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F-16 receives in-flight software update during flight test

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's F-16 System Program Office

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- For the first time, an F-16’s Electronic Warfare System received an in-flight software update as part of an Advanced Battle Management System, or ABMS, demonstration during a test sortie here.

An F-16 updated its’ mission data file with information transmitted from hundreds of miles away using an existing beyond line of sight F-16 satellite communication system. The airborne F-16 Block 50C was able to receive an MDF update from the Software Integration Lab at Hill AFB, Utah, process it using custom developed center display unit software, and load the new data into the ALQ-213 countermeasures signal processor.

This technology was made possible using the F-16 System Program Office’s organic subject matter experts, the 309th Software Engineering Group at Hill, the 53rd Wing at Eglin, and associated agencies. This proof-of-concept test demonstrated the ability for a pilot to properly correlate a previously unknown electronic threat in near real-time.

“The ingenuity and skills of the flight test and program teams enabled an (F-16) Viper to land with better capabilities than it took off with,” said Col. Tim Bailey, F-16 System Program Manager, speaking about the successful test. “This techno-marvel was done with existing systems in much of the Viper fleet, with no hardware mod required. We’re not Tesla yet, but this is a significant first step.”

“We believe this is the first time a fighter aircraft has received a software update and gained new capability all while in flight,” added Lt. Col. Zachary Probst, a flight test pilot and commander of the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron. “This is a big deal. There’s a tactical need to be able to rapidly update software, especially mission data files because that’s what ties into our ability to identify, find, and defend ourselves against enemy threat systems.”

What began as a bar napkin idea – real-time software updates to F-16s – is developing into a program that could one day field across the F-16 fleet. The next step is to integrate high speed internet into the F-16 thereby allowing pilots access to data from a classified cloud. 

Ultimately the program’s goal is full ABMS integration into the F-16 aircraft, which will improve long-term relevance of the aircraft and greatly enhance capabilities to the warfighter. In addition, it will connect and integrate Defense Department, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Space Force capabilities.

“We are focused on capability development and proving things,” said Probst. “We are working on building the 'highway.' Once we build the highway, the possibility of places to go are endless.”