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U.S. approves sale of Lockheed F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain

rmallison@star-telegram.com

The U.S. government has approved the long-stalled sale of fighter jets by Boeing and Lockheed Martin to Persian Gulf allies in deals valued at as much as $20 billion, according to people familiar with the decision.

The sales to Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait can go ahead unless they are rejected by the U.S. Congress. An “informal notification” sent to the House and Senate foreign affairs committees Wednesday begins an initial review that could last as long as 40 days, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified in advance of a formal announcement that will come later. That notice will trigger an official 30-day review.

Lockheed, which builds its F-16s in west Fort Worth, would be able to sell as many as 19 of its F-16s to Bahrain. The other potential sales include as many as 72 Boeing F-15 jets to Qatar and as many as 32 F/A-18 E/F fighters to Kuwait, according to one of the people.

The aircraft sales will deliver on pledges by President Barack Obama and the Pentagon to bolster the weaponry of Sunni-led nations in the Middle East. Those allies were left angry and uneasy after the U.S. agreed to a deal with their regional rival, Shiite-led Iran, to ease international economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Qatar lodged its proposal in July 2013, and Kuwait made its request in April 2015. Bahrain’s is more recent.

Lockheed spokesman Bill Phelps said in an e-mail that “it would be inappropriate to comment on the details of ongoing government-to-government discussions between the U.S. and Bahrain.”

Work on the F-16, which has been built in Fort Worth since the 1970s, has been winding down as the program matured and attention turned to building the next-generation F-35. Several hundred workers continue to build about one F-16 a month for Iraq at the Fort Worth plant, with orders in place to last through October 2017. Over the life of the program, Lockheed has delivered more than 4,500 F-16s.

Lockheed is bidding for a big airplane order in India and said this summer that it’s considering shifting its F-16 manufacturing to the Asian country if it wins the deal.

The three aircraft sales could be valued at as much as $12 billion for the planes, and $20 billion if spare parts, logistical support and munitions are included, according to Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst for the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia.

He underscored that the sales would help keep open assembly lines for older planes, such as the one in St. Louis where Boeing builds the F-15, as U.S. purchases shift to Lockheed’s new F-35.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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