According to the Warrior Maven report, U.S. Air Force F-16 are getting new lethal upgrades.
A fleet of F-16s are now getting new F-35 Active Electronically Scanned radar, and other upgrades including upper wing skin and fittings, upper and lower bulkhead, and canopy sill longeron. The effort, called a Service Life Extension Program, is already underway; Low Rate Initial Production started last year, according to Capt. Hope Cronin, Air Force spokeswoman, told Warrior Maven earlier this year.
The SLEP program consists of 12 structural modifications and an existing Time Compliance Technical Order. The Air Force is upgrading 372 F-16 aircraft from the existing mechanically scanned radar (APG-68) to an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) (APG-83), Cronin explained.
“This upgrade provides greater bandwidth, speed, & agility enabling F-16s to detect, track, & identify a greater number of targets, faster and at longer ranges,” she told Warrior Maven.
The new AESA radar can track up to 20-targets at one time, Randy Howard, Lockheed Martin F-16 Director of Strategy and Business Development, told Warrior Maven earlier this year.
“The F-16 is a much more capable weapon due to the AESA radar. We are taking lessons learned from the F-35 and rolling them back into the F-16. The ASEA is able to see a wide area laterally, horizontally, diagonally and vertically,” he told Warrior Maven
Howard added that the upgraded F-16s are getting a modern, state of the art targeting system and sniper system along with clear graphics and video into the cockpit. “Pilots can see targets farther,” Howard said.
Alongside the Air Force SLEP, Lockheed Martin has also been building a new F-16v variant, which continues to inspire allied interests around the globe. The F-16v also uses new computers and software as well as a high-definition cockpit display. The “v” model also adds a new data bus, electronic warfare suite, missile warning sensor, and helmet-mounted cueing system.
The new F-16 also uses a high degree of increased onboard automation to free up pilot focus and workload. By automatically performing a range of important procedural functions independently, a pilot is then freed up to focus more intently on other mission-critical tasks.
“Instead of being a display manager, the pilot is a tactician…his systems are making self-protection decisions for him faster, at the speed of a computer,” Howard said.
Part of the F-16 automation includes the use of a computerized Ground Collision Avoidance System, a technology that uses computer algorithms to autonomously re-route the plane in the event that a pilot is incapacitated. The computer system can, for instance, take overflight of the plane to avoid a collision with the ground, building or other structure. So far, Air Force and Lockheed officials report that the program has already saved seven lives and billions in aircraft costs.
F-16 modernization is also part of a broader Department of Defense program to prototype AI-enabled predictive maintenance.
“The effort, which is using AI to analyze decades of maintenance records, will wrap up in late Summer 2019. It is progressing towards delivering a predictive maintenance application,” Cronin said.