More Expensive Than the F-35: Jordan Orders 12 Modernised F-16s at $350 Million Per Airframe

The Royal Jordanian Air Force was announced on January 19 to have placed an order for 12 F-16 Fighting Falcon fourth generation fighters, with Royal Air Force Commander Brigadier General Pilot Muhammad Fathi Hiasat signing a contract with the U.S. Deputy Chief of mission in the country Rohit Nepal. The F-16s will be built to the latest Block 70/72 standard, which was previously ordered by Slovakia, Bulgaria, Bahrain and the Republic of China (Taiwan). The contract is valued at $4.21 billion, for a cost of little over $350 million per airframe including associated weaponry and maintenance infrastructure. The fighters are by far the most costly F-16s ever exported, with Falcons from the same generation contracted by Taiwan in 2019 being provided for under $125 million per airframe. To place the price of the Jordanian order in perspective, it is approximately double that at which the United States has exported the much more capable fifth generation F-35s to other clients, with the aircraft selling abroad for approximately $187 million per airframe including maintenance equipment and weaponry. This follows a broader trend of Western fighter sales to Middle Eastern states often having far higher price tags than those sold in other regions, the reasons for which have been widely speculated.

The Royal Jordanian Air Force currently operates three fighter squadrons between them deploying 47 F-16A/B jets. The fighters have seen combat over neighbouring Syria launching strikes on the Islamic State terror group, with the daughter of the current head of state Princess Salma bint Abdullah being a trained F-16 pilot. The capabilities of Jordan’s F-16s have been widely criticised domestically, however, with one fighter lost on a combat mission in Syria in December 2014 and reported by several sources to have been shot down – which some analysts interpreted as an indicator that fighters sold to the Arab state were not built to the same standard as those supplied to other clients. 

The F-16 has not been acquired by the U.S. Air Force for 18 years since early 2005, but continues to be produced in small numbers for export for clients which either cannot afford newer fifth generation F-35s, or as in Taiwan’s case for those which for political reasons are denied access to high or medium end fighter classes. The F-16 was developed as a lighter cheaper counterpart to the U.S. Air Force’s top air superiority fighter the F-15 Eagle during the 1970s, and first joined the Air Force in 1978. The aircraft has widely been derided as obsolete by military officials from the U.S. and allied states such as Singapore, although the latest Block 70/72 variant  provides fifth generation level avionics and weaponry which help to partly compensate for other deficiencies. The F-16 is prized for its low maintenance requirements and operational costs, and for contracts to states other than Jordan it has for decades consistently represented the cheapest Western fighter class in production.