September 17, 2000 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The U.S. Air Force recently released a software upgrade that significantly increases the combat capability of its F-16 block 50 aircraft by including the latest U.S. "smart weapons".
Three new families of inertially aided munitions, often referred to as "smart weapons", are fully integrated in this software release. They are the GBU-31
Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM
), the AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW
) and the CBU
-103/104/105 Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD
All of these weapons employ an inertial guidance system for improved accuracy, with JDAM and JSOW also equipped with a Global Positioning System satellite guidance feature for even higher accuracy.
These all-weather precision weapons allow the delivery aircraft to 'launch and leave', or be free to maneuver, thus remaining at safer altitudes and distances from the target area.
The F-16 is the first USAF aircraft to become operational with JSOW and WCMD and is the first USAF fighter to field the JDAM. The F-16 was instrumental in the development flight testing of all three new weapons.
The software upgrade, known as 50T5, is the fifth such release for USAF's fleet of approximately 240 Block 50/52 F-16s. It also includes major enhancements to the aircraft's ability in one of its primary roles, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD).
The modified aircraft will be compatible with the upgraded ASQ-213 HARM Targeting System (HTS) pod. The hardware/software upgrade to the HTS pod greatly improves system performance.
The software update also incorporates many improvements for the following systems: AGM-68 fire control radar, AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), AGM-65 Maverick missile, AIM-120 Advanced Air-to-Air Medium Range Missile (AMRAAM), Improved Data Modem, Digital Terrain System and ALE-50 towed decoy. The Improved Data Modem, a device that provides data-link capability using existing radios, previously had the capability to transmit and receive only SEAD target messages as configured on USAF block 50 aircraft.
The software has been expanded to include standard close air support target messages and an intra-flight data-link function for sharing data among flight members. The intra-flight data-link capability was first introduced in the F-16A/B Mid-Life Update for the European Participating Air Forces and was successfully employed in Operation Allied Force in 1999.
The main improvement to the Digital Terrain System is the inclusion of a predictive ground collision avoidance warning based on the digital elevation data base. This will significantly improve flight safety when operating over hills and known man-made obstructions, such as towers.
Development of the software update began in 1996. The added capabilities represent the largest update yet fielded for the Block 50 aircraft.
Developmental flight testing was conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., from February 1998 to April 2000, and involved approximately 300 flights and 625 flight hours using four F-16 aircraft. In addition, many operational test and evaluation flights and tactics development flights were conducted at Eglin AFB, Fla., and Nellis AFB, Nev.
Block 50 F-16s at the 20th Fighter Wing, Shaw AFB, S. C., were the first to receive the software upgrade. Some of the aircraft were modified early to provide enhanced suppression/destruction of enemy air defense capability for participation in a scheduled Aerospace Expeditionary Force deployment this summer.
Incorporation in the rest of the USAF Block 50 fleet is being paced by the hardware upgrade to the HTS pod and will occur over the next 14 months.