MMRCA 2.0: America’s Trump card – The F-16 Block 70
So, the stage is all set for yet another round of gruelling selection trials to fix upon the next major aircraft for the Guardians of the Skies. The MMRCA 2.0, as it’s fondly called, is another take on the MMRCA competition held a few years back to procure new fighter aircraft to strengthen the squadrons of Indian Air Force. MMRCA 1.0 saw two European machines at the final stage and the Dassault Aviation’s Rafale jet was finalized as the winner.
Unfortunately, the deal couldn’t be finalized between the Indian government and Dassault over ToT and was finally scrapped by the new government. As an interim effort, a deal for direct purchase of 36 Rafale jets was inked. Since the squadron numbers have been dwindling due to the retirement of obsolete equipment, MMRCA 2.0 was inevitable.
In this series, we will elucidate the six sure contenders for the MMRCA 2.0. So, first up we take up the Monster from Russian, the MiG-35 and Saab Gripen.Now, we can take a closer look at the American contender, F-16 Block-70.
The F 16 Block 70 which is dubbed to be the most advanced variant of F 16.This came up as a Surprise as nobody thought Lockheed Martin would make any further advancement to the system after making Block 60 for the Arabs. The F 16 IN Super Viper a contender in MMRCA competition is considered to be quite close to Block 70. But still Block 70 packs much masala in it to be an attractive choice for the EW dominated battlefield of the future and today. The strategic advantage as what being talked in defence circles is that Last Production line of F 16 will be shifted in India.
F-16 Block 70 is most advanced F-16 ever and it will be made in India with an Indian company, this next generation fighter is an evolution of the proven design of the mid-life update (MLU) and common configuration improvement programme (CCIP). The fighter is equipped with latest technology in avionics equipment, operational capabilities, joint helmet cueing systems II and has an unparalleled survivability with modern internal electronic warfare system along with certified advanced weapons onboard’.
The Block 70 is the most advanced of all F-16s. There are 27 countries in the world who fly these planes, with the latest to join in two months time will be Romania.
The Block 70 F-16 will have the 5th generation fighter radar capabilities, some of which are greater detection and tracking ranges, multiple target track, high resolution synthetic aperture radar, auto target classification and cueing, advanced growth modes.
Lockheed martin has been in talks with the Indian Govt since April to bring the Texas production line to India, and 2017 is the timeframe they are looking at. About jobs being impacted back home in the US, Howard said that the F-35 fighter jet facility will be ramped up, meaning the F-16 workers will be absorbed there.
Radar and Sensor Suite :~
It is equipped with AN/ APG 83 AESA radar. Described as Agile beam it can perform Air to Air and Air to Ground Search and Track simultaneously. The noise reduction features of this one has made its range improved to almost 70 miles almost 84 km for engagement. The image quality in air to ground mode is described as imagery-class. Just the same that is acquired from satellites. They can be acquired from long distances for air to ground targets and using its synthetic aperture radar mode pilots can locate and recognise the ground targets. Prioritise them and engage.
The new MMC modules of it’s computers are said to be 30 % faster than previous ones. Which allows sensor data fusion from the EW sensors for better situational awareness , here notably the data transfer network is quite faster than previous systems like Link 16. It is also equipped with Off boresight aiming sensor which allows pilot to sense and target something out of his field of view.
It also features a pilot friendly automatic ground collision avoidance system. Which continuously tracks pilot’s awareness with respect to decreasing altitude. It makes pilot aware and turns up the aircraft automatically if it goes too close to ground. Because while manoeuvring the aircraft to follow an enemy aircraft. The enemy may try to run wmaway by staying low and outmatching F 16 whike taking ups and downs. The F 16 may then be hitting a Mountain or be directed towards the ground then this system becomes ‘Tactically Important’.
True stealth in all aspects has to be designed within the aircraft, that’s not the kind of stuff that comes with any aircraft but for F-22 and F-35. Having said that, F-16 offers a lot of general stealth, as it is a small aircraft and it has a pretty small cross section. There is coding that can be placed on the aircraft. The fighter includes a new radar system, stealth detection capability and threat detection capability; it competes very well in its class being undetectable to the radar.
What exactly is the offer of Lockheed Martin, also in the context of Make in India?
We are not looking at just assembling India’s aircraft here. We are looking at establishing the complete manufacturing base and the ecosystem here in India. We are looking at transferring our entire production from our existing Fort Worth facility to India and also exporting them from here. So what that means also, is, we now have a vested interest in making sure that it succeeds. Lockheed Martin is going to be selling aircraft made here to the world and we will make sure that it succeeds.
What will be the turnaround time for the first delivery from the Indian facility post the decision? Can you give an exact timeline?
I think it is hard to give an exact timeline. The typical delivery period of F-16 is about 36 months range. The challenge we have is to train the workforce and put in place all the facility. We have given a notional time-line to the government on the production. To be very specific in the public forum is very hard, because there are lot of variables and dependencies. But I can say that we have done these many-many times and we have a proven track record of having it done successfully.
Reasons for India to select F16
1 Single Supply Chain. More availability of parts. Faster Availability in wartime.
2 Battle Proven platform and sold to many NATO countries and various countries worldwide. So India can sell F 16 spare parts.
3 One of the most advanced Variant of F 16. With almost Medium Weight Category like capabilties.
4 Strategic advantage of grounding F 16s of Pakistan Air Force.
Seeing the requirement of IAF , the track record of F 16. This could be a better choice. Many people feel that Usage of F 119 engine could be a deal breaker but maintenance of that is quite expensive. It is unconfirmed yet.Even the USAF finds it hectic to maintain it. The F 16 has been used in wargames all around the world and therefore it wouldn’t be a formidable challenge for IAF’s enemies to develop counter strategies. The 16000m service cieling allows it to fly over himalayas comfortably.