Indonesia’s upgraded F-16 takes flight

A TNI-AU F-16A/B seen in flight. The type is undergoing a mid-life upgrade programme that will extend its useful lifespan and enhance its overall capabilities. (JR Ng).

The first Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) F-16A/B combat aircraft to undergo the Falcon STAR (Structural Augmentation Roadmap) enhanced mid-life upgrade (eMLU) programme has made its maiden flight.

The TNI-AU announced that the aircraft, TS-1610, is operated by Aviation Squadron 3 and took off from the Iswahyudi Air Force Base in Madiun, East Java, on 18 February. The service’s F-16s are also operated by Aviation Squadron 16 in Pekanbaru, Riau.

Under the Falcon STAR eMLU, engineers from the TNI-AU and Indonesia’s state-owned aerospace company PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI) installed improved avionics and weapon systems as well as structural reinforcements under the supervision of Lockheed Martin.

According to the TNI-AU, the upgraded aircraft could potentially offer another 8,000 flight hours of operation.

“The flight conducted by TS-1610 is evidence that we have the ability to upgrade our aircraft in-country,” said Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Yuyu Sutisna, the TNI-AU’s chief-of-staff.

“I am optimistic now that we have conducted this first flight, and given the continued involvement of Lockheed Martin, we can hasten the upgrades of a further nine F-16A/B aircraft in the fleet,” he added.

The TNI-AU is understood to operate more than 30 F-16s. Twenty-four of these are F-16C/D models that had earlier benefited from a US$670 million refurbishment and upgrade programme with the United States Air Force that was completed in late 2017.

ACM Sutisna earlier told state news agency Antara in late 2019 that the service is planning to procure two squadrons of the latest Block 70/72 F-16V (Viper).

The proposed acquisition has been linked to the third and final phase of the TNI-AU’s Minimum Essential Force (MEF) modernisation programme that runs from 2020 until 2024.

“We will buy two squadrons in the next strategic plan 2020-2024,” ACM Sutisna told Antara. “We [will] purchase the newest type of Block 72 Viper.”

The F-16V is seen as a replacement for TNI-AU’s ageing BAE Systems Hawk 109/209 strike aircraft, which have been in service since the mid-1990s.

by JR Ng