Bahrain Modernization Continues Despite Block 70 F-16 Production Delay

Credit: Lockheed Martin

DUBAI—The pandemic has slowed Bahrain’s efforts to modernize its air force, causing a year-long delay to the planned introduction of new-generation F-16 fighters.

The first Block 70 F-16s will now arrive on the Gulf island state in 2024, Air Vice Marshal Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdulla Al-Khalifa told ShowNews on the sidelines of the Dubai International Air Chiefs’ Conference. Plans to upgrade Bahrain’s Block 40s are also on the cards as its air force will be challenged by operating Block 70s and Block 40s at the same time, but Hamad said work was underway to secure a “better deal” with Lockheed Martin. “The introduction of the new F-16 is the top priority,” he said.

Bahrain currently plans to purchase 16 Block 70s in addition to upgrading the Block 40s. It was the first country to order the new-build Block 70.

The introduction of new-build Block 70s will lead to an increase in the size of the frontline fast jet fleet.

Older types such as the Northrop F-5 Tiger will be retained as a lead-in fighter trainer.

“The F-5 is still a useful platform,” Hamad said. “Even the U.S. Navy is upgrading the platform,” he added. “We will carry out a minor upgrade of our F-5s also.”

Despite its small size, at least compared to the inventories of its neighbors, the Royal Bahrain Air Force has participated in regional coalition operations, including over Yemen and over Iraq against Islamic State group fighters. However, since both campaigns have scaled back, the air force has returned to its day-to-day homeland defense operations.

Work is continuing on a modernization program for the air force to deal with maritime and air and missile threats.

The air force is currently gearing up to take a fleet of 12 new AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters. Bell recently published photos of Bahrain’s first AH-1Z. Deliveries of the first batch of four are planned for April 2022. The Vipers will be used for maritime defense missions, with a particular focus on the threat from fast-attack craft. Bahrain has also received back the last AH-1F-model Cobras, which have been upgraded by Turkish Aerospace.

Bahrain is also a new customer for the Raytheon Patriot ground-based air defense system, purchased through a Foreign Military Sale detailed by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in 2019. The goal of the Patriot purchase is to start building a national umbrella for ballistic-missile defense.

“The aim is an integrated air-and-missile-defense dome working first nationally and then across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [nations] in the future,” Hamad said.

Work on the dome for the region is being coordinated by a joint committee within the GCC, he added.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.