There have been many ceremonies at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics over the years to deliver F-16s to foreign nations, but Thursday’s event had a special significance.
Iraq, which the U.S. invaded and where its military spent years fighting insurgents over the past decade, took delivery of the first of 36 F-16 fighter jets being built in west Fort Worth.
Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, said the F-16s will allow the rebuilding Iraqi air force to protect its own borders. Taking delivery of the first fighter sends “a clear sign to the world and the region that a stable and strong Iraq in a partnership of choice with the United States is what we are after.”
Iraq’s national security adviser, Falih Al-Fayyadh, said the F-16 will be “a weapon in the hands of all the people” to defend the new republic and its constitution.
“To have the Iraqi people and the U.S stand side by side to fight this terrorism, there are no words to describe it,” he said.
The delivery took place as Lockheed Martin is marking the 40th anniversary of the first flight of the F-16. More than 4,500 of the fighter jets have been manufactured for 28 nations.
Iraq first announced its intent to purchase 18 F-16s in 2011, and followed with a second order for 18 more last year. The contracts with Lockheed are valued at about $1.9 billion.
Lockheed has been winding down F-16 production for several years as the company has shifted resources into developing its next-generation fighter, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But foreign orders have kept the F-16 line going. Lockheed will continue building the planes for Iraq at a rate of about one a month in Fort Worth, where between 400 and 450 employees still work on the program.
Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, paid homage to the history and culture of Iraq as the cradle of civilization in welcoming the nation as an F-16 customer.
Four young Iraqi air force pilots, who are training in the United States, attended the ceremony, held in a hangar at Lockheed’s complex in west Fort Worth. The first two F-16s are expected to be flown to Iraq sometime later this year.
“Our boys in Iraq are ready to defend their country, their homeland,” Faily said.