In April, Lockheed Martin celebrated the delivery of its 4,500th F-16 Fighting Falcon, attesting to the longevity of the fourth generation, multirole fighter. Now the company is working to extend that legacy with the U.S. Air Force and to stretch the production of F-16 export versions.
Late last year, the USAF indicated that it will proceed with a service life extension program (SLEP) and avionics upgrade of 300 or more Block 40/52 F-16s to compensate for the delay in operational readiness of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Lockheed Martin (Chalet D9-10, OE8) has on loan from the service a Block 50 F-16 that will be engineered for a 2,000-hour SLEP to 10,000 hours.
A second piece of the planned upgrade, the combat avionics programmed extension suite (CAPES), will integrate on the F-16 an active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire-control radar, a large center pedestal display unit, an ALQ-213 electronic warfare management suite and an integrated broadcast service network receiver. Initial operational capability of 24 F-16s is planned by the fourth quarter of 2018, with full operational capability to follow in 2022.
The AESA radar, which will be a choice between the competing Raytheon advanced combat radar (RACR) and Northrop Grumman’s scalable agile beam radar (SABR), is the basis of a new version of the fighter–the F-16V–introduced at the Singapore Airshow in February. The radar upgrade is tied together with an upgraded Raytheon modular mission computer to handle the additional processing power of the radar and other CAPES components. The cost to modify USAF jets for both the SLEP and CAPES is estimated at $9 million to $10 million per aircraft, or $3 billion for around 300 F-16s.
Lockheed Martin is being challenged for international F-16 upgrades by BAE Systems, which is competing for Korea’s planned upgrade of 130 F-16s, and potentially Boeing. BAE has installed a new commercial fire control radar in 270 U.S. Air National Guard F-16s and 50 Turkish Air Force fighters. However, Bill McHenry, Lockheed Martin manager of F-16 business development, contends the international market will follow the USAF’s lead.
“What we’re seeing in general is that [countries] have a great desire to stay in lockstep with what the U.S. Air Force is doing, and the U.S. Air Force is moving out with their modular mission computers,” McHenry told AIN. “Anybody else’s upgrade offering to the program is not in lockstep with the plan. We’ve been working with the United States Air Force since the beginning of the program on upgrades of the airplane. That’s the path for the airplane.”
As of May 31, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 backlog was 60 aircraft (4,570 ordered, with 4,510 delivered), extending production at its Fort Worth, Texas plant through January 2016. Thirty F-16s were ordered in the last year through foreign military sales, including 18 for Iraq and 12 for Oman. The company had completed production of 24 F-16 Block 52s for the Royal Moroccan Air Force, and was building jets for Egypt through 2013. These will be followed by jets sold to Oman in 2014 and Iraq in 2015.
Lockheed Martin sees an extended time horizon for the venerable fighter. The proposed V model “recognizes that fourth and fifth generation airplanes are going to be operating together for a number of years,” McHenry said. “The F-16 is going to be around for years to come, both in the U.S. Air Force and in the international community.”