BAE Systems is competing against Lockheed Martin to be the prime contractor for Korea’s forthcoming upgrade of some 130 F-16s. Attention has focused largely on the competition between Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to supply the AESA radar. But the Korean request for proposals also invited non-OEMs to bid as system integrator. Taiwan and the U.S. are also planning a similar upgrade to some 140 and 300 aircraft, respectively. Other F-16 operators may follow, making this a multibillion-dollar market.
BAE claims long experience in supplying avionics and electronics for the F-16. It has provided head-up displays, electronic warfare systems, reconnaissance sensors, flight control computers, terrain avoidance systems, IFF transponders, Link 16 communications and other items. The company designed and has installed a new commercial fire control computer (CFCC) in 270 U.S. Air National Guard F-16C/D Block 25/30/32s since 2008. BAE has since produced 50 more CFCCs for a Turkish Air Force F-16 upgrade. It claims that the CFCC offers processing power and bandwidth superior to that of the Raytheon multi-mission computer (MMC) that equips most other F-16s. The CFCC includes ethernet capability that provides the high-speed communication interfaces that are required by AESAs and other modern sensors and displays.
“We are the low-cost and proven option for upgrading F-16 avionics,” asserts Floyd McConnell, vice president of integrated aviation solutions for BAE Systems Support Solutions. “In recent years, what has made the aircraft relevant to modern threats has been the improvement of the electronics, which have not been provided by the OEM,” he told AIN. BAE believes it can provide F-16 operators seeking upgrades with a more tailored choice.
Lockheed Martin stresses the advantages to customers of sharing a common upgrade, as the company demonstrated previously with the mid-life update (MLU) and common configuration improvement program (CCIP). “The F-16 is a complex airplane; you need to understand it,” Lockheed Martin vice president for international business development Ann Wugofski told AIN. Referring to the Block 60 F-16s that were developed for the UAE Air Force, she added, “We have already integrated an AESA; this is not a trivial upgrade.” The OEM recently unveiled an F-16V upgrade package that includes changes to the MMC and a new high-speed databus, as well as the AESA.