PARIS: BAE targets further F-16 upgrade markets

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Having been selected to upgrade South Korea's Lockheed Martin F-16s with an avionics package including the Raytheon Advance Combat Radar, BAE Systems is aiming to secure further orders in a market that encompasses about 1,000 Fighting Falcons.

The company is expecting a letter of acceptance to upgrade 134 Korean jets that will combine the radar upgrade with the other avionics upgrades before the end of the year, says Gordon Eldridge, BAE's vice-president of aerospace solutions.

Once BAE is on contract, the avionics package will be developed in the USA and the first few aircraft will likewise be upgraded there. But once the system is proven, kits will be supplied to upgrade the remaining jets in Korea. BAE hires a local contractor to perform the work.

But there are other potential markets that have F-16s with enough life left in their airframe to warrant an avionics upgrade, say John Bean, BAE's vice president of global fighter programmes. The company does not currently perform airframe structural upgrades.

Those countries could include Indonesia, Thailand, Greece, Chile, Turkey and Singapore. But of those, Singapore is the most immediate opportunity, Bean says. He notes the company has already had discussions with that nation.

Bean says he does not see any additional risk that a customer air force might incur by opting for BAE over Lockheed. In many ways, he says, BAE knows the avionics systems better than Lockheed because it built those systems.

While BAE is currently looking at performing upgrades to the F-16, it may not limit itself to that airframe. Potentially, it could offer retrofits to any US-built fighter.

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