16 Agustus 2011
Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea are planning to upgrade their F-16s with AESA radar (photo : Raytheon)
TAIPEI, Taiwan — At least three Asian nations are planning to upgrade their Lockheed Martin F-16s with active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, possibly following the U.S. Air Force’s lead.
Taiwan is seeking U.S. government permission for an F-16 upgrade package that includes AESA radar, targeting pods and missiles. This AESA radar competition in Taiwan—and globally—is between Northrop Grumman’s Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) and the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR).
The U.S. government has said it will decide by Oct. 1 whether to sell Taiwan 66 F-16C/Ds and approve an upgrade to the island nation’s approximately 145 F-16A/Bs to bring them to C/D standard. The consensus among U.S. industry executives interviewed by Aviation Week is that the chances of a sale of new F-16s are remote, but the U.S. is likely to approve upgrades. But the extent to which the F-16s are upgraded depends on politics. Industry executives say there is broad support within the U.S. Defense Department to sell AESA radars to Taiwan, as long as some arrangement can be made to ensure the technology is kept away from China.
The executives say the hurdle Taiwan has to overcome is winning over the U.S. State Department, which is concerned about how to maintain good relations with China, particularly considering it is a large holder of U.S. treasury bonds. The U.S. is financially vulnerable at the moment, and its economy needs more exports.
If the State Department blocks Taiwan’s purchase of AESA radar, then that leaves the country with just one more option: buy a more recently developed mechanically scanned radar, such as Northrop Grumman’s APG-68(V)9. If this scenario occurs, then Northrop Grumman is likely to try and placate the Taiwanese by highlighting that with a mechanically scanned radar, Taiwan can make repairs in-country. With AESA radar, the units would have to be sent to the U.S. Also, Taiwan may have an opportunity to produce some parts locally for the APG-68(V)9. Israel, which has one of the world’s most advanced air forces, has mechanically scanned radars because of in-country maintenance support.
Aside from Taiwan, there are others in Asia examining AESA radar for F-16s, namely South Korea and Singapore, industry executives say. One says Singapore has a plan to keep its F-16s in service for at least another 20 years.
South Korea and Singapore’s interest in AESA radar may have intensified in recent months, now that it has become apparent the U.S. Air Force may be going down this path too. The U.S. Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center issued a request for information in late June asking companies about upgrading 300-600 F-16s, starting in 2017.
In addition to the AESA radar, Taiwan also appears to be in the market for targeting pods for its F-16s. At the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Exhibition, Northrop Grumman promoted its Litening II and Lockheed Martin its Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod. Northrop Grumman’s pod is used by a number of F-16 operators, but Lockheed Martin is likely to highlight to the Taiwanese that its Sniper is on U.S. Air Force F-16s, in addition to those of other air forces.
About 700 Sniper systems have been sold and about 500 delivered so far, says a Lockheed Martin executive. The system is “plug and play,” so the pod recognizes the aircraft on which it is fitted and adjusts accordingly. Lockheed Martin has introduced software upgrades so the pod can be fitted to several other aircraft types such as Boeing F-15s, B-52s and AV-8B Harrier jets. This pod also is useful for reconnaissance purposes, so Lockheed Martin is working to have it capable of being fitted on transport aircraft such as its C-130.