New Life for Old F-16s

By Ian Parker | November 1, 2000
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Rapidly advancing electronics technology means that cockpit equipment becomes outdated much more quickly than the rest of the aircraft, and this is particularly crucial in fighters. To bring the avionics of the F-16 up to a competitive level, Singapore Technologies (ST) Aerospace is offering the Falcon ONE cockpit upgrade.

Aimed at F-16A/B and early C/D aircraft, the upgrade will cost up to $10 million per aircraft, depending on the equipment selected. Ting Seng Ming, ST Aero’s senior manager, program development, tells Avionics Magazine that there is a worldwide market of about 400 A/Bs and 400 C/Ds which could benefit from the upgrade. "The world is our oyster" he enthusiastically says.

The company has been demonstrating the cockpit’s capability at various air shows with a working mock-up. The main aim is to give the pilot a "God’s eye view" of the battle space, while not overloading him with data. The first F-16 flight with the new cockpit should take place in early 2002. Aircraft down time for installation is "confidential" says Ting.

The upgrade is being developed with the full support of the F-16 original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Lockheed Martin, and at the Farnborough Air Show ST Aero signed up BAE Systems as a strategic partner. BAE will provide the head-up display (HUD), the Striker helmet mounted display (HMD) and the digital moving map (DMM). Striker is derived from the Typhoon HMD. About 10 other companies are providing various equipment, as well.

Falcon ONE has an all-glass cockpit with three 5-by-7-inch Astronautics multifunction color displays. The reliability of these displays today is such that mechanical back-up instruments are considered unnecessary, allowing the pilot to have 105-square-inches of configurable graphics. The tactical situation information is overlaid on the digital moving map.

In addition, a three-dimensional sound system warns the pilot of incoming threats; the sound is phased to each ear so that the pilot’s ear-brain system interprets it as "hearing" the threat coming from a specific direction. This reduces interpretation time allowing evasive maneuvers or an attack to be started straight away.

The wide-angle HUD is raster capable, which means it can display images from a FLIR, or other raster image generating equipment. A raster image is one where points on the screen are defined in terms of brightness and color, just like a TV screen. The HMD displays flight parameters, sensor data, target cueing and weapons status. When combined with an off-boresight capable weapon, the HMD provides a "look and kill" capability.

The Falcon ONE upgrade includes a data link with friendly aircraft, feeding an integrated battle space data management system with real-time fusion of data from multiple sources. This means, for example, that one F-16 could be at a safer distance, painting the enemy with radar while linking the information to a closer F-16 which remains "silent" while sneaking in for the attack.

A new mission computer replaces three computers in the original aircraft. It drives both the mission data processing and the display using a single software package. The computer’s modular design allows it to be upgraded and expanded.

Either a Northrop Grumman APG-66(V)2 or FIAR Grifo radar can be selected. The latter includes SAR capability for high resolution ground mapping. ST Aero has already upgraded Singaporean F-16s with a similar fit in the Mid-Life Update program and the company could bring them up to the Falcon ONE standard, if required. The company also is looking at MiG upgrades, Ting informs Avionics Magazine.

Tay Kok Khiang, deputy president and chief operating officer of ST Aero, says "Falcon ONE fuses the expertise of the three partners to bring unparalleled value for F-16 operators worldwide."

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