After last week's announcement that the U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a 10-year contract for F-16 fighter jet maintenance, sources reported to Aviation Week that the service is also considering making an order for new F-16 aircraft.
The last USAF F-16 was delivered on March 18, 2005, and assigned to Shaw Air Force Base, South California. This ended a run, starting in 1978, of 2,231 F-16s produced for the Air Force.
The F-16 has evolved over the years making it a multi-role, all-weather, all-purpose aircraft weapon system — though artificial intelligence may have sussed it out. Currently, more than 1,300 of the aircraft are still in service of the Air Force.
After the last U.S. Air Force order in 2005, Lockheed Martin continued producing F-16s for international customers — the last model was delivered to Iraq in 2017.
U.S. Air Force shifts plans amid F-35 Lightning II delays
As Business Insider writes, the reason the U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a new F-16 maintenance contract, is also likely the same reason they are considering ordering new F-16 jets: initial plans for the F-16 to be retired in 2025 and replaced by the F-35 Lightning II are not going as expected.
Budget restraints and technical development problems mean that delivery of the 5th-generation aircraft is going slower than expected — in the past decade, flight tests revealed serious deficiencies in the model that required costly redesigns and even resulted in fleet-wide groundings.
Due to the issues with the $406.5 billion F-35 Lightning II project, the U.S. Air Force decided to keep the F-16 in service until at least 2048.
Lockheed Martin's F-16 production line started manufacturing the new Block 70/72 variant in 2019, which features many enhancements over the most recent USAF Block 50/52 F-16s.
These include JHCMS II (Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System II) compatibility, the APG-83 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, and Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS).
Despite the recent reports and strong indications, there are currently no specific details about the number of new F-16s the U.S. Air Force might be planning to order, and what aircraft they would replace.