The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) has integrated the Diehl BGT Defence IRIS-T missile as part of a mid-life upgrade (MLU) for its Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs. The air-to-air missile was seen for the first time on F-16s that are currently deployed to Australia for a multinational exercise.
The IRIS-T is among a package of improvements fitted onto some of the RTAF’s F-16s that also includes the Northrop-Grumman AN/APG-68(v)9 radar, Link 16 datalink, the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), Terma ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System and improved night-fighting capabilities.
All these were used by the RTAF F-16s taking part at Exercise Pitch Black 2016, a biannual large force multinational air combat exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in northern Australia taking place August 1to 19.
Thailand has deployed four of its F-16 MLUs and 93 personnel from Takhli-based 403 Squadron to the exercise, with the Thai aircrew relishing the vast tracts of unrestricted airspace available to conduct large force employment tactics in a coalition setting, a luxury not available in Thailand.
According to group captain Chanon Mungthanya, commander of the RTAF detachment at Pitch Black 2016, the RTAF’s F-16s undertook both air-to-air and air-to-ground sorties at the exercise, the former as part of both the attacking Blue and defending Red Air. He also confirmed that the RTAF will put 16 of its F-16A/Bs through the MLU, with the possibility of more aircraft being upgraded being dependent on budget and airframe suitability.
Speaking to AIN at the exercise, Mungthanya said that the IRIS-T is a improvement over older AIM-9 Sidewinders previously operated by the RTAF, offering increased agility, engagement envelope and off boresight targeting capability “equivalent to the AIM-9X” when used in conjunction with JHMCS. The RTAF is also using the IRIS-T on its Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen fighters.
The RTAF F-16s employed simulated laser guided bombs for air-to-ground missions at the exercise, although the Sniper targeting pods integrated under the MLU program were not employed on this occasion. Mungthanya also lauded the improved interoperability with the exercise partners offered by Link 16 on the upgraded F-16s, compared to previous occasions when communication was performed exclusively by voice transmissions.
This year’s Pitch Black saw 115 participating aircraft from seven nations including Australia, the United States, Singapore and Indonesia, with a further three nations contributing personnel.