The new F-16s give the Jordanian Air Force a boost, but what will happen next?
BEIRUT: While the Jordanian leader has publicly floated the idea of a NATO-like Middle East alliance, his air force scored a significant upgrade with the signing of a letter of offer and acceptance for eight Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 aircraft.
The LOA was signed on June 17 with a Lockheed spokesperson telling Breaking Defense “We expect the production contract for this LOA to be completed next year,” with deliveries expected to begin in 2027.
The US State Department approved the sale of 16 F-16 fighter jets in February 2022, with an estimated price of $4.21, but that number was halved in the letter of acceptance signed by Major General Yousef Al-Hnaity, head of the Jordanian Armed Forces, and Brig. General Mohammad Hiyasat, commander of the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF).
“It’s a function of the Foreign Military Sales process. We continue to partner with Jordan and the US government to finalize the LOA for the eight additional jets,” the Lockheed spokesperson replied to Breaking Defense regarding the reduction.
Indeed, publicly announced dollar and quantity figures for FMS cases often change when a final contract is negotiated. But Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at Stratfor/RANE Network, noted that budget constraints were likely a factor in reducing demand from Jordan.
“The likely cost is one of the notable reasons why Jordan only buys eight; the Block 70 costs about $63 million per unit, and eight of those planes already make up about a quarter of its $2 billion defense budget in 2019,” he told Breaking Defense.
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Bohl added that Jordan’s economy and its national budget are still trying to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting its ability to make big purchases.
“Furthermore, the United States has not increased its foreign military aid to Jordan to help it buy more Block 70s; the United States is Jordan’s largest military aid provider, and at the moment US aid is more focused on Jordan’s economy (and therefore internal stability) than on its air force and his ability to defend against external threats, which is compared to internal unrest less of a threat to Jordan right now,” Bohl said.
The Royal Jordanian Air Force operates 43 F-16As and 18 F-16B Fighting Falcons, making the aircraft the backbone of the Jordanian military fleet. With 230 aircraft in total, the RJAF has considerably large fleets which include Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, Sikorsky UH-60 helicopters, McDonnell Douglas MD500 Defender and Bell AH-1 Cobra, Air Tractor AT reconnaissance aircraft -802 Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, and Pilatus PC-21, Grob G120TP and Robinson R44 trainers.
“Jordan has a relatively large, albeit aging, air force. It uses the F-16A as its primary combat aircraft, which can perform regional missions against terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Syria. For longer-range missions, Jordan relies more on allies like Saudi Arabia or the United States for aerial refueling and intelligence support. However, Jordan is currently not involved in long-range military missions and appears to have halted its air campaign in Syria after the suppression of ISIS,” Bohl said.
Bahrain is also under contract for Block 70, as part of a $1.12 billion deal for 16 aircraft; flight testing for Bahrain is expected to begin in early 2023. These new F-16s will be built in Greenville after the contract is finalized. The production rate at Greenville is four planes per month, according to the Lockheed spokesperson.
“The production rate of the F-16 Block 70/72 will increase significantly throughout 2023, with deliveries for additional customers continuing through the mid-to-late 2020s,” the spokesperson said.
What future for the Jordanian Air Force
There are signs that Jordan is seeking to expand its military ties with other powers in the region, which would likely require increased investment in key defense areas.
Jordan is believed to be linked to Israel’s June 20 announcement of an integrated regional air defense network. Perhaps most notably, King Abdullah II of Jordan raised eyebrows with his June 24 statement that he supports a military alliance in the Middle East similar to Western-led NATO.
Bohl says it makes sense for Jordan to be involved in such efforts, but added that there is still a lot of political work to be done before a formal NATO-like alliance can work in the region, saying, “ Egypt and Jordan, for example, do not want to be drawn into a war with Iran, and the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Israel do not want to be stuck fighting for Egyptian interests in Libya. or, further in the future, in Ethiopia. .”
In 2022, Jordan’s defense budget was pegged at $1.9 billion, with an expected growth of 4% between 2023 and 2027, as reported in a budget analysis report by Globaldata. According to Bohl, the government in Amman has clear focus areas for where to spend this money.
“At least three broad areas would see growth: further modernization of the Jordanian Air Force, increased air defense capabilities (and possible integration of such a system with other U.S. allies like Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain) to block Iranian threats and focus on counterterrorism at home through increased training, equipment, and salaries,” Bohl said.
However, which of these three areas will get the biggest boost will depend on regional developments: if there is a US-Iranian nuclear deal, air defense could take priority in favor of modernizing the US military. air ; if there is a resurgence of terrorism, then homeland security would be the priority; if there is a continued or intensified confrontation between the United States or between Israel and Iran, then air defense will likely emerge as the main focus of increased spending.
One area that is already seeing an increase in Air Force spending is related to F-16 procurement. On February 11, the U.S. Defense and Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced that the State Department had approved a Foreign Military Sale Deal for an F-Air Combat Training Center. 16 (CCTA).
The ACTC will include full mission trainers, combat tactics trainers, instructor/operator stations, tactical environment simulators, briefing/debriefing stations, scenario generation stations, generation stations databases, mission observation centers and other training center equipment and media, according to the DSCA statement.