Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Singapore confirms plans to upgrade F-16s

RSAF F-16D Block 52

As per the news roundup from a couple of days ago mentioned, Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has said in a speech to Parliament that - among other things - Singapore will be upgrading its 60-strong fleet of Lockheed-Martin F-16C/D fighters to "modernise their avionics and extend their lifespan".

Industry observers have long expected Singapore to be a prime candidate to upgrade its F-16s, and it was believed that the island nation will make its decision after fellow Asian F-16 operators South Korea and Taiwan decide on their respective fleet upgrades.

South Korea announced last year that it had awarded BAE Systems the contract to upgrade the Republic of Korea Air Force's 134 F-16s, while rival (and F-16 OEM) Lockheed Martin has been selected to upgrade the almost 300 USAF and 145 Republic of China Air Force's (RoCAF) F-16s. The centrepiece of both companies' upgrade will be a new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and a new mission computer, with the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) and Northrop-Grumman's Scalable Agile Beam radar (SABR) being the candidates to equip the upgraded F-16s with AESAs.

RSAF F-16C Block 52

Both BAE Systems and Lockheed-Martin will be certainties to compete for the Singapore upgrade contract, while Boeing has also indicated an interest in entering the F-16 upgrade market. Singapore Technologies, which has forged close links with Singapore's armed forces as a contractor for upgrades and maintenance projects, may also play some part in this program.

South Korea has already selected the RACR for its upgraded F-16C/Ds, with deliveries expected to commence 2016 after completion of the radar's development. Meanwhile, Lockheed-Martin, which has been tasked with selecting the radar for the USAF's F-16 Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite (CAPES) and Taiwanese upgrades, has opted for the SABR. SABR is based on technology from the F-22 Raptor's APG-77(V)1 and F-35 JSF’s APG-81 AESAs, while RACR can trace its lineage to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s APG-79 and the F-15E’S APG-82 AESAs.

No other details have been released, and it is not known if the entire Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16 fleet is slated to receive the upgrade. However Singapore will almost certainly require an AESA radar for its F-16s, along with the upgraded mission computer as previously mentioned. It is possible that newer weapons such as the AIM-9X Sidewinder, AGM-154 Joint Stand Off Weapon (JSOW) and GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition (LJDAM) that Singapore has acquired for its F-15SG Eagles may be integrated as part of the upgrade.

The FMS request for Taiwan's F-16 upgrade may provide more clues as to what the Singaporean F-16 upgrade will include.

RSAF F-16D Block 52+

The RSAF's F-16 fleet comprises of 42 F-16C/D Block 52 and a further 20 F-16D Block 52+ (Advanced Block 52) aircraft. The former are split among 2 Singapore-based squadrons operating 28 aircraft while a training squadron based at Luke AFB, Arizona operates the remaining 12 Block 52s. A third Singapore-based squadron is equipped with the 20 newer F-16D Block 52+. Singapore's F-16s are relatively young, with the aircraft being delivered between 1998 and 2004.

Singapore has acquired a global reputation as a discerning buyer of military equipment, and will be regarded as a prime customer for the winner of the upgrade contract despite its modest fleet size compared to South Korea and Taiwan. With 4,500 F-16s having been delivered since the 1970s and operated by 26 countries, the potential upgrade market for the type is huge.

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