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Monday, January 13, 2014

Miscalculation: The Need For a New US Fighter Export Strategy in the Global Fighter Market - Part II

Image 5: F-16 technology demonstrator with diverterless supersonic inlet


Lockheed Martin could make several additions to the F-16 to make the aircraft more competitive against the Gripen and new Russian 4.5 generation designs such as the Su-30MK2 and Mig-35. In order to reduce costs, these new upgrades should ideally build upon Lockheed Martin's existing F-16 R&D projects. Lockheed Martin has already experimented with a variety of advanced technology in the F-16 as a means to test technology for the F-35 such as "power-by-wire" flight controls, diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI), and low-observable asymmetric nozzle (LOAN) technology. Furthermore, Lockheed Martin has also experimented with other non F-35 related F-16 technology demonstrator projects such as the 85 degree angle of attack capable thrust vectoring NF-16D Variable-stability In-flight Simulator Test Aircraft (VISTA) and the F-16 Advanced Fighter Technology Integration (AFTI) which had an internally mounted forward looking infrared (FLIR) system. The combination of all of the following features would be unpractical and it would make the F-16 too expensive for the low-end fighter market. Ideally, the most feasible of the following upgrades would be offered in a way such that the customer could pick and choose which upgraded features they are willing to pay for.

Upgrades to Lower Radar Signature

Image 6: low-observable asymmetric nozzle technology demonstrator on the F-16 

- Have Glass I canopy & Have Glass II radar absorbent material (RAM) coatings
composite materials from Lockheed/Mitsubishi F-2
- Internal weapons pod

The incorporation of DSI into a mass production variant of the F-16 is likely unfeasible despite the significant reductions to the F-16's frontal rcs that would result from its incorporation into the design. However, incorporating Have Glass I, Have Glass II, composite materials from the F-2, and an internal weapon pod remain feasible and relatively inexpensive. Both Have Glass I and Have Glass II are already used to reduce the radar cross section of operational F-16s (Evangelidis, 2004). In conjunction Mitsubishi, Lockheed Martin has already developed composite materials used in the construction of the F-2 (a modified Japanese F-16 variant) which both reduces the weight of the aircraft and slightly reduces its radar cross section (Defense Industry Daily, 2013). Boeing's development of a low-observable weapons pod for the F/A-18E Block III demonstrates the feasibility for developing a similar pod for the F-16. A low observable weapons pod would limit radar returns that typically result from the carriage of armaments on external wing mounted pylons.

The combination of all of these features would significantly reduce the radar cross section of the F-16 but the aircraft will not be comparable to the F-35 due to the radar returns resulting from the F-16's unstealthy vertical tail and lack of planform alignment. Furthermore, this heavily upgraded F-16 would have easily detectable electronic emissions and would only have limited infrared spectrum protection from Have Glass II. However, the goal of proposed comprehensive F-16 upgrade program is merely to grant the F-16 a competitive edge over other low-end fighter aircraft, not to attempt to match the F-35 in low observability characteristics. Furthermore, if the level of technological sophistication is too high, the aircraft's export prospects will be diminished as a result of the AECA. Thus, the incorporation of the most feasible low observable recommendations would fulfill both making the F-16 more competitive against other reduced radar cross section low-end fighter designs and the level of technological sophistication would likely not pose a major problem with regards to exports. Furthermore, it is likely the composition of the Have Glass II RAM can be downgraded as needed to alleviate export concerns.

Image 7: Have Glass II RAM treatment with characteristic speckled texture. Have Glass II has been applied to over 1,700 F-16s using the Computer Aided Spray Paint Expelling Robot (CASPER) which also applies RAM coatings to the F-22 (Evangelidis, 2004). Have Glass II is typically applied to F-16CJ "Wild Weasel" aircraft which hunt surface-to-air missile sites.

Improvements to Maneuverability

- 32,500 lbf capable F110-GE-132 turbofan or
thrust vectoring engine technology from VISTA 
power-by-wire flight control system
- composite materials from existing Lockheed/Mitsubishi F-2 program to lower aircraft weight

As with the radar signature reduction features, adding all of these maneuverability enhancements is impractical. While adding thrust vectoring to the F-16 from the VISTA program would undoubtedly yield extensive tangible improvements to the F-16's maneuverability characteristics, adding thrust vectoring would also almost certainly be the most expensive upgrades on the list of potential maneuverability related proposals. However, the F110-GE-132 turbofan is already in production and in use in UAE F-16E/F Block 60 aircraft. The F110-GE-132 turbofan offers a considerable improvement over the current 28,500 lbf Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 turbofan in the Block 50 and the 28,984 lbf F110-GE-129 turbofan (all figures in afterburner or military power). It is important to note F110-GE-132 is not currently offered as part of the F-16V configuration (Dorr, 2012). The addition of the GE-132 would synergize with the incorporation of both "power-by-wire", which removes the mechanical backup for a total 6% reduction in weight, and the composite materials from the F-2 which would further increase airframe weight reduction. As a result of reduced weight and increased thrust, the upgraded aircraft would have a significantly higher thrust to weight ratio over the current F-16 Block 50/52+ aircraft.

Image 8: Composite wing from an F-2. From Defense Industry Daily: "In the end, the F-2 delivered on its techno-industrial promises. Mitsubishi’s heavy use of graphite epoxy and co-cured composite technology for the wings encountered some teething problems, but proved to be a leading-edge use of a technology that provides weight savings, improved range, and some stealth benefits. This technology was then transferred back to America, as part of the program’s industrial partnership."

Improvements to Sensors 

Image 9: FLIR in F-16 AFTI. Image retrieved via

Lockheed Martin has been diligent about consistently upgrading the F-16's internal avionics with its most recent F-16 variants. The incorporation of either Northrup Grumman's Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) or Raytheon's Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) into the F-16V grants greatly increased situational awareness and beyond visual range (bvr) combat capabilities. Currently the United States enjoys nearly a ten year lead over its international competitors in the field of fighter mounted AESA. However, by the 2020s other low-end fighter aircraft will incorporate AESAs such as the Eurofighter, Mig-35, Gripen Next Generation (NG), etc. In order for the F-16 to remain competitive, the inclusion of an internally mounted infrared search and track (IRST) system is necessary. Lockheed Martin has developed an externally pod mounted IRST system for the F-16 called "IRST". While this is a relatively low cost and efficient means of adding IRST capabilities to older existing airframes, externally mounted pods generally diminish aerodynamic performance. Lockheed might be able to use the incorporation of the AN/ASQ-28 IFTS on the F-16E/F Block 60 as a starting point for incorporating an internally mounted IRST on the F-16.

Upgrade Summary 

The objective of a comprehensive upgrade program for the F-16 is to provide enough new capabilities to the F-16 airframe as to make the aircraft viable against the Gripen NG and new super maneuverable Russian fourth generation fighter aircraft. At a minimum, this would entail the inclusion composite materials to reduce weight and provide some rcs reduction, "power-by-wire" for additional weight reductions, the addition of a more powerful engine such as the F110-GE-132, a low-observable weapon pod, and incorporation of an internally mounted IRST system. The research and development time for many of these improvements would be reduced as Lockheed Martin has already researched the basis for these improvements in past F-16 technology demonstrator programs during the 1990s to early 2000s. Furthermore, many of these features are incorporated in existing operational aircraft (either the J-2 or F-16E/F Block 60).

Capitalizing on Saab's Weaknesses 

Image 10: JAS-39 F Demonstrator. Image Credit: Saab.  

Despite its recent success in Brazil's $4.5 billion dollar FX-2 contract, Saab retains three key vulnerabilities Lockheed Martin could exploit in the future.

  1. Finite production capacity and significant additional R&D is required for Gripen NG 
  2. Limited training and logistics support from Saab
  3. Sweden's comparatively limited international clout vs. the United States 

Saab has a comparatively limited production capacity compared to Lockheed Martin. Sweden's order of 60 next generation Gripen aircraft will occur between 2018 and 2026 (Hoyle, 2013). With more orders from Switzerland and Brazil, any additional Gripen NG customers will likely have to wait past 2020 for their initial deliveries. Lockheed Martin can deliver F-16's at a much faster rate and only a modest amount of R&D work remains for the aforementioned F-16 improvements when compared to the NG.

"'This is not just an upgrade of the existing Gripen; it is a complete redesign, and essentially a new aircraft. Because of the small number to be built, the R&D costs per unit are likely to be very high.' The upgraded Gripen would grow in length from 14.1 to 14.9 meters, it would have a slightly wider wingspan, and its maximum takeoff weight would increase from 14 to 16.5 tons. The number of onboard weapon stations would rise from eight to 10, engine power would increase by 22 percent, and range would expand from 3,500 to 4,075 kilometers." - Gerard O'Dwyer, 2012  

Saab's proposal to build a fighter pilot school at Air Force Base Overberg South Africa has been denied by the South African Government (Martin, 2013). This facility would have provided much needed training and logistic support to current Gripen users. Saab is in the process of finding a new site for its fighter pilot school but it will likely not be completed for several years. Meanwhile, the United States Air Force conducts training exercises with other nations that operate the F-16 on a routine basis e.g. a detachment of USAF F-16's from the 176th Fighter Squadron (FS) was recently deployed to Poland for training exercises.

Limitations of Analysis 

Image 11: Lockheed Martin Fort Worth F-16 production facility. Image Credit: Kenny Roberts

Before concluding, its worth mentioning the limits of the analysis above. While the analysis above emphasizes the volume of orders within the low-end fighter market, it does not address aggregate value of high-end vs low-end fighter sales. One of the basic tenants of economics is the assumption that firms act in a profit maximizing manner. For example, despite the larger volume of aircraft sold in the low-end market, the few sales of high-end aircraft can provide a disproportionately large source of revenue when compared to even the largest sales of low-end aircraft. For example, Boeing was recently awarded a massive $29.4 billion dollar contract for 84 new F-15SA strike eagles and 68 upgrade kits for Saudi Arabia's current strike F-15S eagle fleet. In comparison, the largest F-16 sale in recent years, the UAE purchase of 80 new F-16E/F Block 60 aircraft, was valued at only $6.4 billion. It could be that Lockheed Martin has already judged marginal benefit, in terms of continued or increased F-16 sales as a result of more than piecemeal upgrades to the F-16, as insufficient to justify the marginal cost of comprehensive F-16 upgrades. It is also possible that Lockheed Martin has judged the opportunity cost, in terms of resources allocated to sustaining F-16 production, to be too high at a time when it needs additional resources for the F-35 program.

However, Lockheed Martin's concern that heavily upgrading the F-16 could result diminished international interest in the F-35 is ill-founded.

"LockMart has been very discrete with marketing and upgrading this plane, because aggressively selling a very capable fourth generation fighter at $45 million could easily annoy the Air Force and jeopardize international F-35 sales too. It even moved the F-16 production line to a much smaller and less prominent building. The worst enemy of The Best is The Good Enough." - Richard Aboulafia, 2012

So long as the upgrades provide enough new capability to nations as to make the F-16 comparable to its 4.5 generation counterparts, its low price and the diplomatic ties with the United States will once again make the F-16 very attractive to low-end customers. It is plausible that Lockheed doesn't need to fully match the Gripen NG from a capabilities standpoint due to the variable of strengthening diplomatic ties with the US as discussed in Part I, but as of now the F-16 is sufficiently behind its counterparts as to diminish the effectiveness diplomatic ties variable. In the high-end market, the upgraded F-16 will not offer enough new capability to justify foregoing the fifth generation F-35. The F-X III fighter competition in South Korea serves as an example of a high-end fighter market customer chose the F-35 over a cheaper heavily upgraded 4.5 generation alternative, Boeing's F-15SE "Silent Eagle". In many respects the F-15SE is similar to the upgraded F-16. Thus, Lockheed Martin can effectively meet demand from both markets without fear of damaging its own prospects in the high-end market with the F-35 by appropriately upgrading and marketing the F-16.


Image 12: F-16 near Fort Worth. Image Credit: Code One Magazine

It is in Lockheed Martin's best interests to aggressively market upgraded variants of the F-16 to countries within the low-end fighter market such that it can retain the high-end market with the F-35 and the low-end market with the F-16. This is not a call to replace the F-35, rather Lockheed Martin should seek to meet the demands of both the low-end and high-end as to not loose out on potential revenue. By aggressively marketing a heavily upgraded F-16, Lockheed Martin can increase sales without serious concern that interest in the F-35 would be diminished, the low-end and high-end fighter market largely represent two separate markets blocks of international consumers.

Author's Note: Next article will be: "The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors". Release date is yet to be determined, maybe next week?


  1. U.S. leads global arms exports surge, Steve Hargreaves, 2013.
  2. America the Isolated?, Fareed Zakaria, 2013.,9171,2143560,00.html
  3. Will South Korea Ever Choose an FX-III Fighter?, CRAIG SCANLAN, 2013.
  4. F-35 Program Information, Lockheed Martin, 2013.
  5. U.S. Competitiveness in the Fighter Aircraft Export Market, Andrew Jesmain, 2009.
  6. JSF PSFD MOU, 2009.                    
  7. F-16V Is Latest ‘Viper’ Variant for Fighter Market, ROBERT F. DORR, 2012.
  8. How does the F-16 perform against its adversaries in dogfight?, Dario Leone, 2012.
  9. Saab Offers Gripens at Used F-16 Price, GERARD O'DWYER, 2010.
  10. F-X2: Brazil Picks Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen-NG over Rafale, Super Hornet, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.                                                                                                                                        
  11. Boeing And Saab To Propose Gripen For T-X, Bill Sweetman, 2013.
  12. SPECIAL REPORT: Flying the flag, Gunnar Akerberg, 2012.           fgclubpromo
  13. Lockheed Martin F-35 JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER A “Low Observable” Approach, Vassilios A. Evangelidis, 2004.                                                                                                                    
  14. Variable-stability In-flight Simulator Test Aircraft, Multi Axis Thrust Vectoring,, 2013.
  15. F-16 'Power-by-Wire' flight without back-up a success,, 2000.                                  
  16. Advanced Fighter Technology Integration,, 2013.                                                        
  17. JSF Diverterless Supersonic Inlet, Code One, 2000. 
  18. Have Glass/Have Glass II Top Coat Paint Application Services, Federal Business Opportunities, 2013.                                                                                                     
  19. Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, Scramble - The Aviation Magazine, 2013.
  20. F-16 "Have Glass" paint finish - what is it?, Darson, 2009.
  21. F-16 Fighting Falcon  The Most Technologically Advanced 4th Generation Fighter in the World, Lockheed Martin, 2013.
  22. Radar Cross Section (RCS), Global Security, 2011.
  23. F-16C/D Block 50/52,, 2013.                                                                                    
  24. The UAE’s F-16 Block 60 Desert Falcon Fleet, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.
  25. Lockheed & Mitsubishi’s F-2 Fighter Partnership, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.
  26. AN/ASQ - Equipment Listing, Andreas Parsch, 2008.                                 
  27. F-16E/F block 60,, 2013.                                                                                         
  28. Revolutionary AESA Technology, Raytheon, 2013.
  29. Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) for the F-16, Northrup Grumman, 2013.
  30. Production of the F-16 will likely continue through 2020,, 2013.                     
  31. The Saudis’ American Shopping Spree: F-15s, Helicopters & More, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.                                                                                                                                        
  32. General Electric, 2012.                                     
  33. Trouble for the Twin-Engine Giants?, Andrew Chuter,  AaronMehta,  & Pierre Tran, 2014.
  34. April 2012 Letter, Richard Aboulafia, 2012.           
  35. Saab gets deal to complete Gripen E development, Craig Hoyle, 2013. 
  36. Will Gripen-NG Project Bring More Defense Cuts for Sweden? Gerard O'Dwyer, 2012.
  37. Gripen Fighter School in SA a ‘missed opportunity’, Guy Martin, 2013.   
  38. Av-Det partners with Poland as first F-16 rotation arrives, Sarah Webb, 2013.                          

Image 13: Japanese J-2. 


  1. Another Good article Matt.

    The DSI link did not work for me.

    From reading it, I came to the conclusion that the F16 is in it's final years. The Upgrades are good, but they are not going to help the F16. It comes down to Factors, for the F16, How far can you push a old airframe.

    In 5-10 yrs (maybe even sooner) you will have more capable mobile air defenses and air radar that will just be able to pick up the F16.

    Country's will be looking for F35, rather than upgrading F16. Country that have them now, I can't see them upgrading in 10-15 years they will be looking to upgrade to the F35 when it will be cheaper.

    On other news Jan 14th came and china as usual comes out with a some new news

    Missile defense buster: China tests new hypersonic glide vehicle

    it's starting to pop up all over the place.

    thought it would of been Su35 deal or S400 deal, but nope the test a new hypersonic vehicle

    Thanks for taking the time to write the articles Matt.

    1. Huh, I've tried the DSI link and it seems to work for me here is the direct link:

      I think if Lockheed does not make major changes the F-16 is not going to be produced past 2020. As I stated in part I, I do not think the F-35 will fully replace the F-35. As you know I've consistently defended and advocated for the F-35 on several occasions from a capabilities perspective but some of the cost analysis done by Lockheed is skewed. The consensus among many in the DOD who have done the cost projections is that while the F-35 will continue to decrease in price, Lockheed's $60 million dollar unit price goal is never going to happen. Most projections show that even into the projected end of F-35 production into the 2030s the inflation adjusted fly-away cost will remain above $70 million dollars. This is affordable and really good value for many nations within the high-end fighter market but to a country like South Africa who does not have near peer adversaries with advanced IADS, a cheaper but capable 4++ aircraft like the JAS-39 makes sense. Proliferation of 4++ aircraft will shrink as a result of the F-35 but it will not fully erase it which is why an advanced F-16 makes sense to compete in this niche market.

      I've heard of this Wu-14 and I'm conflicted. It seems to fantastic to be true but I think its unwise to underestimate one's competitors. Np stone, glad to do it :D

  2. Yes great article

    I totally agree that TV would probably not be worth it for the money - and the upgrades suggested would make it very competitive with Gripen E/F in the low end market for most users.

    Is F-35 a replacement for the low end F-16? - well it is for forces that can afford it - and even then it only seems to be being procured in far less numbers.
    The likelyhood of F-35 units being as cheap as the massive selling F-16 is very unlikely IMO - as said in other articles F-35 is high end, F-15 weight class and the capability really costs - so I don't see replacing F-16s with reduced numbers of F-35s being realistic for all. In fact F-35 is looking more like an F-15E replacement based on its strengths in strike, range and touted survivability.

    For a lot of air forces F-16CV & Gripen EF will probably be more than good enough for the near future.

    1. I agree, only by LMT's cost estimations will the F-35 come close to the F-16 but I think a $60 million fly-away cost for the F-35 is pretty unlikely. I hope they prove me wrong but most DOD reports cite its cost will remain in upwards of $70 million even into the 2030s which is not comparable to the current $45-$50 million dollar F-16 and $30 million dollar Mig-29. I think the F-35 will take most of the high-end market and 4++ aircraft will certainly loose out but the low-end fighter market will still persist and there are certainly countries which don't need top dollar defense capabilities from fifth generation aircraft like the F-35.

    2. Hay, Matt

      Have a look at the New J20 photo's, they have redone the front, the intakes and have add a Eots on the front as well, just like the F35.

      Some pretty important upgrades from the model 2002 to 2011. (these are model numbers)

      Hole new front done in under 2 years, pretty impressive

      They still need to get rid of the fins

      Another January Surprise from china.

    3. I don't mean to rain on your parade, but do you know that these are legitimate photographs and not another example of Chinese Photoshop artists? Given how frequently Chinese military enthusiasts use Photoshop, I generally don't buy into anything until at least two reputable sources have confirmed its validity. Its certainly possible that EOTS working is being done for the J-20 but its hard to tell. I had heard any IRST mounted on the J-20 would likely be mounted on the top similar to IRST systems used in the J-10 and J-11. The PAK FA also places its IRST on the top. If you know anything else, I'd be happy to hear it.

    4. lol, my parade. hahaha

      Yea, they are legitimate. (I usually call it out if i think it's photo shop)

      This are not photo shop. It's come from multiple sources and multiple HQ photo's, from multiple angles. Usually in photo shop pic's there is just one or two photos, with some tell tell signs.

      The amount of photo's and angles of the new design J20 on multiple sites, and everyone agreeing that these are legitimate. Also it being Jan as well, as said before.

      So there is this site which tends to be more critical of photo's and greater discussion.

      I think the reason why the west have not pick up on these photo's is they are talking more about this

      China is making a clean break from the old design and following the West. For them to make a new airframe j20 means they have been doing alot of testing.

      If you notice, the photos there has been a number of changes.
      Cockpit dome changed, front nose, optical Eots been added, parachute door changed, rear fins changed, air intakes, (the major one).

      These changes are for the expert like you to break down and make sense of. What that means for the jet and it;s capabilities.

      A comment I read, which stuck with me and would like your thought;s on it.

      "China have made some major/minor improvements to the J20, but it's there testing capability, that is showing the results of where they are. Changing Fins, angles of the aircraft and even reducing and changing the door sizes of the parachute? These might mean that china are able to gather much more data during testing than first thought."

      Matt, I think we can safely say, they still need a 5th generation engine, to back up these fighter. Which china has not got yet.

      I like to get your expert opinion on the J20 new airframe. There are a lot of changes on it.

  3. .............also as the article mentions - the stealth pod proposal for the FA-18EF looks pretty handy - 6 SDBs and 2 x AIM-120s shown in 1 loadout configuration.
    Even one reduced in size for the F-16 with 6 SDBs only could be useful regarding reducing drag / RCS