The U.S. Air Force plans to equip its Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-16 fighters with a new electronic warfare (EW) suite, as system production and fielding begin in 2024.

Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) said this week that the command’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate issued an unpriced change order (UCO) on March 10 to Northrop Grumman [NOC] for the F-16 AN/ALQ-257 Integrated Viper Electronic Warfare Suite (IVEWS) and plans to award a multi-million dollar contract modification later this year for IVEWS.

“The UCO follows a $40 million Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) modification award the company received in June 2021 to develop an IVEWS environmentally and safety of flight certified prototype,” AFMC said this week. “Over the next 18 months, Northrop Grumman will complete IVEWS’ development and install the system on several F-16s for flight testing. Additional  development, integration, hardware qualification testing, and Engineering and Manufacturing Development asset procurement will support the IVEWS Developmental Test/Operational Test and Operational Assessment in early 2023.”

James Conroy, Northrop Grumman’s vice president of navigation, targeting and survivabiliy, said that the UCO “is an important step on the path to production for IVEWS, which uses our ultra-broadband architecture to provide protection against the radio frequency threats of today and tomorrow.”

In January last year, the Air Force said that it picked Northrop Grumman to finish the new EW suite for the F-16 under an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) agreement for prototyping (Defense Daily, Jan. 11, 2021).

While Northrop Grumman beat out the L3Harris Technologies’ [LHX] Viper Shield EW system for equipping U.S. F-16s, L3Harris is pursuing foreign military sales for Viper Shield and anticipating that that system may one day go on U.S. F-16s as well.

The new EW suite for the F-16 has so far proven out in testing with the aircraft’s new AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) by Northrop Grumman, the Air Force said.

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 Air Force slated 72 Air National Guard (ANG) F-16s as the first to receive the SABRs 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 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.

The F-16 EW suite “leverages an open systems, ultra wideband architecture providing greater instantaneous bandwidth needed to defeat modern threats” and “shares a common technology baseline with the AC/MC-130J Radio Frequency Countermeasures Program and (Northrop Grumman) AN/APR-39 radar warning receivers,” Northrop Grumman has said.

IVEWS “is vital to increase the protection of our F-16 operators as they execute their missions in contested environments,” Air Force Maj. Charles Prichard, chief of electronic warfare integration at AFMC’s Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate, said in an AFMC statement this week.
AFMC said that IVEWS will allow future upgrades for the F-16, including the fiber optic towed decoy, adaptive/cognitive processing, and Open System Architecture compliance.