The first of 84 Greek Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters to be upgraded to the F-16V Viper standard took to the skies for the first time on January 17. Greece’s minister for national defense, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, announced the news on Twitter, noting that the maiden flight was conducted with “absolute success”, and that the upgrade program “continues at an intensive pace.”
The F-16V had been upgraded at the Tanagra facility of Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI), which is to carry out the modifications to the fleet in a program that was approved by the U.S. government in October 2017. The value is estimated to reach around $1.5 billion.
The first airframe, carrying the serial number 005, was originally delivered in 2009 as an F-16C Block 52+ with Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine as part of the Peace Xenia IV sale. Greece acquired a total of 90 Block 52/52+ aircraft and the survivors are the subject of the upgrade. The Hellenic Air Force (HAF) also received 80 Block 30/50 aircraft powered by the General Electric F110, but they are not part of the F-16V program.
After modernization, the aircraft is now an F-16V in Block 72 configuration, the “2” denoting its P&W powerplant. The key element of the modernization is the installation of the Northrop Grumman APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR), a sensor with an active electronically scanned array (AESA). The cockpit has a new center pedestal display and is compatible with the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) II. Other improvements include a new mission computer, an automatic ground collision avoidance system, enhanced electronic warfare capabilities, Link 16 datalink, and an advanced identification friend or foe interrogator system.
Following 005’s 61-minute first flight, which was conducted by a U.S. test pilot and was accompanied by an F-16D two-seater, the aircraft is to undergo a short test campaign in Greece before being ferried to the U.S. by the end of the month for completion of the conversion and thorough evaluation and certification. All early flying is being conducted by U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin test pilots. The next three F-16Vs are also expected to go to the U.S. to join the test fleet. A successful conclusion of the certification process will result in approval by Lockheed Martin for HAI to proceed with the remainder of the upgrade program, which is expected to be completed by June 2027.
Upgrading the F-16s is one of a number of efforts to recapitalize the HAF’s combat fleet. Earlier this month the Greek parliament approved the purchase of six new-build and 12 ex-French air force Dassault Rafales. A deal is expected to be signed before the end of the month, with deliveries of the first of the used aircraft due in the first half of 2021. Late 2019 deals with France also ensure the continued service of the HAF’s Dassault Mirage 2000-5 Mk 2 fighters.
In November 2020 a letter of request covering 18-24 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters was delivered to the U.S. government, with a plea for delivery of aircraft in 2021. With F-35 production accounted for until at least 2024, this would also dictate the acceptance of used aircraft if approved.