Douglas Barrie/LONDON

THE USA WILL offer the Czech Republic and Poland industrial participation in Lockheed Martin F-16 mid-life update (MLU) projects to try to deflect criticism that buying the US fighter could be damaging to the domestic-aerospace industries of the two eastern European countries.

According to sources close to the discussions, both Poland and the Czech Republic are emerging as the most likely candidates to receive surplus US Air Force F-16A/B Block 15 aircraft.

Conscious of the potential industrial impact on the aerospace industries of both Poland and the Czech Republic, sources indicate that the USA will sweeten the deal with MLU projects.

They would not be implemented before delivery of the Block 15 aircraft. If the continuing contacts are successful, the first secondhand F-16 could be delivered within the next 24 months.

The MLU option would be made available to both countries "...some time between 2000-2005", according to one source. The upgrade could either be of the "Falcon Up" type, effectively a structural service-life-extension programme or a full MLU with an avionics upgrade, to what amounts to a Block 50 cockpit standard.

Both the Czech Republic and Poland operate Russian combat- aircraft types, with Mikoyan particularly keen to retain its hold on these countries.

The Czech requirement is believed to be for 24-36 aircraft, while Poland could eventually acquire up to 100 of the type.

The aircraft are likely to be offered only with infra-red guided missiles and "iron-bomb" capability as standard. This would face both air forces with a quandary over upgrading their beyond-visual-range missile capability.

The Russian Vympel R-27 (AA-10 Alamo) medium-range air-to-air missile has been supplied to both the Czech Republic and Poland. One option would be to attempt to integrate this - or even the active R-77 (AA-12 Adder) - with the F-16.

Source: Flight International