Contrary to suggestions from its competitors, the Lockheed Martin F-16 will be around at the Paris air show for many years to come, says a senior programme official.

Responding to attacks by the SAAB/BAe Gripen team on Monday, F-16 programme vice-president Bob Elrod says the F-16 is to remain in production until well into the second decade of the next century.

"Our competitors talk more about us than themselves," he says. "Comments that this is the 'last show for the F-16' are interesting.

"We first brought the F-16 here in 1975 and will be here for many more air shows. The Block 20, 40 and 50 F-16s represent a fourth-generation multi-role fighter weapon systems."



Elrod says the F-16 is still state of the art and has a backlog of orders for some 350 aircraft through until 2000.

The company is aiming at winning orders for 500 to 600 more aircraft.

"We are a competitor in the multi-role fighter market," he says, predicting new sales to Chile, UAE and Saudi Arabia. The existing 19 F-16 users would also be prime targets for additional sales.

Further foreign sales would come on the back of a continuing upgrade programme for the US Air Force, which is generating the improved capabilities in areas such as precision-guided stand-off weapons, suppression of enemy air defences, radar, internal electronic counter measures, 40% range increase and on-boarding processing power.

"Our new customers require these," he says.

Elrod says six new F-16 Block 50 aircraft will be bought by the USAF in 1997 and, if the US Congress approves, another 28 aircraft next year.



He predicts that upgraded F-16s will remain in USAF service until around 2020 as a bridge to the new Joint Strike Fighter.

Production of the two aircraft would overlap by four years and in 2010, some 56% of the USAF frontline combat fleet will be F-16s.

Upgrades to the F-16 will continue until 2013 with increased range and endurance, an agile beam radar, a colour cockpit, core processing, enhanced data-link and off-axis cueing/targeting.

An on-going retrofit programme will improve commonality in the USAF fleet.

The much talked-about Block 60 version will involve a combination of capabilities, with extended range, improved cockpit and autopilot.

Source: Flight Daily News