Fighter being developed for UAE set to fly in November, despite two-month strike at plant

Lockheed Martin has mated the fuselage of the first Block 60 F-16 for the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The aircraft is scheduled to fly at the end of November. Avionics integration testing has begun at the company's Fort Worth, Texas, facility.

A strike earlier this year set manufacturing back by one to two months, says John Bean, vice-president F-16 programmes, "but we expect to get back on schedule". The first production delivery is planned for the second quarter of next year. Initial aircraft will be used for training in the USA.

Flight testing of the Block 60's 32,000lb-thrust (142kN) General Electric F110-132 engine has been completed and "went well", says Bean. The first two production engines have been delivered. Flight testing of the Northrop Grumman APG-80 active-array radar is under way on the company's BAC One-Eleven testbed, and "going well". The integrated navigation and targeting forward-looking infrared system is also being tested on the One-Eleven, he says.

Delayed development of the integrated electronic-warfare system selected by the UAE for the Block 60 is making progress. "Northrop Grumman has done a good job in recovering," says Bean. "It is probably slightly behind schedule, but catching up, and it is meeting all expectations."

Integration testing of the new core avionics has started. About 90% of the hardware is preproduction, says Bean, with the first production equipment scheduled to arrive by the beginning of November. Software is being developed in blocks. Initial aircraft will be delivered to Standard O, then upgraded to Standard 1 before being ferried to the UAE. The first squadron will be flown to the UAE in the fourth quarter of next year, says Bean. Two further capability upgrades are planned in-country, and discussion has begun on a "Standard 4", he says.

The Block 60 is being developed for the UAE under a commercial contract. "We are staying pretty close to targets on cost," says Bean. Singapore is being offered the Block 60 "with some enhancements", with deliveries to begin around 2007, and Lockheed Martin expects other customers for the advanced F-16. "It is still attractive to customers who will have to wait a bit longer for the Joint Strike Fighter," he says.

Lockheed Martin will build 60F-16s this year, increasing to around 80 next year and staying at 70-80 for a couple of years before dropping back to around 45 a year. Bean expects production to stay at 40-80 aircraft a year "for the foreseeable future" based on anticipated sales.

Source: Flight International