Iraq has made its first payment for a batch of 18 F-16C Block 52 fighters, the U.S. Defense Department announced on Sept. 27. The action finalizes Iraq's order for the venerable fourth-generation fighter.
The $3 billion contract is being undertaken as a Foreign Military Sales accord between the United States government and Iraq.
"These aircraft will help provide air sovereignty for Iraq to protect its own territory and deter or counter regional threats," said Defense Department spokesman George Little. "They are also a symbol of the commitment to a long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq."
For contractor Lockheed Martin, the Iraqi buy throws the company a lifeline to extend production of the near ubiquitous F-16 to early 2015. Without the Iraqi order, the F-16 production line would have closed in the fall of 2013, said Laura Siebert, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman.
"Lockheed Martin is pleased by the announcement that the governments of Iraq and the United States have agreed upon a sale of 18 advanced Block 52 F-16s to Iraq," she said in an emailed statement.
Lockheed also hopes to secure an order for 12 F-16s for Oman in the near future, which would further extend production.
Byron Callan, an analyst at Capital Alpha partners in Washington, said that in recent years, the production line for the F-16 has been tenuous.
"It's kind of hand to mouth with that program," he said.
Without customers like Oman, there are few prospects for the F-16 unless countries buy additional jets as a hedge against potential delays with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, he said. Australia, which has chosen to replace its F/A-18 fleet with F-35s, has ordered newer, more capable Super Hornets in the interim.
Additionally, the financial crisis in Europe may further dampen the market for new F-16s. In fact, there may be a surplus if nations like Greece are forced to offer their modern F-16s on the market as surplus.