Israel is in the process of finalising a follow-on order for 52 additional Lockheed Martin F-16Is, firming up options dating back to 1999 and an earlier Peace Marble V order for 50 fighters.

Israeli deputy defence minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof has already announced selection of the Pratt & Whitney F100-229 engine for the next planned purchase of F-16s rather than the competing General Electric F110-129 powerplant. Israel operates both engine types.

A contract has yet to be finalised with Lockheed Martin for the additional fighters, says the aircraft manufacturer. Israeli sources suggest a deal will be finalised by September when the options are due to expire.

Israel concluded a deal in 1999 for up to 110 new F-16Is, including 50 firm orders, with deliveries to begin in March 2003, and 60 options. The new order will follow on from the final delivery of the firm orders in 2006 and will further extend production of the aircraft at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth, Texas, plant for another two years.

Meanwhile, the prototype Air Combat Enhancement (ACE) upgraded F-16, built by a consortium of Israeli companies, made its maiden flight in late May, amidgrowing doubt about the programme's future.

The ACE upgrade demonstrator is financed by the Israeli Government. The consortium is headed by Israel Aircraft Industries and includes Astronautics, Elop and Elta.

The prototype is an upgraded F-16B taken from the Israeli air force inventory.

The ACE has open avionics architecture that will allow the fighter to carry a variety of weapon systems and sensors without any hardware changes. Flight testing is due to be completed by next March.

The upgrade includes an Elta ELM-2032 radar, three 130x 180mm (5x7in) liquid crystal multifunction displays, a wide-angle head-up display and Elbit's Display and Sight Helmet.

The Israeli air force has unofficially made it clear that it has no interest in the programme. Israeli defence sources say that, without the air force as launch customer, it will be difficult to market the ACE programme elsewhere.

Source: Flight International