Lockheed Martin is to add an all-new capability for the F-16 specifically to entice a massive order by the Indian air force.

Lockheed has designed and demonstrated a probe refuelling system that extends from the right conformal fuel tank of the F-16IN, a proposed variant of the Block 60 tailored for India's 126-aircraft medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) requirement.

The new probe-and-drogue refuelling capability was demonstrated to Indian pilots during flight trials performed in September in India, said Rick Groesch, Lockheed's regional vice-president for Middle East international business development.

It represents the first time Lockheed has offered a probe refuelling capability for a newly delivered F-16. The Indian air force does not operate an aerial refueller that employs a boom system, which is the standard for the F-16.

Although the probe attached to the conformal tank is being offered to India, Lockheed is also discussing the capability with multiple F-16 customers, Groesch said. The system can be added for any F-16 already designed to employ conformal fuel tanks, which includes Block 50/52s and Block 60s.

The additional capability will surely boost the F-16's standing in the hotly competitive MMRCA competition. Its rivals, including the Boeing F/A-18E/F, already come with a probe and drogue refuelling system.

After completing the flight trials in India last September, the Indian air force will start Phase 3 evaluations in January, Groesch said.

The F-16 will be tested in the USA for weapons and systems, such as the Northrop Grumman APG-80 agile beam radar, that could not be shown in India.

India is expected to select the MMRCA supplier by late 2010, but subsequent contract negotiations could last for years.

Source: Flight Daily News