L3Harris [LHX], Lockheed Martin [LMT], and the U.S. Air Force are collaborating to flight test the L3Harris AN/ALQ-254 Viper Shield electronic warfare (EW) suite on new F-16 fighter aircraft late next year or early 2023.
“We are partnering with Lockheed and the Air Force to specifically develop this EW system for the Block 70 and 72 [F-16] aircraft,” said Ted Damaskinos, the L3Harris vice president and general manager for electronic defensive solutions. “The development milestones are all being planned out in conjunction with Lockheed Martin–going through those design reviews, and we’re talking production planning. We expect to be on contract mid-to-late next year.”
“The idea is to make it for all Block 70/72 aircraft,” he said. “In the conversations with Lockheed, this is going to be the system. It’s a step function differential EW suite, and there’s key differentiators to the prior systems that we took a newer approach–key differentiators, we believe, to this from a life cycle and sustainment cost perspective and potential upgrades.”
On March 22, L3Harris said that Lockheed Martin had awarded L3Harris a contract to develop Viper Shield against emerging radar and other electronic threats, and L3Harris said that it is looking for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) of Viper Shield for new Block 70/72 F-16s
(Defense Daily, March 22).
Viper Shield features a 40 percent reduction in parts, weight and size compared to prior F-16 EW systems, per L3Harris.
“We went with a 3U COTS solution–smaller form factor, reduced weight, easier for future upgrades,” Damaskinos said. “With the all-digital and using that 3U COTS, we have that analytical projection that all the mean time between failures are gonna increase, thereby reducing life cycle costs. Within the design, we have the replaceable line units that can be removed right off on the line and can be swapped out instead of having to take anything extensive off the aircraft. The smaller form factor enables the [Viper Shield] system inside the fuselage where prior things would have been in pods and the like.”
“L3Harris designed Viper Shield to provide U.S. and global coalition partners with cutting-edge countermeasures against sophisticated, ever-changing threats,” per L3Harris. “The baseline version is integrated into the aircraft fuselage, saving space for additional capability such as a fuel pod that could be attached externally to increase mission range. Seamless integration with the F-16’s weapon systems, including the aircraft’s radar, enables Viper Shield to have broad application to Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70/72 aircraft configurations. More than a dozen countries in the Middle East, Asia and Europe plan to fly the F-16 Block 70/72 variant.”
“There’s no competition,” Damaskinos said. “We are working with Lockheed, and the intent is that anybody who’s going to buy an EW suite is going to use the AN/ALQ-254 Viper Shield.”
In January, Northrop Grumman [NOC] said that the U.S. Air Force had picked the company to finish a new F-16 EW suite for U.S. Air Force F-16s under an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) agreement for prototyping (Defense Daily, Jan. 11).
L3Harris sees a significant opportunity abroad for Viper Shield and potentially a domestic U.S. Air Force opportunity down the road.
Last August, Lockheed Martin received a 10-year, $62 billion FMS contract for the sale of F-16 Block 70/72 planes, including 66 for Taiwan and 24 for Morocco (Defense Daily, Aug. 24, 2020).
The Northrop Grumman EW suite for U.S. Air Force F-16s is to provide full-spectrum radar warning, threat identification and advanced countermeasures, and pulse-to-pulse operability with the F-16’s new AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR)” by Northrop Grumman.
In December 2019 the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a contract potentially worth $1 billion for 372 of the radars (Defense Daily, Oct. 15, 2020). The first jets receiving the radars were to be 72 Air National Guard (ANG) F-16s in response to a Joint Emergent Operational Need from U.S. Northern Command in 2017 for homeland defense to provide better detect and track capability against Russian cruise missiles.
The SABR is to provide 5th generation radar features akin to those on the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35 for the legacy F-16, which first flew in 1974.
Such Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) features include beyond line of sight, longer range air-to-air and air-to-ground targeting of multiple targets, such as air defense radars and cruise/surface to air missiles, and all-weather, high-resolution, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) ground mapping for improved strike.
L3Harris said that Viper Shield’s “advanced digital radar warning receiver (DRWR) technology integrates seamlessly” with SABR “to deliver greater situational awareness” and that Viper Shield’s “digital radio frequency memory (DRFM)-based jamming system provides enhanced capability against advanced threats.”