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F-16 Fighting Falcon News

F-16 technology links allied nations' aircraft

May 28, 2004 (by Anonymous) - Warriors in future conflicts will see United States and coalition nations sharing more of the battlefield load thanks to U.S. and allied countries' F-16 Fighting Falcons getting an upgraded software program.
The U.S. version of the software underwent large-force operational testing during a recent Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Test pilots taking part in the aerial-combat exercise were networked through the software with a new tactical data link system, known as Link 16.

Later that month, the software upgrade was turned over to Air Combat Command officials for final operational field testing at Eglin AFB, Fla., and Nellis. It is expected to be fielded in U.S. F-16s in June, said Col. Mike Williams, F-16 system program director here.

He said as U.S. aircraft are fitted with the new software, data links and other subsystems, a number of European allies' F-16s are undergoing a scheduled upgrade with compatible capabilities. These improvements will give linked pilots what Colonel Williams called an unprecedented degree of connectivity with each other, command and control aircraft, and combined aerospace operations centers.

"These capabilities allow us to fight and win overwhelmingly on the battlefield," Colonel Williams said. "What's also great about this is that our unique multinational development program means the United States and our allies get this advanced technology and share in the cost of all the development work."

The F-16 was initially produced under an agreement with four other NATO countries: Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. That consortium then funded, developed and produced an initial 348 F-16s, with an eventual total of 524, for the air forces.

Since that time, Portugal joined the group, and another 18 countries purchased the fighter. Many of these purchases included funding for major upgrades, or "blocks," which typically include improvements in structure, munitions, avionics, radar, software, computers and navigation systems.

Once the initial development and production of these improvements is complete, the new technology can be included in newer models or retrofitted as an "after-market" add-on to existing aircraft.

"One good example of how this works is the midlife update," Colonel Williams said. "The (update) was developed as an improvement to the original (allies?) jets.

"They're getting new mission computers that greatly increase software-processing power, color screens, Link 16, an air-to-air interrogator -- identification friend or foe -- and smart weapon technology,? he said. ?The (allied) countries (funded) this effort, which, in turn, saved scarce funding and yet provided a quantum leap in technology."

The U.S. version of the European updates uses a common implementation program, Colonel Williams said.

"We're using this to upgrade about half the existing U.S. F-16 models, for hundreds of millions of dollars less than if we'd developed all this by ourselves," he said. "In addition, this deliberate step to standardize the cockpits in all the newer jets will allow us to work together even more closely in the future as we design further improvements and plan out the F-16's future upgrades together."

With 1,360 F-16s making up 54 percent of the U.S. Air Force's fighter inventory, and nearly 2,000 more being flown by or produced for other friendly nations, such commonality means future coalition warfare will be more integrated. Colonel Williams said coalition forces using these F-16s will be full, combat-capable parts of the team and can share more of the warfighting burden.

The Link 16 data link capabilities are a part of network-centric warfare, Colonel Williams said

"What's also exciting is that the Link 16 and other new technologies are being developed and integrated for multiple weapon systems, including the newer F-16s, the F/A-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter," Colonel Williams said. "This is a great example of how smart partnering allows us to get the most out of our acquisition dollars."

Courtesy of Lt. Col. Ginger Jabour - Air Force Materiel Command News Service.