Lockheed Martin unveiled its newest member to the F-16 family – F-21, where 21 stands for 21st century. It is an enhanced version of F-16 Block 70. Though it carries a lot of identical systems that are already available on Block 70, it does have its own unique specifications- that according to Dr Vivek Lall, Vice President-Strategy and Business Development, is only available to Indian Air Force as of now.
Unlike Block 70 that has a digital cockpit with 3 MFD’s (Multi function display) including one big 6″ x 8″ CPD (Center pedestal display), F-21 has a wide flat panel display like the one found on F-35 Lightning II and a 6″ x 8″ CPD.
F-21 is more lethal as it can carry more missiles using triple launcher mounted on each wing. It is able to carry up to 6 Air-to-Air missiles on each wing. Another unique feature of F-21 is its capability to carry AN/ALE-50 TDS (Towed Decoy System) on its wing pylon as well as in the tail section, contrary to Block 70 that carries it only on its wing pylon.
The dorsal fin on F-21 has also being redesigned, the reason is yet to be known. Apart from these changes everything is pretty much similar to the Block 70. One of the major upgrade to F-16 Block 70/F-21 is the addition of Northrop Gruman AN/APG-83 SABR (Scalable Agile Beam Radar) AESA radar. According to Northrop, capabilities on AN/APG-83 are derived from highly successful APG-77 (F-22) and APG-88 (F-35).
It provides greater detection range, 20+ target tracking, high resolution SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) maps for all-weather, all-environment precision strike. It can track at least 20 targets within ±60 degrees of F-16’s nose while continuing to support a designated scan pattern. The air combat mode on APG-83 automatically acquires and tracks the first target detected within the scan volume selected by the pilot. Another distinctive feature of F-16 Block 70/F-21 is the 6″ x 9″ high resolution CPD (Center Pedestal Display) which provides critical tactical imagery to pilot. The CPD also features color moving maps, zoom functionality, and digital display of Flight Instrument Data. The Block 70 also features Auto GCAC (Ground Collision Avoidance System). At the core of F-16 Block 70/F-21 resides General Electric F-110-GE-132 Engine. It produces 32,500 pounds (14,741 kg) of thrust (142 kN). These were the specifications of F-21 aka F-16 Block 70.
Lockheed Martin had entered the mammoth MMRCA competition in 2008 with its F-16 Block 60 (F-16 IN). The Block 60 was leased from UAE Air Force for demonstration as it was the sole operator of the version. After MMRCA was scrapped, Lockheed Martin entered another MMRCA 2.0 (Unofficial Name) with its latest offering F-16 Block 70. Now at Aero India 2019 it offered their F-16 for the third time, only this time it was called F-21. Lockheed Martin seems to have adopted the Russian marketing gimmick of re-branding their product in a bid to win the contract or maybe they are trying really hard to delink the legacy F-16 carries with India’s arch enemy.
After the incident of MiG 21 shooting down F-16, it would be interesting to see how Indian Air Force reacts to the so called All New F-21.