Tag: F-16 Block 70

Taiwan Achieves F-16V Full Operational Capability

No Comments
gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Taiwan Achieves F-16V Full Operational Capability
The line-up of Vipers at the ceremony for the induction into active service of the (image via Taiwan president Twitter account). In the box: Flag bearers parade the Taiwanese flag in front of one of the upgraded F-16Vs. The aircraft can be seen loaded with three GBU-12s on the Triple Ejector Racks. (Photo: Tsungfang Tsai via scramble.nl)

Taiwan becomes the first operator to field operationally the , the upgraded variant of the “Viper”.

On November 18, 2021 Taiwan has become the first operator to achieve the Full Operational Capability with the upgraded F-16V Block 72. The milestone was celebrated with the official induction into service of the aircraft in the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing of the Republic of China Air Force at Chiayi Air Base, at the presence of the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen.

“These aircraft symbolize our close cooperation with the US and are equipped with advanced technology that will substantially strengthen our national defense”, said the President. In the photos published by the Associated Press, the President is seen inspecting the aircraft on the flight line, as well as taking photos in the front seat of two-seater F-16 accompanied by a pilot.

The F-16s on exhibit were configured with live weapons loadout for different types of mission. One of the aircraft was loaded for maritime missions with two AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, two AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM and two AIM-9X Sidewinder (these two were inert, as shown by the blue stripes) air-to-air missiles, two 370 gal external fuel tanks and an ALQ-184 ECM pod. Taiwanese F-16s are among the few with the Harpoon capability, which was recently showed off in an attempt to deter activities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in the Taiwan Strait.

Another configuration visible in the images taken at the presentation of the F-16V was dedicated to pure Beyond Visual Range air-to-air missions, with the Viper showing a full load of six AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, in addition to the two 370 gal external fuel tanks and ALQ-184 ECM pod, the AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) and another previously unseen interesting pod on the other chin hardpoint. This pod, while not clearly visible, is almost externally identical to the FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) section of the AAQ-13 LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) pod, with the Terrain Following Radar (TFR) removed.

The last configuration visible in the photos was dedicated to air to ground missions, with two AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM and two AIM-9X Sidewinder (again inert) air-to-air missiles, two 370 gal external fuel tanks, ALQ-184 ECM pod, AAQ-33 Sniper ATP and, interestingly, Triple Ejector Racks (TER) with three GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs each. Even if the TER is rated for three weapons, when it comes to Paveway bombs it is usually seen loaded with just two bombs, as the third one would reportedly have clearance issues between its tail fins (once they open when the weapon is released) and the external fuel tanks.

- Taiwan Achieves F-16V Full Operational CapabilityFlag bearers parade the Taiwanese flag in front of one of the upgraded F-16Vs. The aircraft can be seen loaded with three GBU-12s on the Triple Ejector Racks. (Photo: Tsungfang Tsai via scramble.nl)

The Taiwanese F-16s have a wide array of weapons at their disposal, with all the weapons that we just listed, as well as some others that were not shown but were already in the inventory, as the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground guided missile, AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, Mk-82 and Mk-84 “dumb” bombs, GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. In addition to these, AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW) and Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) sales were later approved by the USA.

- Taiwan Achieves F-16V Full Operational CapabilityAn upgraded F16V in full air-to-air configuration, with a previously unseen FLIR pod under the chin station opposite to the Sniper ATP. (Photo: Tsungfang Tsai via scramble.nl)

Taiwan signed a contract to upgrade the fleet of F-16A/B Block 20 fighter jets in 2012, with the program dubbed “Peace Phoenix Rising”. Initially, it was decided to upgrade 144 Vipers (as the F-16 is dubbed by the pilots), but three of those were later lost in mishaps and thus the final number of jets to be upgraded is 141, of which 64 have already completed the upgrade process and have been handed over to the RoCAF. It is not known if all 64 aircraft are currently based at Chiayi, but it is expected that the 5th TFW at Hualien Air Base, another F-16 Block 20 base, will receive the upgraded F-16V too.

Among the new systems installed during the upgrade we can find the APG-83 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, a new Center Pedestal Display (CPD), Link 16 datalink, full NVIS (Night Vision Imaging System) and JHCMS II (Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System II) compatibility, a new Embedded GPS/INS (EGI), a modern commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based avionics subsystem, a high-volume, high-speed data bus.

The first jet was upgraded as a prototype by Lockheed Martin at their facilities in Fort Worth (Texas) and flew for the first time in 2015, with Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) taking over a year later the works to upgrade the F-16 locally. The work started slowly, with the first four F-16Vs delivered only in 2018, but then proceeded at a rhythm of at least 24 aircraft per year once all problems were solved. The retrofit of the whole fleet is planned to be completed by 2023.

In the meanwhile, Taiwan also acquired in 2019 66 newly built F-16V Block 70 that are expected to be delivered from 2023 to 2026. The new aircraft will reportedly be assigned to the 7th TFW at Taitung Air Base. Earlier this year, the “Peace Phoenix Rising 2” was announced, with the intent of fielding new capabilities for the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (AGCAS), AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-radiation Missile), radar software improvements and an Advanced Identification Friend or Foe in addition to the already planned upgrades.

1c874047463801220adcba061ba371a3?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Taiwan Achieves F-16V Full Operational Capability
Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

The U.S. Air Force Is Considering Buying New F-16 Aircraft

No Comments
gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - The U.S. Air Force Is Considering Buying New F-16 Aircraft
Two U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons based in the Central Command area of operations conduct armed aerial patrols in Somalia in support of Operation Octave Quartz, Jan. 9, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Taylor Harrison)

More F-16 Vipers could be ordered together with F-15EXs, attritable aircraft and NGAD to replace older aircraft until enough F-35s are available.

Almost 16 years after the last delivery, the U.S. Air Force is now considering an order for new F-16 Fighting Falcon (or Viper, as the type is dubbed in the fighter pilot community) jets. This news was recently reported by the Aviation Week Defense Editor Steve Trimble after an interview with Will Roper, former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

The last F-16C, the Block 50 CC-231 AF 01-7053, was delivered on March 18, 2005, and assigned to Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. This aircraft was the last of 2,231 F-16s produced for the Air Force and delivered from 1978. Since that first delivery the aircraft evolved and, from the original lightweight, daytime interceptor design, the F-16 has become a multi-role, all weather, air-to-air and air-to-ground attack weapon system. More than 1,300 jets are still in service in all the branches of the Air Force and they could continue to serve for a long time.

After the last USAF delivery, the production line in Fort Worth, Texas, went on assembling F-16s for international customers, until the last Iraqi F-16 delivery in 2017. After that, the production line was moved in Greenville, South Carolina, where it was inaugurated in 2019 and started working on manufacturing of the F-16 Block 70/72. In December 2020, the same facility was chosen for depot level maintenance and modernization support as part of a new 10-year F-16 Depot Sustainment Program awarded to Lockheed Martin.

“As you look at the new F-16 production line in South Carolina, that system has some wonderful upgraded capabilities that are worth thinking about as part of our capacity solution,” said Roper.

The reason for this new sustainment contract is that the F-16 was initially scheduled to be retired in 2025 and replaced by the F-35 Lightining II. However, budget restraints and a slower than expected delivery of the new 5th gen. aircraft, together with other factors, forced the service to revise its plans and initiate, about ten years ago, a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) to keep the Viper in service at least until 2048.

Something similar happened to the F-15C, that was scheduled to be retired in 2019. However, while a first SLEP required only a replacement of the longerons to maintain structural integrity, the Eagles now need new wings, as they have long surpassed their expected service-life estimates. In 2019, the decision was made to allocate the funding for the first eight of at least 144 F-15EXs, as this would be a more practical solution than waiting for enough F-35s to be available to replace also the F-15C. Moreover, the Air Force is evaluating a reduction of the total order for the F-35 from the original 1,763 to “just” 1,050 aircraft.

This way the Air Force, that was initially planning an all-stealth fleet of F-22s and F-35s only, is now adding F-16s and F-15EXs in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget request, together with an attritable aircraft and a next-generation fighter.

There are no details about the number of new F-16s, their configuration and the aircraft they would replace. The F-16 production line, as mentioned before, is now manufacturing the new Block 70/72 variant, which features a lot of enhancements over the most recent USAF Block 50/52 Vipers.

New USAF F 16s 2 - The U.S. Air Force Is Considering Buying New F-16 Aircraft
A file photo of Brig. Gen. Jeff Riemer delivering the last new Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon at Shaw Air Force Base on March 18, 2005. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keri S. Whitehead)

Among the new systems, we can find the APG-83 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, a new Center Pedestal Display (CPD)/Center Display Unit (CDU), the AN/APX-126 Advanced IFF (Identification Friend or Foe), Link 16 datalink, full NVIS (Night Vision Imaging System) and JHCMS II (Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System II) compatibility, a new Embedded GPS/INS (EGI), a modern commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based avionics subsystem, a high-volume, high-speed data bus and the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS).

Many of these components are being integrated already on the F-16s currently in service in the Air Force, like the APG-83 declared operational by the Air National Guard, the CDU (already installed on ANG Block 30 aircraft and with a contract awarded for installation on Block 40/42 and 50/52), Link 16 and AGCAS. Having considered this, it is safe to assume that, if the Air Force will proceed to order new F-16s, they will be in the Block 70/72 configuration.

As for which F-16s will be replaced by the new ones, that is not known. However last year, Gen. Mike Holmes, then head of Air Combat Command, said that the about 232 Block 25 and Block 30 F-16C/D jets, known also as “pre-block” F-16s, could be replaced by attritable aircraft in the 2024-27 timeframe. Should this decision be confirmed, the F-16s Block 70/72 could replace the Block 40/42 and even the Block 50/52 jets, depending on how many will be bought.

Roper gave some more details about this attritable aircraft option during the interview with Aviation Week. These could be the same Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) used for the Skyborg program, intended to perform a variety of different missions and cheap enough to accept heavy losses, and, more interestingly, could even act in the adversary role during training.

“I think, at a minimum, attritables ought to take on the adversary air mission as the first objective,” Roper said. “We pay a lot of money to have people and planes to train against that do not go into conflict with us. We can offload the adversary air mission to an artificially intelligent system that can learn and get better as it’s doing its mission.”

Some might argue why the Air Force needs new F-16, instead of continuing only with the orders for the F-35 or the attritable unmanned aircraft. The reason is simple and similar to the one for the F-15EX. The F-22 and the F-35, to preserve their low observability, can carry weapons only internally and this restricts both the quantity and the dimensions of the weapons. The F-16 and F-15EX do not have this limitation and they could follow the two stealth aircraft while carrying a lot of standoff weapons and, especially in the case of the F-15EX, even hypersonic weapons.

Moreover, stealth is not always required, so the cheaper F-16s and F-15EXs can be used in those occasions instead of the F-22s and F-35s, saving some precious time on the service life of the Radar Absorbing Materials that, if damaged during a flight, might significantly degrade the low observability of the aircraft.

As a side note, with the new international orders for the Fighting Falcon in the last few years, Lockheed Martin is closing on the 5,000th delivered F-16 mark. In September 2020, the late Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President of Aeronautic Michele A. Evans said that the company delivered about 4,600 aircraft with a backlog of 130 more, and they see increasingly possible to reach 5,000.

First APG-83 AESA Radar-Equipped Four-Ship Flight Mission for USAF F-16s

No Comments
gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - First APG-83 AESA Radar-Equipped Four-Ship Flight Mission for USAF F-16s
Lt. Col. Benjamin Wysack, Lt. Col. Stephen Graham, Mr. Jack Harman, and Maj. Justing Eagan evaluate the first-ever formation of F-16 Fighting Falcons equipped with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars over Eglin Air Force Base, July 2, 2020. This mission included F-16s and F-15s with fighter pilots representing civilian, contractor, Reservist, Guard, and Active Duty components conducting combined developmental and operational testing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jack Harman)

The U.S. Air Force performed for the first time a four-ship flight test mission with F-16CMs equipped with the new AN/APG-83 SABR (Scalable Agile Beam Radar) AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar. The test was performed on July 2, 2020 at Eglin Air Force Base (Florida) by the Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force, 40th Flight Test Squadron and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, which are the units responsible for testing and fielding the new radar and other F-16 upgrades. Multiple F-15 Eagles were also involved in the test.

According to the press release, “The radar equips F-16s with 5th generation radar capabilities similar to F-22s and F-35s. The system is used in the suppression or destruction of enemy air defenses, to include targeting radars and surface-air-missiles. It also improves existing air-to-air capabilities and enhances air-to-ground mapping.”

The new capabilities were also explained by Jack Harman, 40th FTS F-16 fighter test pilot: “This capability allows us to target the northwest corner of a small building or the cockpit of an aircraft from several miles away, beyond line-of-sight. [The radar] improves our ability to identify the threat prior to us being targeted – we no longer have to be inside a threat envelope in order to detect it.”

The four-ship flight, meaning four aircraft flying together, is the basic fighting formation for fighter aircraft during combat operations. The goal of the test was to assess the behavior of the radar during this type of scenarios, with four aircraft in close proximity, and verify if the four radars interfere with each other, degrading he signal, or if they work better, improving the signal.

F16 4ship AESA 2 - First APG-83 AESA Radar-Equipped Four-Ship Flight Mission for USAF F-16s
Four F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 96th Test Wing and the 53rd Wing stand ready for takeoff at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 2, 2020. This mission tested the new APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar before fielding this capability to the Air Force’s F-16 fleet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Tristan McIntire)

The aircraft involved in the test were:

  • F-16CM-40 88-0441, 40th FTS, ET tail code, Have Glass V paint scheme;
  • F-16CM-50 91-0396, 40th FTS, ET tail code, standard (older) Have Glass II paint scheme;
  • F-16CM-50 98-0004, 85th TES, OT tail code, Have Glass V paint scheme;
  • F-16CM-50 98-0005, 85th TES, OT tail code, Have Glass V paint scheme.

Other than the standard loadout of two 370-gallon external fuel tanks, inert AIM-120C, AIM-9X and AN/ASQ-T50 pod (used for combat simulation during training), all Vipers flew with both the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) and AN/ASQ-213 HARM Targeting Systems (HTS). The two pods are reportedly integrated with the APG-83 and their sensors can be “slaved” (technical term describing the ability of the sensors to be cued to the area scanned by the radar, usually indicated by the radar cursor on the MFD) to the radar, a capability inherited from the more recent versions of the APG-68 and Operational Flight Program (OFP) software currently installed on the F-16.

As a side note, 98-0005 is the same F-16 that shot the first AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile), reportedly the latest AIM-120D variant, using the APG-83 radar and the new M-series 7.2+ software in 2019.

The F-16 OFP M-series 7.2+ software was released in April 2020 to more than 600 F-16CMs (all variants from Block 40 to Block 52), after more than 4,200 sorties and 4,600 flight hours at Eglin AFB. The new software allowed the integration of the APG-83, which will be operational across the F-16 fleet by the end of the year, the improved AGM-158B JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range) and AIM-120D, an Integrated Communication Suite, and 42 other unspecified modernization enhancements.

According to Capt. Justin R. Marsh, F-16 OFP Lead Engineer, “the upgrades bring reduced pilot workload, enhanced close air support weapons accuracy, increased lethality, and improved projected mission effectiveness rates”. The upgrade also reportedly increased the reliability of the F-16s Modular Mission Computer.

The M7.2+ tape, as the OFP if often referred to by pilots and maintainers, was the first to be completely developed in-house by the Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force, with the final preparation for the software release being done also using remote telework due to the COVID pandemic. This OFP is also the last to use a legacy software development approach known as “waterfall”. From now on, the development will be done by using an open source approach called DevSecOps, as part of a Department of Defense initiative to unify software development (Dev) with “baked-in” cybersecurity (Sec) and software operation (Ops). According to the Air Force, this approach will allow shorter development cycles and more frequent delivery of upgrades to the operational squadrons.

F16 4ship AESA 3 - First APG-83 AESA Radar-Equipped Four-Ship Flight Mission for USAF F-16s
The first AIM-120 “AMRAAM” shot using the first USAF Post Block F-16 utilizing the new APG-83 AESA radar shot by Maj. Joseph “Rocket” Schenkel over the gulf near Eglin AFB, FL. The installation of Operational Flight Program (OFP) M-series 7.2+ fielded several major capability upgrades to more than 600 Block 40/42/50/52 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins)

Back to the APG-83 AESA radar, Northrop Grumman won a first contract in 2017 for 72 SABR radars to upgrade Air National Guard F-16s, followed by another contract in December 2019, worth more than USD 1 billion for up to 372 radars to be completed by May 2027, that modified the first contract. The contract was modified again on February 2020, with a USD 262 million contract awarded to exercise the options to include 15 Engineering, Manufacturing and Development (EMD) and 90 production radars, as well as associated support equipment and spares.

The APG-83 radar was first tested aboard two F-16s of the 416th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB between 2015 and 2016, followed by tests aboard Eglin’s jets after the contract award. According to Northrop Grumman, the radar is designed to fit the F-16 with no structural, power or cooling modifications; in addition, it enables the F-16 to detect, track and identify a greater number of targets (reportedly more than 20 at the same time) faster and at longer ranges while providing all-weather, high-resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) mapping. The system also integrated a robust electronic protection to operate in hostile electronic environments.

The same radar is also included in the F-16 Block 70/72 configuration, that has been offered both as new aircraft and upgrade of older Blocks. The countries that are either getting new aircraft or upgrading older ones are currently Greece, Taiwan, Morocco, Bulgaria, Bahrain, with Taiwan already taking delivery of the upgraded aircraft. A Block 70 country specific configuration, called F-21, was also offered to India.

%d bloggers like this: