May, 21

    Lockheed to upgrade Chilean Air Force’s F-16 jets

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    SANTIAGO, Chile — Lockheed Martin will upgrade 36 operational F-16 fighter jets with the Chilean Air Force under a $177 million contract, the Pentagon announced.

    The deal, unveiled Oct. 31, will see those F-16AM/BM Block 15/20 MLU aircraft modified to the M6.6 standard. Lockheed told Defense News the program will provide an advanced identification friend or foe capability and the Link 16 tactical communications system.

    The upgrade work is to take place in Fort Worth, Texas, and Greenville, South Carolina, as well as at Chilean Air Force maintenance workshops at Santiago and Antofagasta, according to the Pentagon and Chilean military sources. Lockheed will complete the project by Nov. 30, 2032, the department’s announcement added.

    The upgraded aircraft are expected to operate until the early 2040s, the sources told Defense News on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic. They added that the contract is simply the start of this upgrade program and that more spending and deals are likely.

    Previous plans involved installation of active electronically scanned array radars, but that’s no longer the case because the current analogue radars on board the jets are now supplemented by situational and targeting data, provided in real time by E-3D Sentry airborne warning and control aircraft acquired from the U.K. in 2022.

    In 2019, the Chilean Air Force requested funding to launch the F-16 upgrade program the next year. At the same time, the U.S. State Department was working on authorization for the export of related systems and parts to Chile. But the Chilean government denied the funding on technical and financial grounds, instead calling for the service to to request money in the 2021 national budget.

    The State Department in 2020 approved related sales, but the Chilean government postponed the project amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Chile ordered a total of 36 F-16 MLU jets from the Netherlands in two separate batches of 18 each in 2005 and 2009. Chile received the last aircraft in 2011. All the jets are serviceable, but two airframes are used for training technicians and ground crews.

    José Higuera is a Latin America correspondent for Defense News.

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