During 1997 the Lockheed Martin F-16A/B Mid-Life Update (MLU) programme completed its development phase, passing key flight test milestones and with delivery of the first modified aircraft for operational service.

The transatlantic programme is the most extensive and ambitious retrofit yet carried out on the F-16, involving major improvements across the aircraft from cockpit and core avionics, through to new weapons and sensors.

The engineering and manufacturing phase, which began in 1991, involved aerospace companies and air forces in the USA, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.

Test pilots from all five countries were involved in the developmental flight testing phase, which was carried out over close to two years at Edwards AFB in California. By the end of 1997 some 500h had been logged. Operational testing in Europe was also completed during the year, culminating in a live firing of an Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).

Over 300 aircraft are due to be modified for the four European air forces, with the first completed by Fokker in the Netherlands in September. The four nations are considering adding another 66 to the tally and Portugal is among other countries planning to modify its F-16A/B fleet. The MLU has also become the baseline for future F-16A/B versions and many of the systems developed are being incorporated into the more recent F-16C/D. The Awards panel judged the MLU to be a "very impressive" programme keeping the F-16 competitive as a front-line fighter.

Source: Flight International