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How Possible is to Revamp a F-16 from the 1980s to the Latest Block 70/72 Viper

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F-16 of the Royal Norwegian Air Force / Photo credit: Forsvaret
F-16 of the Royal Norwegian Air Force / Photo credit: Forsvaret

The combat capabilities of the F-16 heavily depend on the modernization of this fighter

Norway's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Espen Barth Eide, said Ukraine will get F-16 multirole fighters "updated and in good shape" and "with the latest weapons." The statement raises questions as the Norwegian military itself operates quite old F-16s.

Back in the early 1980s, the country became one of the first European nations to operate this fighter, alongside Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Norway ordered 60 aircraft, they were produced in versions Block 5, Block 10, and Block 15. By the late 1990s, all the F-16s in service got the Mid-Life Update (MLU) which included integration of the IRIS-T air-to-air missile for the Norwegian fleet.

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F-16 of the Norwegian Air Force / Defense Express / How Possible is to Revamp a F-16 from the 1980s to the Latest Block 70/72 Viper
F-16 at the Ørland Air Base, Norway / Photo credit: Søren Nielsen for FLYMAG

Therefore, the Norwegian minister's words should perhaps be understood as that the F-16s for Ukraine have undergone the said mid-life maintenance and are in good condition generally. After all, Norway did quite easily find customers for its used aircraft previously. For example, Romania bought 32 used F-16s for EUR 388 million in November 2022, although negotiations on this deal had been going for a while since October 2021.

Thus, even the current status of the Norwegian F-16s, with the MLU upgrade, in itself counts as "updated" and capable of using "latest weapons."

However, there's always room for a possibility that some greater enhancements were done to Ukrainian fighters. Especially because the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine has already been delayed: initially expected in winter, then in Q1 of 2024, now with the deadline set for summer 2024, there's hope that time was not wasted and the jets meanwhile underwent additional modernization.

Surely, Ukraine would much like not just to receive more fighters to its fleet but get the maximum of currently available capabilities associated with the F-16, soon the first Western-type jet aircraft with the Ukrainian Air Force. Something closer to the Block 70/72 variant. Moreover, it is actually possible to upgrade the F-16 to this level even from very old versions.

F-16 of the Norwegian Air Force / Defense Express / How Possible is to Revamp a F-16 from the 1980s to the Latest Block 70/72 Viper
F-16 of the Royal Norwegian Air Force / Photo credit: Photo credit: Søren Nielsen for FLYMAG

This is evidenced by the example of Taiwan, which in 2012 signed a $3.7 billion contract with Lockheed Martin to upgrade 144 F-16 Block 20 to Block 72 (other sources say, $4.5 billion for 139 aircraft).

The practical implementation of this program began back in 2016, and completed just a few months ago in February 2024, when Taiwan received the last upgraded F-16. The works were carried out by the Taiwanese enterprise AIDC, which was expected to reach a modernization capacity of 24 updated aircraft per year.

F-16 Block 72 of the Taiwanese Air Force / Defense Express / How Possible is to Revamp a F-16 from the 1980s to the Latest Block 70/72 Viper
F-16 Block 72 of the Taiwanese Air Force / Photo credit: Tsungfang Tsai

Main features of the Block 70/72 specifically is the integration of a much more powerful Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 radar, new digital avionics, electronic warfare systems, new weapons, as well as a significant extension of the aircraft's service life, and strengthening of its structure.

And, of course, it is the F-16 in the Block 70/72 version that has a much greater range and accuracy of detecting targets, in particular, against the background of the ground. A very powerful jamming system, which should protect the aircraft from enemy missiles. And also integrated long-range AIM-120-C8 missiles with a range of 160 km, as well as JASSM-ER cruise missiles.

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TAGS War