Announcing the variant at the Singapore Air Show, George Standridge, Vice President of Business Development at Lockheed Martin, said, “At the core of that offering will be the introduction and integration of an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar into existing F-16 fleets around the world – a new advanced cockpit as well as some other mission systems enhancements and avionics enhancements going forward.”
Standridge said the ‘V’ stands for Viper, ‘which is the pet name that the airplane has been given by the US Air Force’.
A company statement said, “AESA radars offer significant operational capability improvements. Lockheed Martin has developed an innovative solution to affordably retrofit this key technology into existing F-16s. The F-16V configuration is an option for new production jets and elements of the upgrade are available to most earlier-model F-16s. The “V” designation is derived from Viper, the name fighter pilots have called the F-16 from its beginnings.”
Ana Wugofski, Vice President for International Business Development, listed the ‘computer, data bus, center pedestal, display and some other systems depending on customers’ as new on the Viper. “And so what that’s going to allow us to do is not just the capability of the radar, but with the processing be prepared to incorporate more information in the cockpit,” she said.
Wugofski said she didn’t know if the Viper is a direct derivative of the F-16IN, which her company offered for the MMRCA contest. “I don’t know if there’s a one to one relationship. Every time we work with a customer we learn what the customers are looking for. From that perspective, if that’s the question you’re asking – do we learn? We learn from every one of our customers.”
The US Air Force has recently decided to upgrade some 300 older F-16s to the Viper configuration. The company says this configuration can be retrofitted on to the Block 40 and 50 models. Some would think this development is the result of the troubles the company has had in having a stable F-35 to deliver to its contracted customers. Is the Viper a stopgap?
“It’s always been in the plan that these F-16s for the US Air Force or even for some of the customers that are looking at moving to a fifth gen fighter will remain in the inventory and be interoperable with fifth gen and so what we’re doing is preparing that aircraft to be more capable and more interoperable more effective as they go forward,” said Wugofski.
She thinks there have been ‘inflection points’ in the evolution of the aircraft: “As our customers’ aircraft come up for an upgrade, if you will, mid-life update or it is time to look at expanding the capabilities of the aircraft that they’ve been using and that they understand. So along the life of the F-16 there’s been these inflection points where there’s been a jump in capability.”
Calling this a ‘next step’ for customers with fleets of Block 40 and 50 aircraft, she said, “We’ve got a customer base that is looking for these capabilities and we see it as a transition for them but also an ability to build new airplanes so they – some customers will upgrade these airplanes and also potentially buy a few more as they round off their fleet and then look to transition to 5th gen fighters, going forward.”
It works both ways, said the company’s Senior Regional Director for the Asia Pacific, Steven L. Over. “When we reach these inflection points where we help customers do some kind of mid-life update of their airplanes then that allows us to have a new baseline that we can feed into production airplanes,” he said, adding, “And vice versa. Sometimes a new airplane customer will come to us and desire a capability and that has a natural fit back into our retro-fit program as well.”
He thinks a significant factor is affordability of new technologies: “Don’t lose sight of the fact that this electronically scanned radar technology is reaching a maturity point where it’s now available in an affordable configuration that can be more easily retrofitted into the existing F-16. When many of these F-16s were originally manufactured the technology was just not at that maturity level where we could have incorporated this type of radar into production airplanes. But 5 – 10 – 15 years later, that technology is mature and it’s available now and certainly from US radar manufacturers. And because the technology is available now many customers are saying these airplanes are going to be relevant – I’m going to keep them in my service because they have lots of structural service life left and I want that technology on my airplanes now for another 15 years or 20 years of service life.”
Lockheed Martin is currently producing F-16 aircraft for Morocco and Egypt. They have received orders for 12 aircraft from Oman as well as 18 aircraft for Iraq. “That takes us through production and deliveries through 2015,” said Standridge. Other opportunities include Taiwan, which has requested 66 new aircraft, to which the US government has not acquiesced, so far.
Last week also saw the roll out of the 4500th F-16. The program began with an order of 998 aircraft in 1977 ‘with the US Air Force and the European participating air forces – Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium’. “We fast forward to today – 25 air forces around the world – 54 follow on buys,” he said.