The USAir Force is looking at the Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60 as a possible interim aircraft until the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) becomes available in significant numbers after 2010.

Under development for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the advanced Block 60 is scheduled to fly in 2003, with deliveries beginning in 2004.

Lockheed Martin acknowledges that the USAF has "expressed interest" in the Block 60 configuration, but stresses "JSF is the priority - we are not marketing the Block 60".

No overt action is likely until JSF is safely into engineering and manufacturing development, which is scheduled to get under way late next year.

The UAE finally signed the $7.9 billion contract for 80 Block 60s - 55 single-seaters and 25 two-seaters - in June. The aircraft features advanced avionics, an increased maximum take-off weight of 22,680kg (50,000lb) and an uprated, 32,500lb thrust (145kN),General Electric F110-132 engine.

Fuselage-mounted conformal tanks and larger underwing tanks increase total fuel capacity to 9,070kg and increase radius of action to 1,500km (800nm) with two 900kg weapons and four air-to-air missiles (AAMs).

Lockheed Martin will clear new precision-guided weapons on the Block 60, but not the UAE's Matra BAe Dynamics Black Shaheen long-range stand-off missile, sources indicate.

The conformal tanks are removable, but are cleared throughout the flight envelope, and are expected to be retained in the air-to-air role, providing a loiter time on combat air patrol of more than 3h with four AAMs.

Recent configuration refinements include reshaping the conformal tanks to eliminate pitching moments on the wing and tail. The integrated forward-looking infra-red system has been redesigned, with the targeting sensor repackaged into an intake-mounted pod. The navigation turret forward of the cockpit is retained.

Lockheed Martin is developing new open-architecture core avionics for the Block 60.

Next-generation digital flight controls provide increased automation, introducing functions such as autocruise.

Other features are an advanced cockpit with large colour displays, active-array radar with automatic terrain following capability, and integrated electronic warfare suite with automated control.

Source: Flight International