-16 beyond 2017.

The original article can be viewed on FlightGlobal here.

Featured photo Courtesy of Lockheed-Martin