IN RESPONSE to the IAF’s ( Indian Air Force) quest for rebuilding its ever-dwindling combat aircraft force levels, US Lockheed Martin has joined other western manufacturers of combat aircraft with its lucrative bid of F-16 Block 70(or F-16IN for India) multi-role fighter.
In its various presentations to the IAF, the MOD and even a select group from the Indian Media, Lockheed Martin team has briefed them on how the latest Block 70 model of its iconic fighter has evolved into an incredible 4th generation+ multi-role fighter having incorporated many 5th generations attributes from the Company’s first and the only fully operational true blood F-22 Raptor and the still-evolving F-35 JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) 5th generation fighters.
So, what’s new in the latest model of the F-16 which has moved from being called the ‘Fighting Falcon’ to having earned the latest sobriquet of ‘Super Viper’, notwithstanding the fact that with its conformal fuel tanks-configuration, its frontal view on the tarmac reminds one of a lethal spider, ready to pounce on its prey?
The F-16 detractors’ never-ending assertion of it is an old airframe design is successfully countered by the Lockheed Team as to how the F-16V upgrade and the new production Block 70 with their next generation technology insertions not only makes it the most advanced fourth generation fighters but it also leverages a common worldwide sustainment infrastructure which supports more than 2,000 in-service aircraft.
The ability of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics to incorporate the latest technologies into the F-16IN is the key to expanding mission roles and improving combat capability, therefore creating a very effective multi-role fighter. The F-16IN is and continue to be readily equipped with futuristic capabilities throughout its lifecycle making it the ultimate fourth generation fighter with all it brings to the battlefield.
For example, the Northrop Grumman APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar SABR), an advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar, fitted on the F-16 Super Viper (Block 70) is a revolutionary all-weather, precision targeting sensor that provides outstanding situational awareness and detection; ultrahigh-resolution synthetic aperture radar mapping, fully interleaved modes of operations with automatic terrain following. It has Net-Centric Warfare Capability with 25 percent better MTBF compared with contemporary radars. The fusion of net-centric operations and onboard data provides a total battlespace picture and optimizes mission accomplishment.
The radar provides long-range search and tracks capability against airborne targets, regardless of their aspect with a capability to track at least 20 targets within ± 60 degrees of the F-16 nose while continuing to support a designated scan pattern. The APG-83 can also detect and track fixed and moving ground and sea targets. The high-resolution synthetic aperture mode enables autonomous, all-environment precision targeting.
It may be recalled that the F-16 was the first multi-role fighter to incorporate a data link capability, and the IAF’s Operational Data Link (ODL) can be integrated onto the F-16IN when available, ensuring interoperability with other IAF aircraft. Data integrates through all phases of the mission – from mission planning, navigation, communication and target prosecution to return to base – transforming the pilot from an aircraft system manager to a tactician. “Modern, FullColour, All-Digital Glass Cockpit enables Pilots to receive easy-to-interpret information via the helmet-mounted cueing system. The large color displays are capable of fusing data from on- and off-board sensors, reducing the workload and enabling the pilot to focus on the mission,” asserts Lockheed Martin’s Team India.
The low radar signature of the F-16 reduces detection by enemy radars. Its single- engine design has smaller infrared and visual signature than twin-engine fighters. The internal electronic warfare system avoids or defeats the most advanced threats. Superior agility and excellent pilot situational awareness reduce vulnerability to attack, while critical systems redundancy and shielding enhance survivability.
The F-16 Block 70 provides a state-of-threat, customizable EW ( Electronic Warfare) system, which provides active countermeasures capabilities. Full integration with the CMDS (Counter Measure Dispensing System) provides chaff and flare countermeasures with manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic dispensing capabilities, as required.
With more than 36 years of weapon integration programmes on the F-16, Lockheed Martin claims no other organization can match its experience in this field. In concert with the USAF and multiple F-16 customers, it has certified more than 3,300 carriages and release configurations for greater than 180 weapon and store types, which include USAF common weapons as well as a large number of country-unique weapons. The result is a true simultaneous, multi-role fighter with accurate, lethal, day and night, all-weather capabilities.
The F-16IN offers the highest thrust engine, the General Electric F110-132A. It has 32,000 pounds of thrust with an unprecedented record of safety, reliability, maintainability, and durability. The F110 incorporates the latest technology, including full authority digital engine control, for maximum fuel efficiency and performance. It also offers CFTs (Conformal Fuel Tanks) which are mounted above the wing, on both sides of the fuselage. They provide an additional 450 US gallons (2,270 liters) of fuel for substantially increased range or time on station and free up under-wing hardpoints for weapons. They can be easily removed if needed.
“The F-16IN is the most reliable, maintainable and safest multirole fighter in the world… based on more than 13 million flight hours in peacetime and combat operations”, says Abhay Paranjape, Lockheed Martin’s Director Business Development. “Also, our support approach provides the lowest life-cycle cost and is consistent with existing IAF maintenance practices.”
In sum, according to Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper Block 70 will be the most advanced F-16 variant yet developed, what with features such as; the latest AN/APG-83 AESA radar, conformal fuel tanks, the General Electric F110-132A engine with full authority digital (or electronics) controls, an electronic warfare suite and infra-red searching (IRST) equipment, an updated glass cockpit, and a helmet-mounted cueing system. It will be much more advanced than the F-16 Block 52s that the Pakistan Air Force has acquired or would be acquiring albeit after full payment.
As mentioned earlier, along with the Boeing twin-engine F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, US teams have reportedly also given presentations under the aegis of the DTTI (Defence Technology and Trade Initiative) for the production of Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN Super Viper in India to meet PM Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. According to the US, the USAF will continue operating its large fleet of F-16s till at least 2035-40. In addition, with more than 4,500 aircraft production run till date, a large number of air forces around the world not only continue to operate different variants of F-16s, demand for more F-16s keeps emerging. In other words, Indian produced F-16s, other than meeting the requirements of the IAF could continue to find more customers in other parts of the world – notably so, as by then India would be the only country in the world producing F-16 aircraft with LM Aero, US; SBCA, Belgium; Fokker, the Netherlands; TAI, Turkey and; KAI, South Korea having closed shop.
However, it is generally believed that apart from F-16 essentially being an old airframe stated earlier and, more importantly, it is operated by its main adversary – the PAF (Pakistan Air Force) – may come in the way for its selection by the IAF. It is also opined in some strategic quarters in India that the US cannot be totally relied upon for continued product support for combat aircraft especially during national crises, such as wartime situations.
Even though a design of the mid-1970s, the F-16 has continued to evolve, absorbing technologies as they emerged, and, its latest ‘ Super Viper’ (or F-16IN) version evidently packs quite a formidable punch to merit the acclaimed 4th generation+ fighter tab from its makers. Secondly, it is worth remembering that Su-30 MKK, a Chinese version of the Su- 30 being operated by the PLAAF (Chinese Air Force) is vastly similar to the Su-30 MKI serving in large numbers with the IAF as its frontline air dominance fighters. Also, notably, with the Indo-US Strategic Partnership, the new strengthened Defence Cooperation Framework and the DTTI in place, it’s a whole new world in Indo-US relationship which needs to be weighed in.
In the final analysis, though, there will be a whole host of factors that would determine the selection of another fighter required to fill the fast depleting strength of IAF’s combat aircraft; not the least being the technical and performance capabilities.
According to Lockheed Martin though, the Indian side would find it hard to resist its most lucrative package of F-16 Block 70 ‘Make in India’ and ‘Made in India’ offer. But to know what exactly it would be, one will have to wait and watch
By Air Marshal VK Jimmy Bhatia (Retd), Indian Army. The article was originally published in ‘India Strategic’