Northrop Grumman, which has been selected by Lockheed Martin to upgrade the F-16 fleets of the US and Taiwanese air forces with its Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR), projects a potential global market for 1,500 such units.
"We think it's a natural choice for upgrades around the world," says Joe Ensor, vice-president of Northrop's targeting systems division. "What we're projecting is a potential market of about 1,500 aircraft worldwide."
Ensor says he expects those upgrades to be mostly for later-model Block 40 and Block 50 F-16s, because many governments are retiring their older examples of the type. However, the new active electronically scanned array radar will also fit into those older jets. Ensor says the SABR could also fit into new-build F-16s rolling off the line at Lockheed's Fort Worth, Texas plant. However, Northrop's older APG-68(V)9 mechanically-scanned array radar will remain in production, he adds.
Because the SABR, which does not yet have an official Pentagon designation, shares much of its technology with the Northrop APG-77 and APG-81 respectively found on the Lockheed F-22 and F-35, the company has ported over many of the modes found on those systems to the new radar, Ensor says.
For the US Air Force, what that will mean is that if a new radar mode is developed for one type, the service will not have to pay to repeat that work for the other two aircraft. Instead, Ensor says, the USAF will only have to pay for integration work. Additionally - because many air forces hope to transition from the F-16 to the F-35 - having the SABR onboard would ease the transition to the Joint Strike Fighter.
Ensor says Northrop has been working on the SABR for more than five years using company funds. The company will continue internally funding development work until it is on contract with Lockheed in "a couple of weeks", Ensor says. "We were selected, but we have to go through the normal contracting actions," he adds.
Once under contract, it will take about two years to develop, integrate and test the SABR on the F-16, Ensor says, including the hardware, software and interfaces to the aircraft. The next phase of the programme will cover production of the radars, but that will be executed under a separate contract. "This system exists - it is ready for flight today," Ensor says, "but it needs to go through the normal testing and integration on to a production fleet aircraft."
The SABR will be initially installed on about 300 USAF F-16s and 146 Taiwanese jets.