Egypt agrees to buy up to 24 US F-16 fighters

Washington – Egypt clinched a deal with the US government last week to buy 20 advanced Lockheed Martin Corp F-16C/D fighter aircraft valued at $1.6 billion, the US Defense Department said Tuesday.

The first of the new batch, known as block 50/52, are expected to be delivered in early 2012, a spokesman for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.

The Pentagon told Congress in October that Egypt was seeking as many as 24 F-16C/D block 50/52 models. It said at the time the deal could be worth $3.2 billion, including base construction, support equipment and other hardware and services.

The US-Egyptian agreement was signed Dec. 23 and covered strictly the F-16s, associated equipment and logistical support, said Paul Ebner, the spokesman.

The rest of the possible arms package for Egypt was still subject to negotiations, he said.

The Egyptian embassy did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the reason for buying 20 F-16s rather than the 24 Cairo originally had requested.

George Standridge, Lockheed Aeronautics’ vice president for business development, said in a telephone interview that Lockheed now awaits a US government contract for the addition to Egypt’s existing F-16 fleet.

Former President George W. Bush’s administration is widely reported to have withheld updated F-16s and certain other advanced weapons because of Egypt’s human rights record and democracy issues, as well as out of concern for maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.

Egypt has been flying the F-16 since 1982. It has received 220 of them, after decades of chiefly using military hardware built by the former Soviet Union.

The new agreement marks the 53rd time an F-16 customer has returned for a new batch, said Joe Stout, a Lockheed spokesman.

Last week, Lockheed was awarded an $841.8 million contract to continue building 24 new F-16C/D Block 52 fighters for Morocco, the 25th nation to buy the F-16, the world’s most widely flown fighter.

The administration of President Barack Obama told Congress in October that the F-16 sale would greatly enhance Egypt’s "interoperability" with U.S. forces.

This would make it a more valuable partner in the Middle East as well as support Egypt’s own self-defense needs, the security cooperation agency said.

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