More on the capabilities of the F-16 Block 70 offered for the MRCA competitionDetailed- LM's F-16 offer to India
Balserak first explained how the Block 70 was different from the previous Block 50 and Block 60 versions of the fighter.
“What makes a Block 70 a 70? Let’s start with structure first. So the Block 70, structurally, is based on a Block 50, with one exception. We’ve incorporated full-scale durability testing results into the design of the Block 70 to change the service life from 8000 hours to 12000 hours. So structurally, it is physically different from a Block 50,” he said.
‘Elvis’ explained further, “It is not a Block 60. A 60 is only operated by one customer (U.A.E.) and there are specific structural differences between a 50, a 60 and a 70. It was specifically designed for that customer and specifically designed to accommodate a GE-132 engine. It was also designed to house a customer-unique electronic warfare and radar suite — liquid-cooled AESA radar.”
“If you look at the U.A.E. customer’s airplane, you’ll see that it’s got air scoots and pumps that aren’t present in normal F-16s. And the reason those are there is to accommodate the electronic warfare suite and the liquid cooling for the AESA radar,” he said.
The Block 70 also has a distinctive paint-job called Uniform HAVEGLASS that serves two purposes.
“One of the things they did on the Block 60s — was they did a coating on the Block 60 that’s got the texture of about 40 grit sandpaper — 60 grit sandpaper. It’s very, very rough. It was designed for RCS (Radar Cross Section) reduction. Since then for the Block 70 what we’ve done — from the exterior, if you look at the normal F-16 — most of the world’s F-16s — although they have country-unique paint jobs and in this case we made up an Indian paint-job, one of the thing the United States Air Force — particularly our Air National Guard, has started to implement is this coating called Uniform HAVEGLASS,” said Balserak.
The Indian configuration of the F-16 Block 70 will also be capable of refueling via probe and drogue as well as by receptacle.
“One of the things that makes the Indian airplanes completely unique — no other F16 on the planet will have this — one of the Indian requirements is, we had to make the airplane capable of doing probe and drogue refueling,” he said, explaining, “F-16s on the planet right now do not do probe and drogue refueling — we do what’s called receptacle refueling. We fly around with our air refueling boom. The Indian airplanes — there’s a retractable probe inside the right conformal wing tank. In this depiction, the probe is not fully extended. If you go look at our model outside you see how long it is — it extends out so that it’s just to the right of the pilot’s helmet,” he said.
“Now the really cool thing — the Indian Air Force airplanes, from a refueling perspective will be bisexual — you can refuel either via boom or via probe and drogue. And the reason why that’s important from a coalition inter-operability perspective — you can take fuel from anybody,” explained Balserak.
“You could stay airborne indefinitely. I can pick up gas from any of the tankers out there — I don’t care what they are. That’s a unique capability — nobody else has that. Anything that either has a boom or a basket — I can take gas from in this airplane,” he said.
“We’ve already done it. We’ve already built the prototype — we had to do that for MMRCA. We demonstrated — we’ve flown with it, we physically connected. The only thing we haven’t done to date is physically transfer fuel because back in the days of MMRCA — that wasn’t a requirement, yet. But that’s the only difference,” he explained.
“And the Uniform HAVEGLASS does two things. What Uniform HAVEGLASS does — it is also a radar cross section reducing coating to go on to the outside of the airplane — that’s number one. But the number two reason — and the reason the Guard really likes this is that it’s significantly less maintenance intensive than the old traditional coatings. And that’s why they started to do it. So if you look at — if you go online and look at some of our Air National Guard airplanes a lot of them are starting to put this paint scheme — this Uniform HAVEGLASS on the airplane and this is what we intend to offer India,” he explained.
“This is the baseline that India has told us they want as far as an airplane is concerned. So for India there are things that will be on the airplane most of the time. Those things are Conformal Fuel Tanks, a Sniper targeting pod, and an IRST pod — Infra Red Search and Track — this is infra red targeting, conformal fuel tanks and in this case we showed the Uniform HAVEGLASS,” said Balserak.
The Block 70 also features advancements in radar, mission computer, data transfer and display.
“Inside the airplane there are things that make a Block 70 a Block 70. Things that you can’t see. We’ll start with the radar. So on the front end of the airplane is this APG83 — it’s an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. Unlike the Block 60 airplanes, that are liquid-cooled, this is air-cooled, so there’s no need for all that plumbing that the Block 60 has. If you notice there’s no mechanical feature to this. There are transmitter-receiver modules all over the array and they can do multiple things all at once. So I can do air-to-air, air-to-ground, electronic warfare, synthetic aperture radar maps all at the same time. It is a significant difference in capability than what we had before,” said Balserak.
“To put it in comparison, the airplanes that I flew with the legacy APG68 radars — compared to this, it’s the difference between a rotary telephone and a smartphone. It’s that different. I can see from significantly further away — I can target multiple targets and I can do multiple tasks all at the same time. That’s a huge difference in capability,” he explained.
“One of the things you can’t really see here, but inside the structure — we have a new mission computer. So the new mission computer is significantly faster than the old mission computers that are in any other F-16 and they are connected via Ethernet into the airplane so what that means is no more 1553 buses — it means we can send very large amounts of data very, very quickly throughout the airplane. The big difference in the cockpit is the Center Pedestal Display — it’s essentially a high definition television set. It is not a touchscreen. And that was deliberate because in this configuration touching the screen when the pilot is maneuvering around manipulating things — you could actually physically touch and move something you don’t want. That was on purpose.
“So let’s talk about air to ground,” begins Balserak, pointing to a 3D graphic of the aircraft weapons configuration playing on a screen.
“The versatility of the airplane — you see the hardpoints — the physical hardpoints on the airplane — in this configuration what we have here — I wanted to show some versatility — there are literally a thousand combinations you could do but in this circumstance, we have a center-line fuel tank, we have conformal fuel tanks on the top — these are small diameter bombs — 250 pounds a piece — these are laser-guided bombs. These are satellite guided bombs. These are Python 5 air-to-air missiles — and these are AMRAAM 120 missiles,” he listed.
“But the really neat thing about the airplane is that — alright you say ‘Well, this is cool if I don’t have to go very far’, but you can go quite a way even in this configuration. You can remove the weapons in there and hang fuel tanks on — so there are 370 gallon wing tanks, 300 gallon center-line tanks and the Indian Air Force has specifically asked for 600 gallon tanks. So this means I can go a long, long way and stay a long, long time. We have only a few customers that fly with 600 gallon tanks — the United States Air Force does not fly with 600 gallon tanks, to put it in perspective. So that’s air-to-ground,” explained Balserak.
Balserak also says the Block 70 will have the ability to carry ten air-to-air missiles.
“This is the one that I really like — for the Indian Air Force we’re offering what are called triple rail launchers. So the standard F-16 that I flew in an air-to-air configuration or any other F-16 on the planet can carry only six missiles. That’s all you have. Just six. In this configuration you can carry ten air-to-air missiles. So, what does that mean in air-to-air combat?” he asked.
And answered, “Any other F-16 on the planet (including Pakistani) can only carry 6 missiles right now. This will enable you to have ten missiles. You have a radar that far outdistances any other F-16 radar out there — so I can see you first, I can shoot you first, I kill you first — it’s a significant difference in capability from any other F-16.”
Lockheed Martin is also offering the Block 60 GE 132 engine for the Indian Block 70.
“A Block 50 baseline has either one of two engines — you either have a Pratt and Whitney — it’s called Pratt and Whitney 229 — that’s called the Block 52 — the airplanes that are powered by GE 129 engines — are called Block 50s. We originally wanted to offer the Indians the 129 engine. They had some performance requirements that required a little bit more thrust. So we’re going to put the engine that was in the Block 60 into the Block 70. So we’re going to put the GE 132 inside the Block 70. It will be — and this is from a man who has flown every version of the airplane there is and every motor we’ve ever put in the airplane — this airplane will be a rocketship. It will be an absolute rocketship,” he emphasized.
So how is the current Block 70 offer different from what Lockheed Martin offered in the IAF’s MMRCA contest?
“The IN configuration was based on a Block 60 not on a Block 50. It was a different airplane. Many of the requirements from the IN configuration back in MMRCA were applying to this – there were some specific things that they asked for in MMRCA. Some auto-throttle improvements, auto-pilot improvements, some — the Indian Air Force calls them carefree handling capabilities — so there are some differences from the original offering,” explained Balserak.
A final feature Balserak wanted to touch upon was the Auto GCAS in the F-16.
“The United States Air Force — we created a system — and we started this a long time ago — but we implemented this system in the airplane called Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System. And what Auto GCAs does is when you do mission planning — inside that data transfer cartridge, you load a digital base of wherever it is you’re flying around — right. And what Auto GCAS does is — in circumstances where the pilot’s not paying attention or the pilots incapacitated — let’s say G-induced loss of consciousness — and the airplane is pointed to the ground — imminently getting ready to hit the ground. Auto GCAS calculates the aircraft’s nose position, airspeed, angle of attack, current G and the digital terrain beneath it on its own and will initiate a recovery above the ground before the airplane and the pilot impacts the ground,” he said.
“Today, if I have the number right, the United States Air Force has recorded seven ‘saves’ from Auto GCAS. Seven. That’s in the two-ish plus years since we implemented it in the airplane. That’s amazing. It gives me goosebumps because in my career, I’ve lost a couple of students because of G-induced loss of consciousness,” explained Balserak.
“I wouldn’t call G-induced loss of consciousness common, but it does happen, which is why we put it on the airplane. The airplane is very, very high performance — 9Gs does significantly challenging things to your body and if you’re not prepared when you pull on the airplane you can go ‘night-night’ — you can ‘G-induced loss of consciousness’ yourself and if nobody’s flying the airplane then the airplane will go in the last place you led it — and if that happens to be straight down, then you’re going to hit the ground,” he elaborated.
“It’s unfortunate. One of our customers recently lost two airplanes and unfortunately they elected not to have that in their airplanes — that customer by the way has since decided that they want that in their airplanes and we are putting it in their airplanes now,” he said, explaining further, “They’re retrofitting it in their airplanes now. It’s a software fix. So all you have to do is plug the software in the airplane — it communicates with the flight controls. We’re in the process of doing that right now.”