Lockheed Martin takes steps to produce common airframe for advanced Block 60 and improved Block 50 Plus Fighters

Lockheed Martin is maximising commonality between the advanced Block 60 F-16C/D under development for the United Arab Emirates and improved Block 50 Plus fighters sold to Greece, Israel and Singapore. While the aircraft have widely differing systems, they will share airframe structure.

"We have taken the extra steps necessary to produce a common airframe," says John Debusk, deputy F-16 programme director for products. "This results in the most robust design to take forward." Future F-16 sales are expected to be split between the Block 50 Plus and the more expensive Block 60, based on mission and budget. "We have not decided to stop production of the Block 50," he says. "If the US Air Force wants, we will keep building the Block 50. But at some point the USAF will want the new structure."

Although less extensive than the Block 60 upgrade, the Block 50 Plus is a major update of the F-16. Between the two programmes "we are changing out every wiring harness in the aircraft", says Debusk. The most extensive changes are required for the Israeli aircraft, designated F-16Is, because of substantial local system content. Israel has ordered 102 F-16Is, all two-seaters.

Greece has purchased 50 Block 50 Plus F-16s and is negotiating a follow-on deal for 10. Singapore has ordered 20 and contracts are pending with Chile for 10 and Oman for 12.

The Israeli aircraft features the improved Northrop Grumman APG-68(V)9 radar; an Elisra/Elta internal electronic-warfare suite with provisions for missile warning and towed decoy; locally developed satellite communications and L-band datalink; Elbit helmet-mounted display; and provisions for an Israeli-developed synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) pod and precision direction-finding system. The Block 50 Plus features conformal fuel tanks and a missionised aft cockpit in the two-seater.

Compared with the Block 50's APG-68(V)7, the multimode (V)9 provides a 33% increase in air-to-air detection range, says James Dorrell, manager F-16 improvements. The upgrade also introduces a SAR high-resolution ground mapping mode. Resolution is nominally a constant 0.9m (3ft) out to 75km (40nm), but could be increased, he says. The (V)9 has a new processor based on commercial technology, which addresses obsolescence issues with the current radar.

The conformal tanks, common to both the Block 50 Plus and Block 60, accommodate an additional 1,350kg (3,000lb) of fuel. The low-drag tanks, which are removable but will be cleared for the complete F-16 flight envelope, can be used to extend range or free up underwing pylons for additional weapons. Israeli aircraft have an increased maximum take-off weight of 23,600kg.

Source: Flight International