The first F-16 Block 70 fighter jet meant for the Slovak Air Force took to the skies for the first time on September 29, days after manufacturer Lockheed Martin unveiled the aircraft during a formal ceremony held at the company’s production facility in Greenville, South Carolina.
According to information published by Lockheed Martin, test pilot Ryan ‘Cujo’ Blake completed several system tests throughout the flight to validate performance and supersonic capabilities. The maiden flight took place on September 29 at Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Greenville.
“The Slovak Air Force is taking significant steps forward with the capabilities of the F-16,” said OJ Sanchez, vice president and general manager of Integrated Fighter Group, Lockheed Martin, in a press release the next day. “The integration of this proven platform will allow the Slovak Air Force to effectively safeguard its borders and partner with allies across Europe, NATO, and the world.”
The development is significant as it paves the delivery of the first 14 aircraft pledged to the Slovak Air Force. The country signed its Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for 14 F-16s in December 2018 and will become the first European country to secure the F-16 Block 70.
First Flight Alert!
We carried out a successful flight of the first Slovakian F-16 Block 70 aircraft. Slovakia will be the first European country to receive the F-16 Block 70, enabling our allies to stay ahead of threats in the region. pic.twitter.com/SVMkotzWwE
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) October 2, 2023
The Royal Bahraini Air Force received its first F-16 Block 70 aircraft in March. However, with a war raging in Europe and a wave of military modernization sweeping the European continent, the delivery to Slovakia would be keenly watched.
This comprehensive agreement also encompassed the supply of Raytheon AIM-120C7 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs), AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and training and support provisions.
“The F-16 Block 70 offers allies and partners advanced 21st Century Security capabilities, affordable operating and lifecycle costs, and strategic partnership opportunities,” Sanchez said in a press statement.
He added, “It’s a state-of-the-art fighter aircraft system that our Greenville, South Carolina, team is proud to build. The production line in Greenville is a national security asset, providing F-16 fighter capabilities to allies worldwide, like Slovakia, who will rely on this platform for peacekeeping within their borders and those of their partners.”
Earlier this month, Lockheed Martin unveiled this first single-seat fighter aircraft, marked with service registration number 1001. It was showcased by Slovak Defense Minister Martin Sklenár and other senior Slovakian officials who attended the event, as reported by EurAsian Times recently.
At the time, Sanchez said, “These F-16s will enable the Slovak Air Force to stay ahead of threats in the region and be part of the allied mission in Europe, NATO, and around the world.” The acquisition of the aircraft by the Slovak Air Force is significant as it will replace the previously retired RAC MiG-29s. Slovakia generously donated 13 MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine in March this year.
Most Advanced F-16: The F-16 Block 70 Aircraft
The F-16 Block 70/72, also known as the F-16V, is the most advanced and highly sought-after version of this fighter aircraft. This advanced variant of a combat-hardened fourth-generation multi-role aircraft is made chiefly for export customers.
The Block 70/72 is distinguished by its advanced avionics, an APG-83 AESA radar, a modernized cockpit, conformal fuel tanks, an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, a center pedestal display that offers tactical imagery on a high-resolution 68-inch screen, and an extended structural service life of 12,000 hours.
Lockheed Martin developed the F-16V as a cutting-edge fighter option to use its current production capabilities and extensive global support network. A total of six nations have chosen Block 70/72 aircraft. Jordan and Bulgaria also signed LOAs for 12 extra jets last year, in addition to the 126 aircraft already officially on the backlog.
According to the manufacturer, the F-16’s service life has increased by 50% over earlier production versions, thanks to structural and capabilities upgrades. This extends the aircraft’s useful life until 2070 and beyond.
This aircraft has improved support for various weapons, targeting systems, and advanced weapon capabilities, making it well-suited for sophisticated air-to-ground missions. It also offers improved aircraft survivability with low-observable technology such as CWIS hard points, ram air turbine door actuators, and integrated forward-looking infrared (FLIR).
Depending on how it is configured and what equipment is included, the cost of an F-16 Block 70/72 might vary. However, it is generally expected to fall between US$50 million and US$70 million per aircraft.
The current version of the F-16 also has more powerful engines, increasing mission flexibility and responsiveness in various operating settings.
Although Lockheed Martin has had difficulty producing this aircraft recently, the corporation has planned to considerably increase production rates until 2023. For now, Slovakia is the first destination of this advanced F-16 as a war in the Eastern European theatre rages on.