Friday, August 12, 2011

AESA radar upgrade for F-16s in doubt

Although a decision by Washington not to sell Taiwan F-16C/Ds would make the release of the AESA radar more likely, in the current political environment, even that cannot be taken for granted

As Taiwan awaits Washington’s decision on whether it will sell the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D aircraft Taipei has been seeking since 2007, rumors are now emerging that Taipei’s request for preferred radar system for an upgrade program for its ageing F-16A/Bs might also be encountering difficulties.

The US government is scheduled to announce on Oct. 1 — national day in the People’s Republic of China — whether it will proceed with the sale of 66 F-16C/Ds to Taiwan or limit itself to a US$4.5 billion upgrade for Taiwan’s 144 F-16A/Bs acquired in the early 1990s.

Taiwan does not regard the upgrades as an alternative to the F-16C/Ds and maintains that the two options must be exercised to ensure a balance of air power in the Taiwan Strait.

In addition to new electronic warfare systems, radio, engines and missiles, one key component of the upgrade would be the acquisition of advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, a “drop in” modular system regarded as an ideal option to give aging fighter fleets the world over a second life, especially as countries are becoming increasingly reluctant to acquire the problem-plagued F-35.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here, with a dispatch from the Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition 2011. This article is based on interviews with Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

Update: I was informed by a knowledgeable source at TADTE today that Northrop Grumman’s SABR, one of the two AESA options for Taiwan’s F-16s, might not qualify as some of its components (reportedly antenna systems) have not been cleared for export. This would leave only Raytheon’s RACR, or, should the AESA deal not be approved, some version of a mechanically scanned array radar, also produced by Northrop Grumman.

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