The Air Force has also added T-38s to all F-22 units as adversary aircraft. “If you fly stealth against stealth, you don't simulate the most likely scenarios,” Wells points out. Some new pilots on F-22 squadrons may fly T-38s for up to a year. “It's something you need to consider as an F-35 customer,” Wells adds. “If you have an all-stealth force, who do you train against?”
F-22s are currently flying in Southwest Asia, Wells says. “There are three things necessary to employ the F-22 in combat. The combatant commander has to have a need for the aircraft, the force provider has to be able to make the aircraft available, and the secretary of defense needs to approve it. That hasn't happened yet.”
With the F-35's initial operational capability (IOC) date still undefined, the Air Force has launched the Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite (Capes) program for the F-16, with Lockheed Martin as sole bidder (AW&ST Aug. 6, p. 38). The Capes plan, under which 350 F-16s would remain in service through 2030, implies a corresponding cutback in Air Force F-35 procurement before that date, relative to the program of record.
Capes is attracting attention from export customers, including Poland. “Delays to JSF are very promising because they pressed the U.S. to start a robust [F-16] upgrade program,” said Col. (ret.) Tadeusz Pieciukiewicz, acting director of Poland's F-16 project office, at the conference. Poland has 48 late-model Advanced Block 52 F-16s and wants to take advantage of Capes improvements such as an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and improved cockpit displays.
The Capes program itself has undergone one important change recently, according to executives attending the conference. The Air Force has delegated a crucial decision to Lockheed Martin: the choice between the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar and Northrop Grumman's Scalable Agile Beam Radar. A request for proposals is expected soon, with a decision before next summer.
The move has not pleased Raytheon. Northrop Grumman has supplied every F-16 radar, as well as the radars on the F-22 and F-35, and that is seen as giving it the inside track. The Air Force's motivations are not clear. Some observers suggest it might be an attempt to “protest-proof” a high-value source selection—the total F-16 upgrade market is estimated at more than 1,000 radars and it is the last opportunity of its size in sight—or simply a recognition that no one on the U.S. government side is experienced enough to make such a choice.
However, South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration, which picked BAE Systems to lead its own F-16 upgrade program in July, plans to choose an AESA radar, possibly before year-end. South Korea is being pushed to delay its choice and follow the U.S. lead, sources say.
BAE Systems won the Korean deal with a substantial price advantage over Lockheed Martin and is now talking to multiple nations that have been asked to join the Capes program. As well as Poland, there is active interest in F-16 upgrades in Singapore, Portugal and Greece.
However, there is no clear funding line within the Air Force budget for the effort, beyond the early design stages; the plan is to form a consortium with the international partners sharing the cost. Another question is to what extent Capes will be a one-size-fits-all solution, and how that will mesh with local requirements. For example, some F-16 operators require an active electronic warfare system (not part of the Capes baseline, which includes only the Terma ALQ-213 management system) and others do not.