F-16 Electronic Warfare Suite Achieves Key Milestone

By Laura Heckmann

L3Harris illustration

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The next-generation F-16 fighter is receiving a tailored, all-digital electronic warfare suite, and after a successful Drop 2 test in November, it’s one step closer to taking flight.

The Viper Shield all-digital electronic warfare suite, developed by L3Harris, is custom designed to be the baseline on Lockheed Martin’s advanced F-16 Block 70/72 aircraft, but prior blocks can be easily upgraded with the new suite as well, Anna Gragossian, director of business development for electronic warfare at L3Harris, said recently on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow.

The system, which is an upgrade of previous L3Harris electronic warfare systems, provides a virtual electronic shield around the aircraft, designed to detect modern radar systems. The upgrade addresses new threats and creates interoperability with the F-16’s APG-83 fire control radar, she said.

L3Harris announced the system’s successful Drop 2 integration test on Nov. 8, demonstrating full radio frequency compatibility with the F-16’s onboard APG-83 radar.

The test included continuous exposure with APG-83 energy for more than 12 hours to determine whether the radar pulses would interfere with electronic warfare functionality. The test “proved Viper Shield’s ability to filter out signal processing streams from the APG-83 radar pulses without any performance compromise,” according to a company press release.

Viper Shield’s analog predecessor could only detect one threat at a time, Gragossian said. The new system’s upgraded architecture will “allow us to see all of the threats simultaneously and defeat them simultaneously,” improving situational awareness through electronic countermeasures, she added.

The all-digital architecture will also use commercial-off-the-shelf technology to make it smaller, lighter and easier to upgrade.

Viper Shield’s Drop 3 increment delivery, which as of the time of publication was scheduled for December, will be production representative, Gragossian said — “so, that’s a big milestone.”

The Drop 3 hardware will be used at Lockheed Martin’s System Integration Lab for multifunctional testing, followed by flight testing scheduled for early 2024.

Viper Shield has five drops planned, with the fourth and fifth scheduled for the first and third quarters of 2024, she said. “And then what happens after Drop 5 is finalizing the remaining testing integration, and then be ready for production in … [the fourth quarter] of 2025.” ND

Topics: Acquisition, Emerging Technologies

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