Bahrain F-16 Peace Crown
The US administration informed Congress 29 March 2017 that it planned to move forward with a sale of fighter jets to Bahrain that had been held up in 2016 because of human rights concerns. The deal would allow Bahrain to buy 19 F-16 jets from Lockheed Martin for more than $4 billion. The notification set off a review process during which lawmakers can ask for more information or raise any concerns.
Rights group Amnesty International objected to the sale, citing a number of concerns about Bahrain’s actions, including its participation in the Saudi-led coalition conducting airstrikes in the conflict in Yemen. The group also cited Trump’s executive order suspending refugee admissions to the US.
The Obama administration had stopped the sale, saying Bahrain first needed to address rights concerns such as crackdowns on opposition groups. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker said 29 March 2017 that such conditions were “unprecedented and counterproductive,” as he praised the decision to move forward with the sale. “There are more effective ways to seek changes in partner policies than publicly conditioning weapons transfers in this manner,” Corker said.
Bahrain would acquire 19 new-build F-16Vs, featuring conformal fuel tanks, which would enable the assets to operate with more weapons beneath the wing. Modernising Bahrain’s existing in-service fleet to the F-16V standard would include the integration of Northrop Grumman’s scalable agile beam electronically scanned array radar.
On 28 September 2016 US officials began notifying US lawmakers about plans to sell 17 Lockheed F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain, plus upgrades of up to 20 additional aircraft. The deal paved the way for the three Middle Eastern countries to receive F-15E Strike Eagles, F/A-18 Super Hornets, and F-16 fighters. Kuwait and Qatar requested the sale of the fighters two years ago, and while the US Congress approved of the deal, the White House had been dragging its feet.
The backbone of the fighter force was formed by two squadrons of F-16C/Ds delivered in two batches between 1990 and 2001. In March 1987, Bahrain signed a letter of agreement for 12 Block 40 F-16C/Ds in the Peace Crown Foreign Military Sales program. The first aircraft was delivered in ceremonies at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in March 1990. Bahrain signed a follow-on order in February 1998 providing for the purchase of 10 additional Block 40 F-16s, and these were delivered during 2000.
Sheik Isa Air Base is home to the BAAF and is located on the shores of the Arabian Gulf in southern Bahrain. It hosts the BAAF Fighter Wing and the two squadrons that comprise it. The 1st Fighter Squadron operates Block 40 F-16s along side F-5E/F Tiger IIs from the 6th Fighter Squadron.
In March 1987, Bahrain ordered twelve F-16 aircraft through the US FMS, and through a program which became known as Peace Crown. In 1990, the BAAF become the fifteenth operator of the Fighting Falcon. On June 22, 2000 Bahrain received the first of of a further 10 F-16s purchased under the Peace Crown II program.
The LOA was signed in March, 1987 for 12 F-16 C/D aircraft with the first production delivery scheduled for March 1990. The program was a $385 million cash sale without any coproduction. In March 1990 Bahrain accepted the first of their new block 40 F-16 aircraft, comparable to their US counterparts with similar radar warning and self-protection systems. The literature suggests the 12 aircraft package included navigation and targeting pods, but these apparently were not used in the first Gulf War as the jets only flew air-to-air missions. Bahrain showed amazing proficiency with the F-16, flying 167 combat sorties during Desert Storm only months after the introduction and delivery of the first F-16 to their air force.
On 22 June 2000 Bahrain received the first of its new production F-16 aircraft today in ceremonies at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company. The aircraft was the first of 10 F-16s purchased under the Peace Crown II program. The new F-16s will supplement the BAAF's existing inventory of 12 Block 40s (eight C model, four D model) that were purchased in 1987 and delivered in 1990. The Peace Crown II program was valued at $303 million, and completed delivery at the end of 2000.
On 21 July 2005, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Government of Bahrain of continuing logistics support services/equipment for the F-16 aircraft and related components as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $150 million. The Government of Bahrain has requested a possible sale of continuing logistics support services/equipment for the F-16 aircraft, ALR-69 radar warning receiver, ALQ-131 electric countermeasure pods, radar systems, and engines. The possible sale also includes support equipment, aircraft engine services/modification, repair/return services; depot level repair support; precision measurement equipment laboratory calibration, spare and repair parts, support equipment, supply support; personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, contractor technical services and other related elements of logistics support and to ensure aircraft operational availability.
On July 27, 2009 the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible foreign military sale to the Government of Bahrain of 25 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) and associated equipment, parts and services at an estimated cost of $74 million.
The U.S. Air Force (and other F-16 users) have performed major upgrades to their F-16s' avionics systems. The BDF has been offered a similar upgrade, but balked at the $300M to $400M price tag. The US had briefed the BDF leadership on several occasions that the current avionics system in their aircraft will become ever more difficult to maintain and could be unsupportable in 10 years due to parts obsolescence. By 2013, Bahrain will be the only country using this old configuration. As the system ages, maintenance costs will increase and combat effectiveness will decrease. Eventually, with no pipeline to support them, the viability of the BDF's 21 F-16s will become increasingly uncertain. Furthermore, the upgrade kit production line is scheduled to close in the near future. This would effectively leave the Bahrain Defense Force with no commercially available means to upgrade. If Bahrain chose to wait and production of the kits ends, costs would increase even further.
In addition, F-16 engineers estimate that Bahrain's aircraft engines began to reach cycle limits in June 2009, necessitating overhaul and replacement of some key parts. The relatively high ($60M to $80M) cost of these replacement parts has figured into the Bahrain Defense Force's decision to postpone the upgrade purchase. Some aircraft could be grounded if the decision to purchase the overhaul kits is not made within the next twelve months. The BDF has already begun to reduce its flying schedule and it has some capability to rotate engines with low flying hours through the fleet. This will delay the first groundings, but ultimately require subsequent groundings to happen more quickly.
By December 2009 there were concerns about Bahrain's ability to fund the USD $400 million Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP) avionics upgrade for its existing fleet of F-16s. It was important for Bahrain to extend the viable service life of these aircraft as long as possible, as the Kingdom could not afford to purchase new aircraft. There was a difficult budgetary environment for defense expenditures in Bahrain, with most government funding going to social programs. Brigadier General Yousef Ahmed Malalla, Director of Planning, Organization, and Information Technology for the Bahrain Defense Forces (BDF), indicated that Bahrain had already allocated USD $55 million to pay for the basic Service Life Extension (SLE) for the aircraft's engines, but the budget would not support additional expenditures to support CCIP. Brigadier General Shaikh Hamad Abdulla Al Khalifa, Commander of the Royal Bahraini Air Force, said Bahrain needed assistance in modernizing its F-16s in order to continue to support coalition operations.
One hundred jet fighters from 10 friendly countries took part in the "Initial Link" exercise 2012, organized by the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF). The major military exercise is one of the Royal Bahraini Air Force's (RBAF) training schemes in collaboration with fraternal and friendly countries to maintain security and stability in the Gulf. It aims to enhance competence of pilots and technicians in air forces as well as support and contingents. This year's drill was the biggest since 1988. RBAF held a preparatory meeting with representatives from participating countries including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, the USA and the host country Bahrain. Preparations were reviewed alongside with combat readiness.
The State Department made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Bahrain for F-16 follow-on support and associated equipment, parts and logistics for an estimated cost of $150 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on August 4, 2015. The Government of Bahrain requested a possible sale of follow on support for Bahrain’s existing F-16 fleet. Support will include support equipment, communications equipment, ammunition, personal training and training equipment, spare and repair parts, publications and technical documentation, Electronic Combat International Security Assistance Program, U.S. Government and contractor technical, logistics, and engineering support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support. The estimated cost is $150 million.
The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping improve the security of a Major Non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Ally, which has been and continues to be a key security partner in the region.
The follow-on support is required to maintain the operational readiness of the Royal Bahrain Air Force’s (RBAF) F-16 fleet. The RBAF’s F-16s are aging and periodic maintenance is becoming increasingly expensive. The age of the fleet, combined with an increased operational tempo due to recent involvement in Operation Inherent Resolve has led to increased focus on maintenance and sustainment. Bahrain will have no difficulty absorbing this additional support into its armed forces. Contracts will be awarded when source of supply determines that defense articles and services are not available from stock or considered lead-time away.
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