European Allies Want Used F-16s, But Are There Enough to Go Around?

A Romanian Air Force F-16 at Fetesti Air Base, Romania, in October 2016.

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A Romanian Air Force F-16 at Fetesti Air Base, Romania, in October 2016.

The venerable U.S. fighter jet is getting a closer look as NATO members seek to build their defenses.

LE BOURGET, FRANCE — American allies across Europe want used F-16 fighter jets, but there might not be enough planes to go around, U.S. Air Force officials say.

“There’s a demand for excess F-16s out there from a lot of our European partners,” Heidi Grant, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, said Monday at the Paris Air Show, a massive military and commercial aviation event held here every other year.

First produced in 1974 by General Dynamics and built since 1993 by Lockheed and its successor Lockheed Martin, the F-16 is attractive to some NATO allies that are increasing or planning to increase defense spending and weapons purchases in the wake of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Late last year, Romania received six F-16s from Portugal under a deal approved in 2013. (The U.S. government must approve foreign sales of used F-16s flown by allies.) Last year, a State Department official suggested other Eastern European nations might work similar deals.

The deal admitted Romania to a European F-16 club that also includes The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, Greece and Poland. Meanwhile, The Netherlands and Norway are buying F-35s and Denmark plans to buy them as well.

“There’s interest as you see some some countries going to the F-35. They may be looking to divest of some of their F-16s and there’s partner nations out there that could [buy] those excess,” Grant said. “It’s more affordable within their defense budgets. We’re working with many countries trying to make these transactions, third-party transfers, work.”

There’s also interest in new F-16s, but “it’s mostly excess right now,” she said.

“[T]he demand and interest is greater than I have ever seen,” said Grant, who has been in her Pentagon position since 2010.

Asked if there are enough F-16s out there for the demand, Grant said: “No.”

“But if there’s not, not every country needs an F-16,” said Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s military deputy for acquisition. “Sometimes we work with them to come up with other alternatives.”

Lockheed is planning to move its F-16 production line from Fort Worth, Texas, to Greenville, South Carolina, freeing up space to build F-35s.

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