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Defensive maneuver

Twenty-four used F16 jet fighters are Romania’s best option, Scott Harris, Lockheed Martin president for Continental Europe, reveals to The Diplomat-Bucharest on the country’s potential aircraft purchase. By Adrian Ion

October 2011 - From the Print Edition

Following President Basescu’s recent visit to the United States, where the issue of the acquisition of F16 fighter jets came under discussion, at what stage are the negotiations from Lockheed Martin’s point of view?
I can tell you broadly what we believe is the status. Preliminary discussions about the actual potential talks regarding the acquisition of the F16 aircraft are taking place between the Romanian and the US Governments. We, LM, are not in those meetings – we provide information and support, but we are not part of those negotiations. We know that the Romanian Government is looking at its options. One is to acquire new F16 aircraft and the other is to acquire used F16 aircraft. Those are the two possibilities that are being discussed with the US Government.

Is Romania looking to buy 24 new F16 planes, rather than used ones as planned before?

Romania is in discussions over the F16 model; for the transition from what the Romanian Air Force has today, this is the next logical step. In the future, the new F35 aircraft will be available to NATO countries as well, but this is too big a leap for Romania. This is a very good solution for many years. Together with Greece and Poland, Romania would be flying the latest generation of the F16 model, much more modern even than the one that the US Air Force is flying.
What would the new F35 model cost?
We do not know that yet, as the F35 is not yet in production, but we expect it to be priced at a similar level to what a new F16 costs today. It is designed to be affordable. A new F16 in fly away cost is in the mid USD 40 millions.

With which other countries in the region is Lockheed Martin in negotiations for the acquisition of F16 fighter jets?

We have the F16 in 10 NATO countries. Many of these countries are also in the partnership for the new F35 model that will be manufactured in Turkey and Italy. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are the three countries in SE Europe that are looking at the option to acquire the F16 model. If all three countries make the same decision, a package deal can be struck, making the price and training costs more economical. I believe that Croatia and Bulgaria are only considering used F16 models.

What is the stage of discussions with Croatia and Bulgaria? Less or more advanced than Romania?

I would say less advanced. I know that there have been high-level meetings, and there is a great deal of interest. The negotiations are very active.

Is the F16 a cheaper or more expensive solution than Saab’s Gripen?

I do not know the price of a Gripen, but I am absolutely convinced that over the long term the F16 will be a cheaper solution, due to its interoperability costs, training and support from the US Air Force as well as the world infrastructure support. If you consider the recent Libya experience, NATO air forces flying F16s were able to work together and function almost as one air force, as they had NATO practice. We think that for Romania flying F16s with the other NATO allies is the right solution.

When do you expect a decision from the Romanian Government? Is there a deadline?

There is no deadline; the practical issue is how it will be funded. Will it be through some combination of financing, of payments – this can be worked out between the two governments. From our point of view, if someone comes to us saying that they want 24 aircraft, we would be delivering them three years from now.

On what other projects is LM working in Romania?

The one that we are very proud of is the new TPS 79 gap filler radar. It’s a new product developed for Romania and then we hope for the world market. Lockheed Martin has begun a co-production program with the Romanian industry to manufacture low- and medium-altitude gap filler radars. We are doing this project in Romania with UTI. We hope it will be a good product that we can take to other markets.
The other project that we are part of indirectly is the US missile defense system that will be placed in Romania, the Aegis Ashore being a Lockheed Martin product. That system normally is on ships and we would love to be able to provide some variations of the Aegis combat system for the Romanian navy at some point if Romania modernizes its existing frigates or buys or builds a new ship. We are definitely in discussions on that. ■



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