The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has launched one of the largest modernization programs in its history with 608 F-16C / D Block 40/42 and Block 50/52 fighters housed in 18 bases in six major commands. The Post Block Integration Team (PoBIT) program will cost $ 6.3 billion.
PoBIT covers F-16s manufactured between 1988 and 2005. Upgraded aircraft will remain in the USAF’s arsenal until the late 2040s.
The PoBIT program includes a total of 22 main modifications. One of the key upgrades will be the installation of AN / APG-83 SABR (Scalable Agile Beam Radar) type AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar. The modernized F-16V Viper machines and the latest F-16 Block 70/72 models have this radar.
The AN / APG-83 radars, as part of a parallel modernization program, will also be loaded into the 72 F-16C / D Block 30/32 fighters from the U.S. National Guard. These aircraft are designed for the United States Continental Air Defense System.
AN / APG-83 allows the fighter aircraft to track twenty targets in any orientation to the aircraft simultaneously. In addition, the radar can find and track stationary and moving targets on the ground due to its high resolution. It can identify targets and guide precision ammunition. Tracking of air and ground targets can be performed simultaneously.
The upgraded F-16s will also receive new Link 16 data terminals and communication suites (Communication Suite Upgrade), allowing the upgraded F-16s to engage in Network-Centric Warfare. The cockpit will undergo modernization with a large-scale central display (Center Display Unit), main computer, and equipment for electronic warfare. In addition, a Programmable Data Generator will be installed to adjust the information displayed to the pilot’s preferences.
The PoBIT program has already started and will last for several years. “This event is a big deal for the Air Force. In order to keep the F-16 in combat to fulfil all the diverse roles required by our commanders, we need to significantly modernize the fleet,” said Oryan OJ Joseph, program manager for the USAF’s F-16 aircraft management office.
The USAF originally planned to introduce stealth F-35A Lightning II aircraft rapidly. However, this aircraft is plagued by maintenance problems, which prevents the deployment of F-35A in large enough numbers. Therefore, the USAF is currently considering several ways to develop and design a fleet of its supersonic tactical aircraft. The options include purchasing a new F-16 or developing a cheap non-stealth fighter. But one thing is certain – the USAF will retain the fourth-generation supersonic tactical aircraft F-15 and F-16 for at least another 20 years.
Previous large upgrade
Previously, a total of 651 active US F-16 versions of Block 40/42 and Block 50/52 underwent CCIP (Common Configuration Implementation Program) configuration between 2000 and 2010. The CCIP program included the modernization and unification of flight computers, communications equipment and the installation of multifunction displays. In addition, the USAF still uses approximately 230 F-16C / D Block 25/30. However, these aircraft will retire between 2024 to 2027.
The relevance of F-16’s
The first flight of the F-16 took place in 1974. The current or modernized F-16s have nothing to do with the original models except the successful aerodynamic concept. Their capabilities are comparable to F-35 aircraft, but of course, they lack the critical feature of stealth. Given the performance of the Russian Air Force in Ukraine, the latest models of the F-16 are sufficiently powerful weapon systems for a possible conflict with the Russian Air Force. However, the Russian Air Force has not fielded its most modern fighters and has not fought a full-scale air to air fight in Ukraine.