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F-16 Fighting Falcon News

Homestead F-16s receiving several avionics upgrades

July 25, 2013 (by Ross Tweten) - As one of the more cost-effective programs in Air Force history, the F-16's history also boasts adaptability.

Maj. Robert Lytle, 93rd FS director of scheduling and F-16 pilot, tests the Helmet Mounted Integrated Targeting unit at Homestead ARB on July 17th, 2013. HMIT, currently being fielded at Homestead ARB, is an avionics system that gives the pilot the ability to cue a weapon against a target simply by looking at it anywhere in the cockpit. [USAF photo by Ross Tweten]

The first F-16 block 30s rolled off the line in the early 80s. Since, the jet has undergone an extended litany of updates and modifications.

True to form, Homestead Air Reserve Base's F-16s are undergoing another round of avionics tweaking.

The eighth version of the Software Component Upgrade, also known as SCU-8, is a software improvement similar to upgrading to the next operating system software of a PC. Homestead ARB began updating its F-16s in March, with nearly every jet updated to date. This version is a comprehensive upgrade which works in conjunction with newer avionics systems such as Helmet Mounted Integrated Targeting and the Center Display Unit, which are currently being fielded into Homestead ARB's F-16s.

The CDU is a multi-function digital display, akin to a handheld smart tablet. It will be installed to replace the cockpit's original analog dials, and, while providing the same airspeed, altitude, and aircraft position data, it will also provide additional tactical situational awareness to the pilot.

"When fully integrated, the new CDU is going to change the way we do business," said Lt. Col. Adam Meyers, 482nd Fighter Wing Safety chief and F-16 pilot. "Over the years, we've jammed more and more information onto our original cockpit displays, to the point where the pilot can become task saturated just trying to understand it all. The increased-size display and flexible format of the new CDU will allow us to present even more data in a manner that it becomes knowledge to the pilot instead of just a jumbled mess on a screen."

The CDU's sizable high resolution color display places information in front of the pilot's eye, which reduces the time the pilot's head is down in the cockpit. The CDU also includes information on ground forces.

HMIT, another bonus in the future for Homestead ARB's F-16s, drastically reduces the F-16's time to acquire targets. This time reduction ultimately results in increasing the potential of acquiring a high-value target and reducing the potential of the high-value target slipping away.

In the visual arena, pilots typically acquire targets by pointing the aircraft at the target to place it within the heads-up display field of view. This tactic is both time consuming and requires the pilot to maneuver their aircraft closer to the threat. HMIT gives pilots the ability to acquire targets simply by looking at them.

"HMIT gives the pilot the ability to look over his shoulder, at either an airborne or surface target, and cue a weapon against it as quickly as he can move his head," said Myers. "It literally takes the fight out of the cockpit displays and puts it where it should be, outside where it's happening. Targeting pod, radar, weapons - all can be slaved to the helmet without the pilot looking inside. And like the CDU, the HMIT will also display sensor information in a format that will markedly increase pilot situational-awareness while drastically reducing the time to complete the kill chain."

For maintainers, the upgrade process can be challenging because, according to Senior Master Sgt. Jason Pruitt, 482nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron shift supervisor, technical data may not cover all of the nuances of the new software.

"There's also the issue of having to use multiple sources for gaining all the required software and items to accomplish the upgrade," said Pruitt. "But an upgrade this important, with the latest in technology standards, makes it worth the extra trouble."

The expertise needed to complete these upgrades requires roughly five maintenance professionals specializing in their own aspect of the update.

"The F-16 and its avionics are getting more and more complex," said Meyers. "The fact that our aircraft maintainers are able to do what they do and the fact that the jets are more combat capable now than when first built 25 years ago speaks volumes about the amount of work that they put into the jet."

The F-16 was built to be the low-cost flyer. A lot of upgrades and, as a result of the upgrades, missions have been added to the F-16 since its inception, all in the name of increased capability.

"You get a lot out of the money that you put into the F-16," said Meyers. "Upgrades like these are very cost-effective ways of continuing to make the F-16 one of the most relevant airframes in the Nation's inventory. I think the mission effectiveness that we're getting out of the block 30 indicates that this is an airplane that we're probably going to have around for a while."

While the F-16 community has grown accustom to being at the leading edge of combat capability, the changes it's currently seeing are nevertheless encouraging as the airframe itself solidifies its promise as a low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the United States.

"It's always an exciting time to be in the F-16 community," said Meyers. "But I think that what we're seeing in SCU-8, and the associated hardware, is probably the biggest single leap forward that we've had in the block 30, maybe ever."

Courtesy of 482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Additional images:

Homestead ARB F-16s are receiving avionics systems upgrades to include the Center Display Unit. It will be installed to replace the cockpit’s original analog dials and, while providing the same airspeed, altitude, and aircraft position data, it will also provide additional tactical situational awareness to the pilot. [Lockheed photo]