Upgrades move to the forefront as funding for final batch of Lockheed Martin F-16s is dropped from US budget

Funding for additional Lockheed Martin F-16s has been cut from the US Department of Defense's (DoD) 2004 and 2005 budget plans, effectively ending hopes of selling more of the fighters to the US Air Force.

The USAF had hoped to buy more F-16s to provide its aerospace expeditionary forces with a full fleet of F-16CJs equipped for suppression of enemy air defences. "If the F-35 [Joint Strike Fighter] stays on schedule, we do not see any change," says Bill Lake, Lockheed Martin director, USAF F-16 development programme.

With an end to new USAF procurement, upgrading existing aircraft will become increasingly important. "We see constant and regular upgrades for modernisation and sustainment," says Lake. The $1 billion-plus common configuration implementation programme (CCIP) is already the largest F-16 modification project ever undertaken. Almost 650 Block 40/42 and 50/52 F-16s will be updated.

The first aircraft upgraded under CCIP Phase I were redelivered in January and last month the USAF's Ogden Air Logistics Center handed over the first F-16s to undergo Phase IA modification. Phase I installs the modular mission computer and colour multifunction displays in 107 older Block 50/52 F-16s. Phase IA adds an IFF interrogator and provisions for the Lockheed Martin Sniper XR targeting pod to all 251 Block 50/52s.

The first squadron of 18 Block 50/52s upgraded under CCIP Phase II is scheduled to be fielded in September next year. Phase II will add the Link 16 tactical datalink and provisions for the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System. The targeting pod for the Raytheon AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile will be relocated to the left inlet hardpoint to make room for the Sniper.

From 2005, 397 older Block 40/42 F-16s will receive the entire CCIP package. A series of software updates will introduce the capability to carry J-series precision munitions, including the Raytheon AGM-158A Joint Stand-Off Weapon, on all CCIP-modified F-16s.

Aircraft are being upgraded one squadron at a time, says Lake, and modifications take six months. Block 50/52 F-16s are also receiving Falcon Up structural upgrades, while Block 40/42 aircraft will go through the Falcon Star programme to restore service life to 8,000h. The F-16 is set to remain in USAF service until 2030.


Source: Flight International