Seoul kicks off contest for F-16 radar upgrade

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South Korea has launched the competitive phase of a programme to upgrade 134 Lockheed Martin F-16s with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars.

On 18 November, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the Northrop Grumman scaleable agile beam radar (SABR) and Raytheon advanced combat radar (RACR).

Its selection process will be heavily scrutinised as several countries, including Singapore, Taiwan and the USA, are expected to launch similar upgrades for their oldest F-16s.

For Raytheon, the RFP is "the culmination of seven years of activity" developing RACR from the APG-79 AESA installed on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, said Jim Hvizd, vice president of international business development.

Northrop, the incumbent F-16 radar supplier, has been working on the SABR technology for five years, the company said. "We look forward to competing in the South Korean F-16 radar procurement," it added.

The RFP calls on both bidders to offer a full suite of AESA radar modes, including the interleaving of air-to-air tracking and air-to-ground mapping. More advanced capabilities, such as electronic attack and electronic protection, could be added by South Korea in the future, Hvizd said.

A key requirement for South Korea is to submit an offset package worth 50% of the value of the contract. Raytheon intends to transfer some hardware production to the nation, Hvizd said.

DAPA has previously discussed plans to leverage the offset package for the F-16 upgrade programme to develop a mostly indigenous radar system for a next-generation fighter programme called KF-X.

For the F-16 upgrades, DAPA plans to select the AESA supplier and the aircraft integrator separately, with BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin already lined up to compete for the latter contract.

Separating the contracts for the mission system and the aircraft integrator sometimes adds risk. However, Hvizd said the retrofit programme can be completed smoothly because of the maturity of the AESA systems and DAPA's careful handling of the integration process.