The Royal Jordanian Air Force Command (RJAF) has signed an agreement to buy 12 F-16 Block 70 fighters from the United States in a bid to modernize its aging air force.
As announced by the official website of the armed forces, the agreement was signed on Friday by the commander of the Royal Air Force, Brigadier General Muhammad Fathi Hiasat, and the deputy head of the US mission in Amman, Rohit, Nepal.
According to the Jordanian statement, the agreement falls within the framework of strengthening defense and military deterrence capabilities to increase combat readiness.
It will also strengthen cooperation between Jordan and the US, including in fighting terrorism and enhancing stability in the region, the air force said.
The new F-16s will expand Jordan’s fleet of F-16 jets donated from the US in the 1990s or purchased secondhand in Belgium and the Netherlands. Jordan currently operates 61 F-16 fighters.
Over the years, most of Jordan’s F-16 fighters were upgraded to the Mid-Life Update (MLU) level, similar in capability to the F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft.
In February 2022, the US State Department approved the sale of 12 F-16 fighters at an estimated cost of $4.21 billion, including radios, targeting systems, and associated ammunition components such as tail kits and guided missiles.
But the number of fighters was reduced to eight in an acceptance letter signed by Major General Yousef Al-Hnaity, the head of the Jordanian armed forces, before apparently increasing again to the initial 12 planes. At the time, deliveries were expected to begin in 2027.
“Jordan wants the modernized Block 70s as part of a broader defense push to keep warplanes up to date, but also specifically because their anti-radar capabilities could theoretically come in handy if Jordan once again needed to intervene in Syria (presumably against a resurgence of ISIS), where Syrian and Russian air defenses could pose a challenge to such missions,” said Ryan Bohl, Senior Middle East and North Africa Analyst at RANE Network.
Bohl added that in the event of a US-Iran conflict, Jordan could be involved. In that case, the Jordanian F-16s would likely be part of a coalition targeting Iranian regional militias in Syria and Iraq.
In a statement, Aimee Burnett, vice president of F-16 Business Development at Lockheed Martin, said the company is “proud to have the Royal Jordanian Air Force expand its participation in the F-16 Block 70 program.”
The F-16 Block 70 will expand Jordan’s current F-16 fleet, bringing advanced 21st-century safety capabilities to the mission and affordable life-cycle and operating costs.
Our history of partnership with Jordan strengthens regional security and helps protect citizens through cutting-edge technologies that support critical missions today and in the future.”
The F-16 is the backbone of the Royal Jordanian Air Force, which operates 43 F-16As as its main combat aircraft and 18 F-16Bs.
Jordan operates 230 aircraft in total, which is a relatively large but aging fleet. The RJAF operates Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, Air Tractor AT-802 Cessna 208B Grand Caravan reconnaissance aircraft, Pilatus PC-21, Grob G120TP, and Robinson R44 trainers.
It also flies Sikorsky UH-60, McDonnell Douglas MD500 Defender, and Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopters. Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 is attracting increasing interest from Gulf countries as Bahrain has also signed a contract to purchase Block 70 for $1.12 billion for 16 aircraft. Flight testing for Bahrain is scheduled to begin in early 2023.
The Royal Bahrain Air Force expects to receive its first batch of four F-16 Block 70 aircraft in the first half of 2024, following a delay related to COVID-19, as declared in November 2022 by the commander of the Air Force, Major General Shaikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Khalifah.
These new F-16s will be built in Greenville, South Carolina, upon completion of the contract. The production rate at Greenville is four aircraft per month.
“The F-16 Block 70/72 production rate will increase significantly through 2023, with additional customer deliveries continuing through the mid to late 2020s,” a Lockheed Martin spokesperson said.