Battle intensifies over radars for F-16 upgrade

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff Reporter

Thu, Feb 23, 2012 - Page 3

An imminent decision by the South Korean Air Force on the type of advanced radar system it will adopt for the upgrade of its 135 KF-16C/Ds will likely have a ripple effect in Taiwan as the latter mulls options for the upgrade of its 145 F-16A/Bs.

Up until recently, only one US defense firm, Raytheon Corp, had been cleared by the US government to export Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, one of the main components in the US$5.8 billion arms package for Taiwan notified to US Congress in September last year.

However, the US Department of State last month gave Northrop Grumman Corp a permanent export license (DSP-5) for its own version of the AESA radar — known as the Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) — for the South Korean and Taiwanese bids.

Raytheon had obtained a DSP-5 for its Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR) in 2008, US-based Defense News reported earlier this month.

The DSP-5 license is the first step in the foreign military sales process and allows for the release of unclassified technical information and data to a foreign country.

With this decision, Taipei will now be able to choose between the two manufacturers as it negotiates the acquisition of the 176 AESA radars included in the notification.

Although the air force was informed by the Executive Yuan that it would only be given US$3.7 billion for the F-16 upgrade — US$1.5 billion less than the US$5.2 billion proposed in the notification — the Ministry of National Defense remains committed to obtain the advanced radar, a multifunction sensor that, among other things, allows for the targeting of multiple objects simultaneously.

Taipei has also not abandoned its plans to procure 66 of the more advanced F-16C/D, efforts that have been unsuccessful since 2007.

Reporting from the Singapore Air Show earlier this month, UK-based Jane’s Defence Weekly said that the US Air Force, which announced a program on Feb. 10 to upgrade 350 F-16C/Ds by 2020, would likely pick the radar adopted by the South Korean Air Force. By doing so, the US Air Force would lower the price tag for its retrofits, as South Korea would be the one paying for the integration costs.

Taiwan is also likely to adopt whichever AESA system is picked by South Korea, the defense magazine said.