S. Korea’s F-16 Upgrade Contest Could Affect Taiwan
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin are locking horns over an estimated $1 billion program for the avionics upgrade and weapon systems integration on 135 KF-16C/D Block 52 fighters for the South Korean air force. The price tag does not include procurement of weapons or radar.
The competitive programs have direct implications for upcoming bids sought by Taiwan to upgrade 146 F-16A/B Block 20s in 2012. Both companies submitted the prime integration proposals on Dec. 2 to the Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration.
“No matter who wins in [South] Korea, they will surely benefit commercially from that competition,” said Ralf Persson, BAE vice president of international marketing.
Lockheed appears unconcerned about BAE’s challenge. Laura Siebert, Lockheed’s F-16 spokeswoman, noted that the company worked with the U.S. Air Force on the recent upgrade of South Korea’s F-16C/D Block 32s, and the company is confident it will continue to manage such programs in South Korea. “This program is ongoing and when implemented, will result in an aircraft configuration that is very much like the USAF Block 40 and 50 fleet,” Siebert said. “Consequently, knowledge of the entire system, including the weapons and associated delivery system, is necessary to ensure a low-risk program.” Siebert said one key area is the installation and integration of the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, with which Lockheed has a unique history.
“We have integrated AESA radars into all of our current fighter programs: the F-16 [Block 60], the F-22 and the F-35,” giving Lockheed a “baseline knowledge of the aircraft and the experience to ensure that the job is done right and within the cost and schedule that our customer demands.”
Despite Lockheed’s history of building and upgrading F-16s, BAE feels strongly that the Korea upgrade bidding process will encourage Taiwan to consider a BAE bid to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16A/Bs.
The two programs are “almost identical,” said Persson. “We believe it would be in Taiwan’s interests to open it up and that they should look to [South] Korea as an example.” In September, the U.S. government released a $5.3 billion retrofit program to Taiwan to upgrade 146 F-16A/B fighters procured during the early 1990s. Included in the package is the AESA radar, Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation System and the Terma ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System. The price includes procurement of weapons and AESA radar.
At present, Lockheed is the sole source for the upgrade and integration, but BAE is now lobbying Taiwan officials to allow BAE to compete against Lockheed.
“A competition offers the best deal for Taiwan. They will realize significant savings no matter who wins, and it is also the most fair, open and honest approach,” Persson said.
An Oct. 12 directive issued by Taiwan’s legislature requires that the letter-of-acceptance for the F-16 upgrade package “shall not specify any specific supplier and that the Ministry of National Defense shall request a U.S. team to perform an open competition.” Though BAE attempts to link the South Korean and Taiwan F-16 upgrade programs, Lockheed insists the programs are not “identical,” but there are “some elements which are common to the [South] Korean program — namely a request for an AESA radar,” Siebert said.
One advantage that BAE Systems has is an “Ethernet design” for the fire control computer, Persson said.
There are two F-16 operational flight programs in USAF service: the Lockheed M-Tape, which is hosted on the modular mission computer built by Raytheon using Lockheed software; and BAE’s SCU-Tape, hosted on BAE’s fire control computer.
The SCU-Tape passed full USAF operational test and evaluation in April 2010, and has been installed on more than 270 USAF F-16s and has flown in combat operations, Persson said.
“In response, Lockheed is offering a new development [modular mission computer] with Ethernet, but this MMC has not yet passed USAF OT&E nor is it in service on any F-16 aircraft,” he said.
Lockheed’s Siebert did not respond to the Ethernet issue, but said the integration and installation of the AESA was a “complex task.” Further, “the radar is obviously one of the key components in a fighter aircraft and the task associated with changing radars is integrated throughout the fire control system…[and] it is this new AESA configuration that we have had considerable interest from our USAF and several international customers.”