USAF Unveils $6.3bn F-16 Fighter Upgrade Program

 - March 4, 2022, 6:18 AM
F-16s from the 53rd Wing and 96th Test Wing are seen at Eglin AFB, Florida, in July 2020. All four had been fitted with the APG-83 SABR radar for trials. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

After some years of stalling over a fleet modernization effort, the U.S. Air Force will now upgrade 608 of its youngest Lockheed Martin F-16s in a massive program that will cost an estimated $6.3 billion. Managed by the Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, the program brings together 22 specific modifications—some of which are already under way—that address the aircraft’s lethality and aim to equip it for service until at least the late 2040s.

The overall project—known as Post Block Integration Team, or PoBIT—is highly complex in terms of managing the application of upgrades across such a large fleet while still ensuring operational requirements are still being met. “This is a pretty massive effort, a collision of mods as we call it,” said Oryan “OJ” Joseph of the directorate’s F-16 Program Office. “We had to quickly look at all of the mods that are going on the aircraft and not only understand the timing of when the mods are going to deliver, but also when the aircraft will be available from the units. There are a lot of variables, a give-and-take tug of war that we deal with every day on bringing down aircraft [for modifications] at the right time.”

Scheduled to undergo the PoBIT transformation are the Block 40/42 and 50/52 F-16C/Ds that were delivered between 1988 and 2005. These aircraft already went through the major Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP) mid-life update in the 2000s, which, as its name suggests, brought them to a common standard while adding new mission computers, Link 16, helmet-mounted display, and updated cockpit displays.

The main feature of the PoBIT upgrade will be the installation of the Northrop Grumman APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) with an active electronically scanned array (AESA). This radar has also been selected for a smaller U.S. Northern Command upgrade program covering 72 F-16s of the Air National Guard. The first aircraft to be converted under that effort was completed in January 2020. APG-83 is also the standard radar in new-build F-16 Block 70/72s that are being built for export customers, and for the similar F-16V upgrade program for customers such as Greece, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

Other elements of the new program include a large center pedestal display unit, programmable data generator, new-generation electronic warfare capability, communications suite upgrade, and modernized mission computer. An upgraded Link 16 datalink will be installed as part of an effort to allow the aircraft to employ high-speed networking.