Lockheed Martin has for the first time expressed doubts about the viability of the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI)-led Avionics Capability Enhancement (ACE) programme for the F-16.

The doubts come despite a Lockheed Martin/IAI co-operation agreement on the ACE programme. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics president Dain Hancock said last week during a visit to Israel that the programme's potential is limited.

"This programme, with its configuration, is offered in a market with many similar programmes. We support the programme, but think that its potential in the market is very small," he said.

The conversion of an ACE demonstrator aircraft was financed by the Israeli government and the modified F-16B has been flying since June last year. Although the demonstrator is a first-generation F-16, IAI refocused the programme on upgrades for the latter F-16C/D early last year, viewing this as a larger potential market. Others in the ACE consortium include Astronautics, Elop and Elta.

The ACE package includes an open architecture mission system to allow the carriage of a wide variety of weapon systems and sensors without any hardware changes.

The configuration also includes the Elta EL/M-2032 radar, three Astronautics 130 x 180mm (5 x 7in) liquid-crystal multifunction displays, a wide-angle Elop head-up display and the Elbit Systems Display and Sight Helmet.

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

Source: Flight International