The Taiwan Air Force is the first of what could be several nations to receive an upgrade from Lockheed Martin that will add Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) technology to its fleet of F-16 fighter jets.
[SMS-652 SwitchBox. Photo, courtesy of Curtiss-Wright Controls.]
Lockheed Martin selected Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions, based in Ashburn, Va., to provide its SMS-652 SwitchBox rugged GbE switch subsystem for the upgrade. Initially, the contract is valued at $3 million, and has a potential value of $8 million over the life of additional upgrade programs.
The SMS-652 SwitchBox is an open standards based gigabit Ethernet network switch designed for rugged military systems with 16 ports of 10-, 100- and 1,000-megabit-per-second Ethernet connections. The selection marks the first time Curtiss-Wright will be providing a standalone network subsystem for a Lockheed Martin tactical aircraft.
Legacy F-16s were originally equipped with the military data bus standard MIL-STD-1553, a 1970s technology with a much slower transfer speed between line replaceable units (LRUs) than the SMS-652 can facilitate.
"We're seeing more and more platforms going from this discrete connection between systems, it might be a serial board or a 1553, some other kind of a slower speed connectivity. Moving over to the Ethernet, as the Ethernet becomes more distributed and is now ubiquitous among all these different LRUs among these platforms," said Aaron Frank, product marketing manager for switching and routing at Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions.
According to business development experts at Lockheed Martin, customers incorporating the gigabit Ethernet switch upgrade into their fleet plan to use the F-16 for another 20-30 years.
"Currently the F-16s, the legacy F-16s such as the Block 20 and 30s, were still primarily based on a 1553 architecture. So part of this upgrade is getting a higher speed data bus on the aircraft to enable the net centricity," said Mark Grovak, avionics business development manager at Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions.
As defense spending in the U.S. and other nations continues to drop, upgrades such as these could be valuable to legacy aircraft that are flying longer.
More than 4,500 F-16s have been delivered to 26 countries since the 1970s, so the upgrade market for the aircraft is huge, although Lockheed has not yet made any design specific upgrade selections for any F-16 fleets beyond the Taiwan Air Force.