The internal changes made to the F-16 have required a major upgrade to the aircraft's cockpit

Michael Gerzanics/FORT WORTH

Since the Lockheed Martin F-16 was introduced in the late 1970s, more than 4,000 of the fighters have been delivered to armed forces around the globe. When it made its debut, the F-16's cockpit was a major advance in the state of the art.

From the 30° reclined seat, designed to improve g tolerance, the pilot had a panoramic view through the single-piece canopy. Fly-by-wire technology allowed the use of a fixed side stick controller. Placement of the stick over the right side console freed valuable forward instrument panel space for displays.

Although the F-16's basic design has remained unchanged over the production run, improved avionics and engines have been incorporated along the way. Each major revision and ensuing production run is designated as a "Block". The first 1,312 production F-16A/Bs were Block 1, 5, 10 and 15 configurations. Their cockpits featured a small head-up display (HUD), dedicated radar/electro-optical scope, stores management (SMS) panel and a whole suite of conventional round dial engine and flight instruments.

Most communication/navigation/identification (CNI) functions had to be accomplished head down because most of the control panels were located on cockpit side consoles.

The advent of the first C/D model, Block 25, brought with it the first major improvement in F-16 pilot vehicle interface (PVI). An improved Westinghouse (now Northrop Grumman) APG-68 radar highlighted the sensor suite upgrades, while PVI was improved dramatically. Two monochromatic head-down multi-function displays (MFDs) dominated the forward instrument panel, while an enlarged HUD replaced the A model's smaller unit.

The SMS function became a menu item on an MFD, allowing removal of its dedicated control panel, further increasing cockpit display flexibility.

The C model's real leap forward was the addition of an up-front controller (UFC). Located prominently below the HUD, it allowed the pilot to remain head-up while controlling most CNI functions. This advance was of comparable importance to that of the HOTAS concept.

Lockheed Martin has continued to add to the F-16's capabilities by developing several other versions. Block 40/42 (a "0" ending being GE-powered, and a "2" being Pratt & Whitney-powered) included provision for Lockheed Martin AAQ-13/14 LANTIRN targeting and navigation pods, giving the F-16 an all-weather night precision attack capability.

The addition of the Raytheon AGM-88 HARM missile and targeting system has given Block 50/52 fighters the added "Wild Weasel" suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) role.

Next on the production horizon for this venerable fighter is the Advanced F-16 Block 60. Externally, the major difference between Block 60 and its predecessors is the addition of shoulder-mounted conformal fuel tanks. Upgrades to the cockpit and avionics suite are a major advance over even its immediate predecessors.

Flight International recently had the opportunity to sample the Advanced F-16's cockpit and avionics at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth facility. The fully night vision goggle-compatible cockpit has a prominent UFC and four primary displays, a 25° x 25° wide field-of-view HUD and three 127 x 178mm (5 x 7in) colour liquid crystal display (LCD) MFDs.

Each MFD can be configured in one of three formats: a single-window 127 x 178mm display, a two-window display with a 127 x 127mm window on top of a 51 x 127mm strip window, or a three-window version with a 127 x 127mm window on top of two 51 x 63mm ones. Enlarging any size window to a full 127 x 178mm format is HOTAS selectable.

The traditional flight instrument cluster has been replaced by the HUD, which is now certified as a primary flight reference. A back-up single-screen LCD instrument cluster is always available. Rounding out the forward panel is an integrated LCD engine display.

Sensor suite upgrade

Almost every part of the F-16's already formidable avionics package has been upgraded or replaced in the Advanced F-16. The baseline Northrop Grumman "Agile Beam Radar" is an advanced version of the current mechanically scanned APG-68(V)7. This exportable radar has the ability to interleave modes, allowing it to perform air-to-air (AA), air-to-ground (AG) and terrain following radar (TFR) tasks simultaneously.

The ability to track of 20 AA targets and an "ultra-high-resolution" synthetic aperture radar imaging capability highlight the improvements it offers. The large colour MFD allows the normal AA radar scope and a vertical profile display (VPD) to be shown on the same display. The VPD graphically shows AA targets' relative range and elevation in a logical format. Although not yet available, provisions have been made for the installation of an active electronically scanned array radar.

The infrared (IR) sensor suite has also had a significant upgrade. Large aerodynamically "draggy" LANTIRN pods are replaced by a Northrop Grumman internal forward-looking IR and targeting system (IFTS). Two small nose-mounted turrets support a dual-band (eye safe 1.54 m m and combat 1.06 m m) laser designator and a mid-wave (3-5 m m) IR focal array.

One strength of a mid-wave system is its relative immunity to degradation by high atmospheric humidity levels, a problem faced by typical long-wave systems.

Presentation of the navigation turret's IR terrain picture in the HUD gives the Advanced F-16 a true night attack capability. Displayed in an MFD, targeting turret video has two magnification levels (2x and 9x), and lets enhanced target recognition and accurate weapons guidance.

Helping to ensure that the Advanced F-16 survives in hostile threat environments while it delivers its weaponry is a Northrop Grumman Internal Electronic Warfare System (IEWS). Replacing previous pod-based systems, the IEWS has three major components. Passive digital receivers and an active transmitter provide protection against a wide range of threat emitters. If needed, 14 internal countermeasures dispensers should provide adequate chaff and flares to defeat guided threats. The IEWS' most significant advance over previous EW systems is the emitter targeting system (ETS).

Instead of having a standalone EW scope, the ETS display can be placed on any of the MFDs and provides a "God's eye" view of the emitter battlefield with your own ship in the centre. Using intuitive symbology, emitters are placed at the correct relative bearing and distance. Displayed threat locations can come from on-board receivers, real-time datalink or pre-mission data.

Emitter engagement rings are provided to show threat lethality zones and are adjusted to reflect own aircraft altitude and terrain masking considerations. If the ETS cannot accurately geo-locate a threat, it will still show its bearing by placing its symbol in a "gutter" around the perimeter of the display. Depending on mission tasking and weapons carried, the IEWS with its ETS should allow the Advanced F-16 pilot to circumvent, suppress or destroy most threats he is likely to encounter.

Sensor data fused

The modern fighter pilot is bombarded with a large number of data streams from increasingly powerful sensor systems. Where the Advanced F-16 really excels is not its sensor suite, but rather how it presents their information to the pilot. Using technologies first developed for the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programmes, information from the radar, IFTS, EW, information-friend-or-foe interrogator and off-board platforms is fused and presented on the tactical situation display (TSD).

Typically placed on the centre MFD, the TSD presents a real-time picture of the battlefield looking down from above. Friendly and enemy forces are depicted in logical shapes and colours, with items resembling what they represent. The TSD's background is a colour map, with several scales selectable, over which your own aircraft flies. The pilot is freed from having to build a three-dimensional tactical picture in his head from multiple sources - the system does it for him.

Although the fused TSD significantly reduces pilot workload, the single-seat fighter cockpit is still a very busy workplace. The Advanced F-16 has several other features that further ease that burden. The autopilot incorporates an auto-throttle that allows automatic route following and time-on-target control. An on-board mission route re-planner suggests alternative routes if pop-up threats or timing constraints require it. Should the pilot become spatially disoriented, the pilot-activated recovery system will put the aircraft into a wings-level climb after a single switch actuation. An automatic ground collision avoidance system using a digital terrain database is being tested, and may be an option once fully developed.

Many suspect any derivative product labelled "Super" or "Advanced", because they turn out to be the same old thing in a new box. Externally, a testimony to its original design, the F-16 has changed little during a production run spanning two generations of fighter aircraft. What goes into this box, however, has undergone dramatic improvements. Although its basic components are similar to those in several other current production fighters, it is how Lockheed Martin has integrated these components that makes the Block 60 F-16 truly advanced.

Developed from F-22 and JSF technologies, the TSD's fused real-time picture greatly improves the pilot's situational awareness. Enhanced sensor and automated operations help return the pilot to the role of tactician, greatly increasing the Advanced F-16's lethality and survivability.

Source: Flight International