How Ukraine can modernize F-16s, what are benefits and why it is important
When it comes to upgrading the F-16 for modern capabilities, even aircraft manufactured in the 1980s can be elevated to the standards of the latest F-16 Viper
According to Defense Express, the F-16 multi-role fighters, with the initial batch of 18 already delivered, are likely to undergo modernization to enhance their capabilities. This is particularly justified as Ukraine is set to receive not just used F-16s, but specifically F-16 Block 10/15/15OCU aircraft from the late 80s and early 90s, which underwent the Mid-Life Update (MLU) in the 2000s.
The MLU involved distinct packages, known as tapes, each addressing individual components. There are seven main tapes for MLU, possibly with sub-items like the M4.2 tape. Implementations varied across different countries and orders, making it challenging to ascertain the specific tape version installed on each aircraft.
In broad terms, the modernization efforts encompass replacing the radar with AN/APG-66(V)2, boasting a target detection range of up to 110 km. Other upgrades include integrating Lantrin or Litening containers for precision weapons, enhancing the onboard computer, display equipment, electronic warfare, navigation and communication systems, and enabling low-altitude flight.
For Dutch F-16s, information indicates they are equipped with the M6.2 tape, allowing the use of advanced munitions like AGM-154, GBU-39 SDB, GBU-54 LJDAM, AIM-120D, Link-16 update, and Auto GCAS ground collision avoidance system. The Dutch Air Force's utilization of GBU-39 SDB was confirmed during operations in Afghanistan in 2006-2007.
However, the M6.2 tape is not the ultimate modernization option. There's the M6.5 tape with JASSM, AIM-9X, and software updates. The next comprehensive upgrade package is the M7 tape, involving the replacement of the radar with AN/APG-83, JASSM-ER integration, and various software and system updates. The key enhancement is the replacement of AN/APG-66(V)2 with AN/APG-83, which offers a significantly increased detection range of 370 km.
This upgrade, akin to the Block 70/72, also includes integration of new electronic warfare systems like the AN/ALQ-254(V)1 Viper Shield. Despite the potential advantages, any modernization may extend the aircraft transfer timeline due to the technological cycle involved. It's plausible that while Ukrainian pilots undergo training, these modernization activities, possibly outside existing packages, could run concurrently or be applied to subsequent batches of aircraft.