New F-16V 'Viper' Makes First Flight

Lockheed Martin Corp.'s newest type of F-16 fighter jet, known as the F-16V "Viper," recently completed its maiden flight, the company announced.

The Oct. 16 flight in Fort Worth, Texas, marked the first time the venerable fourth-generation fighter flew with an advanced radar like those found on the fifth-generation fighters F-22 and F-35, according to a press release this week from Lockheed.

The F-16V includes an APG-83 active electronically scanned array scalable agile beam radar made by Northrop Grumman Corp. The company also makes so-called active electronically scanned array radars for the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The new radar steers beams electronically -- without moving parts -- and redirects them from one location to another, according to the Government Accountability Office. Unlike a passive version, the radar spreads signals over multiple radio frequencies, making them difficult to detect and jam, and allowing the aircraft employing the technology to remain stealthy.

The APG-83 "fire control radar provides 5th Generation air-to-air and air-to-ground radar capability," Lockheed said in the release. It "will deliver a quantum leap in capability for the venerable F-16."

The F-16V advanced avionics configuration also includes a new cockpit center pedestal display, a modernized mission computer and a high-capacity Ethernet data bus, according to Lockheed.

Yet the upgrades aren't slated to hit the U.S. fleet of more than 1,000 F-16s. The Air Force last year canceled a plan to upgrade some 340 of the single-engine fighters with such enhancements due to budget limitations and instead decided to fund other programs, including the F-35.

So Taiwan is set to become the first country to begin flying the F-16V Viper.

Lockheed, the world's largest defense contractor, faces competition from the British defense giant, BAE Systems Plc, in the international market to upgrade many of the 3,000 F-16s now flying in foreign armed forces.

Of those, roughly 1,000 are more than 15 years old -- making them prime candidates for enhancements to avoid obsolescence. While the F-16 won't ever compete in the skies with newer jets like the F-22 or F-35, upgrading fourth-generation aircraft is far cheaper than buying fifth-generation fighters.

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