Lockheed Martin (LM) and BAE Systems reported progress this month on their rival upgrades for F-16 Fighting Falcons. Two aircraft from each company’s launch customer (Taiwan for LM, Korea for BAE) are now in rework, ironically just a few miles from each other in Fort Worth, Texas. Meanwhile, the ferry of Iraq’s first two new Block 52 aircraft in September is looking unlikely.
F-16 Fighting Falcon variants
The first of 36 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52 fighters for the Iraqi Air Force made its first flight from the company’s Fort Worth, Texas facility. Iraq confirmed the purchase of 18 F-16s in September 2011, and has apparently committed to the other 18 since then. The Iraqi and other orders have extended the F-16 production line through 2017. More than 4,540 F-16s have been delivered to date.
On February 11 a U.S. Navy Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet made the type’s first flight equipped with an infrared search and track sensor. Developed by Lockheed Martin, the IRST sensor is intended to give the Block II Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler a long-range, passive detection and tracking capability against multiple air targets to augment the aircraft’s APG-79 AESA radar and other sensors. Fleet fielding is scheduled for 2017.
Singapore’s intention to upgrade its fleet of about 60 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D fighters was indicated by a recent notification to Congress by the Pentagon. But no choice has yet been made between rival upgrade systems integrators BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. According to the notification, the upgrade will cost Singapore an estimated $2.43 billion, although this total also includes three new weapons.
Lockheed Martin has brought its T-50 Golden Eagle simulator to Dubai to continue its promotion of the supersonic advanced trainer system in the region and particularly in the UAE. The T-50 was developed in Korea by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) working in close partnership with Lockheed Martin and is now in service with the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) in the form of the T-50 advanced trainer and TA-50 lead-in fighter/weapons trainer versions. The fully combat-capable FA-50 is due to be delivered before the end of the year to begin the replacement of the ROKAF’s Northrop F-5s.
BAE Systems expects that the U.S. and Korean governments will sign a letter of offer and acceptance later this year authorizing the foreign military sale (FMS) of BAE’s F-16 avionics and weapons upgrade to the Republic of Korea Air Force. The company provided an update on the Korean program and a sales pitch for further F-16 upgrades during a Paris Air Show briefing on Tuesday.
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.
The U.S. Air Force will proceed with a service life extension program (SLEP) and avionics upgrade of 300 to 350 F-16 Fighting Falcons to compensate for an expected two-year slip in operational readiness of the F-35A Lightning II, service leaders told the U.S. Congress on November 2.
During a presentation at Le Bourget on Tuesday, Lockheed Martin officials and a panel of both present and former customers extolled the virtues of the lightweight fighter that is still operating 32 years after it was originally designed.