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

  • Published
  • F-16 System Program Office, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center

For the first time, an F-16 Fighting Falcon’s Electronic Warfare System received an in-flight software update as part of an Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) demonstration during a recent test sortie at Nellis Air Force Base.

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 Hill Software Integration Lab, 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, the 53rd Test Wing, 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 a 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. 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 F-16 pilots access to data from a classified cloud. 

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

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