Arie Egozi/TEL AVIV

Israel's recent decision to buy 50 Lockheed Martin F-16Is and take options on another 60 has led to the air force reconsidering an upgrade programme for its large fleet of F-16A/Bs (Flight International, 28 July-3 August).

Sources in Israel's Ministry of Defence say that, although the air force has no plans to upgrade its oldest F-16s, the selection of the F-16I has reopened the debate on an upgrade to give greater fleet commonality.

The MoD is sponsoring the Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) Lahav and Elbit Systems' Avionics Capabilities Enhancement (ACE) upgrade programme, but the air force has yet to make the decision to proceed with the project, according to sources.

The upgrade is based around open architecture software and a revised cockpit. Open architecture will ease the task of integrating additional weapons and sensors and eliminate the need for associated and expensive hardware changes.

IAI and Elbit are concentrating on software development with the aim of starting flight trials late next year. First phase testing will last for 10 months and include 30 flights. A prototype upgraded aircraft will fly by the end of 2001.

Sources close to the programme believe the Israeli air force will be the first customer, with a decision expected in 2003. The F-16A/Bfleet will require a comprehensive structural overhaul at the same time. IAI and Elbit plan to offer the ACE upgrade and structural work as a package. ACE is also applicable to Block 25, 30 and 40 F-16C/Ds.

The two companies will not specify ACE's cost, apart from saying "it will cost less" than the F-16 Mid Life Upgrade (MLU) undertaken by Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. Sources price that at $5-7 million.

The ACE upgrade preliminary design incorporates three 125 x 180mm (5 x 7in) colour, liquid crystal, multifunction displays from Astronautics/Elbit, Elta's EL/MH 2032 synthetic aperture radar and an Elop wide-angle head-up display integrated with Elbit's display and sight helmet.

Older Israeli F-16s could be upgraded following last month's F-16I order

Source: Flight International