BAE Systems is looking to capture upgrade deals on Boeing-made F/A-18s and F-15s in various countries. Here, Japanese F-15s take part in a military review in October. (Toru Yamanaka / AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE — With a substantial contract under its belt to upgrade South Korea’s fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16s, BAE Systems is now looking to extend its activities in the market for modifying other nations’ aircraft by looking at Boeing’s F-15 and F/A-18 jets, said executives from the US arm of the British-based company.
BAE returned to the Singapore Airshow for the first time in years, hoping that a local program to update F-16s might be thrown open to competition rather handed to aircraft builder Lockheed Martin, as looks the case right now.
Buoyed by the recent signing of a deal worth more than $1 billion to act as systems integrator for upgrading 130 KF-16 fighters for South Korea, John Bean, the vice president for global fighter programs at BAE in the US, said if given the chance the company, would look to repeat the success in Singapore as well as attempting to land an upgrade deal on the two Boeing-built fighters.
“We have made initial inquiries in Japan where they are formulating their [F-2 and F-15] requirements at this point. All the countries are trying to keep their acquisition plans quiet so we can’t comment too much, other than to say we are active in a number of countries,” Bean said at the show.
The ex-Lockheed Martin executive said that while historically only the original equipment manufacturer ever upgraded their own platforms, the advent of new advanced architecture had effectively changed the game.
“We are working with radars and targeting pods that go on multiple fighters. The Raytheon AESA [active electronically scanned array] radar we are fitting [on the F-16] in South Korea is common to the F/A-18 and F-15. It’s easy to take what we are doing because the F-16 is the smallest of the aircraft, so once we have a packaging that works for the Lockheed Martin aircraft, it’s pretty straightforward to make it work for the F-15 and F/A-18.”
“We are definitely in those markets as well as the F-16, although there isn’t as many of each aircraft [for upgrade]. Where we are looking is a country like Singapore, which has the F-15 and F-16, or Japan that has F-15 and the F-2. It’s an opportunity to help them achieve logistics commonality between the two platforms with common avionics,” Bean said.
The US arm of BAE is not alone in taking a tilt at the F-16 market. Boeing officials told reporters this week that it is looking to take on Lockheed Martin.
BAE cut its teeth on F-16s by securing a deal in 2005 to update US Air National Guard F-16s with a new fire control computer and other systems. That has translated into a potentially multibillion dollar market opportunity.
Bean reckons there is a market for up to 850 F-16 upgrades beyond those on contract in South Korea and Taiwan, where Lockheed Martin has a contract to modify 146 C/D F-16 using technology developed under the US Air Force combat avionics programmed extension suite (CAPES) project.
The US Air Force program is under budget threat in Washington, but Lockheed Martin executives say the development phase of the program remains funded even if there are questions over the production element of the budget.
CAPES and the Taiwan upgrade feature a Northrop Grumman AESA radar as the centerpiece of the modifications.
The BAE executive pointed to Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Bahrain as nations likely to upgrade their F-16s in the next few years.
The total upgrade market on the F-16 could amount to around $6 billion, he said.