The most recent version of the Lockheed Martin F-16s has passed critical design review, making way for upgrades to Taiwan’s fleet of the single-engined fighter.

The F-16V is equipped with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar in the nose cone, which improves upon the mechanically scanned radar systems currently in use. Northrop Grumman’s scalable agile beam radar (SABR) passed critical design review on 19 August. The milestone was announced by Lockheed, which Taiwan chose as lead systems integrated for upgrades to its fleet of 144 F-16A/B Block 20s.

"Completing this milestone on schedule demonstrates our ability to meet program commitments," Roderick McLean, Lockheed's vice-president and general manager of the F-16/F-22 Integrated Fighter Group, said in a statement. "It proves once again why customers turn to Lockheed Martin to upgrade their F-16 fleets and advance the mission capability of the world's most effective 4th-generation multi-role fighter."

Taiwan is the launch customer for the F-16V, which includes upgrades to the mission computer, airframe, cockpit instruments and electronic warfare systems, in addition to the AESA radar.

Northrop’s SABR is the same radar installed in 5th-generation fighters like the F-22 and F-35, which brings legacy aircraft more in line with modern aircraft.

The US Air Force was set to upgrade about 300 of its 1,000 F-16s under the combat avionics programmed extension suites (CAPES) programme, but canceled it due to budget constraints and in order to focus on bringing the delayed F-35A online. The air force also had chosen Lockheed as the lead systems integrator for CAPES, which would have upgraded portion of the service’s 650 newer Block 40 and 50 models.

The F-16 is one of the world’s most prolific fighter design, with more than 4,550 in service worldwide. Production is scheduled to continue through at least 2017. While the F-35A continues to flounder in development delays and cost overruns, many nations are saddled with maintaining a technologically relevant fighter force until the joint strike fighter is cleared for service.

South Korea, which has decided to purchase at least 40 F-35s, also is upgrading its F-16s in the meantime. It last year chose BAE Systems as lead systems integrator for that programme, which in turn chose Raytheon’s advanced combat radar (RACR) for Korea’s fighters.