L ockheed Martin has configured its F-16 fighter to enable it to meet the air-to-air refueling requirements laid down for the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contest of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The defense contractor has enabled the aircraft with the ‘Probe and Drogue’ system, a demonstrator of which was displayed at the Paris Air Show recently.
According to John Giese of Lockheed Martin the aircraft requires conformal tanks to enable air-to-air refueling. Other air forces that operate the F-16 too, have taken notice. “Israel was interested. If the Israeli Air Force (F-16 aircraft) were to have conformal tanks, they could be enabled too,” he said.
Lockheed Martin especially engineered an F-16 for the purpose of meeting the Indian requirements, enabling the aircraft to use the ‘Probe and Drogue’ system for refueling with a retractable refueling boom attached to its conformal tanks. “We’ve developed this capability over the past few years,” said Giese.
Conformal tanks, unlike drop tanks which can be discarded after use, are additional fuel tanks that are fitted into the architecture of an aircraft to optimize its aerodynamic shape.
The capability for air-to-air refueling is considered strategically significant as it extends the range and endurance of the aircraft being refueled. Probe and Drogue allows tankers to refuel multiple aircraft at the same time and is also used by the IAF’s Il-78 tankers.