There might only be 15 F-16s remaining to be built at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth facility in Texas, but there is still a lot of life in the fighter, the company says.
While many at Fort Worth are now focussed on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Randy Howard, director F-16 business development, has a different task.
“We are taking technologies from the F-22 and F-35 and rolling it into the F-16,” he says. "The latest kid on the block is the F-16V – it’s an upgrade programme for existing F-16s and the natural next step for those existing and emerging customers of the jet." More than 3,000 F-16s remain in service, he adds.
The Northrop Grumman APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar, a development of the APG-81 in the F-35, is the jewel in the F-16V’s crown. It is Northrop's fourth active electronically scanned array radar, after systems in the F-22, the United Arab Emirates' Block 60 F-16s and then for the F-35.
“It collects a lot of data, which means we have to add in a high-speed data network and a new computer system to allow the information flow into the jet’s new displays,” Howard says. “The speed and agility of the F-16 is great, but in many ways it is about information going into the cockpit – so instead of the pilot managing displays they make tactical decisions.”
The F-16V upgrade also includes a new 6 x 8" centre pedestal display, and additional operating capabilities if required, such as auto ground collision avoidance, a joint helmet-mounted cueing system, Link 16 data link, Lockheed Sniper targeting pod and conformal fuel tanks which can allow the jet to fly for more than 900 miles. There is also the option to buy more sophisticated weaponry.
According to Howard, three customers have ordered more than 300 F-16s modified to the new standard, but he is reluctant to name them.
However, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in September 2011 outlined a $5.3 billion deal for the upgrade of 145 F-16A/Bs for Taiwan. In July 2015 the Republic of Korea Air Force awarded Lockheed a $2.5 billion contract to upgrade 134 KF-16C/Ds, after dropping a similar deal with BAE Systems. The third customer is unknown.