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Bahrain Is Paying Billions For New Weapons

June 27, 2018

The US’ military industries are enjoying a heyday in the Middle East. As tensions with Iran ratchet up again while a bitter dispute is tearing the GCC apart, one of the smaller countries in the region is determined to possess as much firepower as it can afford. Bahrain has never been much of a spender on foreign arms but its desperate need for advanced weapons could mean a windfall for Washington, DC.

This week Lockheed Martin announced it was ready to deliver 16 new F-16 Block 70 multirole fighters for Bahrain within two years. The deal worth a reported $1.12 billion marks a huge breakthrough for the aerospace giant and Manama–the former preserves its domestic production line while the latter will receive a micro-air force.

According to Lockheed Martin the F-16 Block 70 is the newest and most advanced variant of the single engine fighter that entered service in 1979 and is flown by 26 air forces. The Block 70 is equipped with AESA radar, a “modernized cockpit,” an automatic ground collision avoidance system, and conformal fuel tanks to increase its range. By the time these F-16’s reach their end users a sizable stockpile of ordnance is available to them as part of a separate $45 million purchase approved by the US government in May. It covered:

  • 1,500 500 pound MK-82 General Purpose bombs
  • 600 1,000 lbs MK-83 General Purpose bombs
  • 600 2,000 lbs MK-84 General Purpose bombs
  • 500 2,000 lbs BLU-109 Penetrator Warhead bombs

Another silver lining in the sale of F-16 Block 70’s to Bahrain is its effect on the airframe’s marketability. With the F-35A now being delivered to US allies and cost-effective Russian Sukhois enjoying robust demand among developing countries, there isn’t much of a client pool left for the Cold War vintage F-16. Since the attempt at relocating the F-16 Block 70’s production to India doesn’t look sustainable, US-made F-16’s for trusted buyers are the best hope for keeping it alive.

Bahrain’s acquisition of F-16 Block 70’s comes barely two months after another major arms deal with the US got approved. In late April the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) published details on the possible sale of 12 AH-1Z attack helicopters and their spare parts worth $911.4 million. There was no schedule given for when deliveries are expected to be finished.

For Bahrain to receive a squadron of F-16’s and a dozen attack helicopters deepens its already entrenched reliance on the US. Although the island kingdom is known for having a small military, the piecemeal modernization being carried out these past few years suggests Manama wants to stand on its own feet. This isn’t extraordinary for a Gulf emirate, as its southern neighbor Qatar has shown in the past year.

When threatened with a blockade and possible attempts at regime change orchestrated by its former allies in the GCC, Doha wasted no time preparing for war. It immediately arranged almost $30 billion worth of deals for fourth-generation fighter aircraft and clandestinely imported Chinese ballistic missiles to deter any possible invasion. Bahrain isn’t caught in the same dire straits but its choices do reflect a need to control its airspace.

Yet even if it receives multirole fighters and attack helicopters in the next two or three years, Bahrain’s military still trails other GCC member states. A potential war with Iran needs to be prepared for anyway now that the Trump administration is imposing punitive sanctions on Tehran. For Bahrain to be spending a fortune upgrading its military strength makes it inevitable more big acquisitions are coming soon. The possibilities include an anti-ballistic missile defense system, a fleet of drones, offshore patrol vessels and maybe corvettes, and electronic warfare and radar on mobile complexes.

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