BAE Systems has established a new unit in the Fort Worth, Texas, area to run its just-launched F-16 upgrade effort with South Korea and pursue other update programs for the F-16, F-15 and F/A-18.

The company announced Dec. 23 that it had reached a final agreement with Korea, which selected BAE Systems in August 2012 to equip 130-plus F-16 Block 52 fighters with active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, new mission computers and new cockpit displays. BAE Systems and Korea have selected the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar for the upgrade, the first non-Northrop Grumman radar on any F-16. 

The program office already has “700 man-years of F-16 experience,” according to John Bean, vice president for global fighter programs in BAE’s Aerospace Solutions sector, who also is an F-16 veteran. About 300 people will be employed at the new Alliance Airport site by the end of 2014, as BAE builds a systems integration laboratory to support the program. The first of a group of Korean air force F-16s will arrive in the coming year to start modifications for the test program, alongside a large, corporate-type jet that will act as a flying testbed for the new systems. F-16 flight tests are due in 2016. 

BAE Systems estimates that 1,000 F-16s worldwide — including 830 Block 50/52s outside the U.S. — are upgrade candidates. Industry sources note that much now depends on the fate of the competing U.S. Air Force/Lockheed Martin Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite (Capes) upgrade program, using a Northrop Grumman radar. Capes is not yet fully funded and may be vulnerable to budget cuts. Singapore has said that an F-16 upgrade is a higher priority than an order for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, and Turkey is considered another important target. 

However, the company has other targets in mind, including AESA upgrades for F-15s and F/A-18s that would use similar hardware and software to the F-16. Also, older F-16s that might not have enough remaining lifetime to warrant a full upgrade could benefit from modernization to replace obsolete components and overcome diminishing manufacturing source (DMS) issues, BAE says.