December 1, 1997 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems of Ft. Worth and Tracor Systems of Austin announced on Wednesday November 26th that they were teaming up to develop several drone aircraft, including a pilotless F-16.
Tracor hopes to offer the pilotless version of the F-16 as the DOD
's next target drone, after current QF-4 production is finished in 2002. Tracor wants to partner with Lockheed Martin in this endeavor due to its expertise with the F-16. Lockheed Martin is looking to the partnership to help it in it's expected competition for a prototype unmanned fighter aircraft.
Tracor brings a wealth of knowledge in drone systems to the table for this effort. While an impressive announcement, it seems to fly in the face of reason a bit. People closely associated with the current target drone programs state that the F-16 has already been dismissed as a candidate, given the fragility of the landing gear (the same problem that led to the rapid conclusion of the QF-106 program). These sources have stated that the logical choice would be the F-18, with it's carrier rated landing gear being able to take the rigors of repeated unmanned landings. Both types will certainly be plentiful enough in AMARC
by 2002 to fill the number of airframes requirement.