South Korea could revive plans to upgrade its Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries KF-16 fighters due to delays in the development of the indigenous KF-X programme.
Seoul decided not to provide funding for the KF-X to proceed to the development stage for the next defence budget due to the current financial crisis. In addition, there has also not been any decision on the specifications for the fighter, which has been proposed as a replacement for the South Korean air force's F-16s and McDonnell Douglas F-4s.
As a result, South Korea is studying whether it should go ahead with upgrades for its KF-16s, which were introduced in the 1980s. Industry sources say that the country is likely to go ahead with an upgrade of the aircraft's radars and avionics at the very least to extend their life by another decade.
Raytheon and Northrop Grumman will be keen to supply an advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which Seoul is keen to have on all of its fighters in the future.
The Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) is the only option that the US government has available for export, and the company says that this will especially suit the F-16 retrofit market. "We designed the form-fitted RACR as a drop-in upgrade for the F-16 and F/A-18 to minimise aircraft modification time and aircrew transition training," says Raytheon.
Northrop Grumman is also likely to offer its scalable agile beam radar (SABR), which also has AESA capabilities. "SABR is designed as a retrofit for existing Block 52 and previous F-16s and is scalable to fit other aircraft platforms and mission areas," says the company.
It is not clear if South Korea will want to replace the engines on its older F-16s as part of any upgrade programme. Seoul has opted for both GE and Pratt & Whitney engines for its Boeing F-15K fighters. Its existing F-16 fleet is Pratt & Whitney-powered, and upgrading those engines to match what will be used on the F-15Ks would extend engine life and allow for commonality in terms of maintenance.