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US Air Force Invests $49.7M to Convert F-16s Into Target Drones

The US Air Force has awarded Boeing a $49.7 million contract to convert retired F-16 fighters into unmanned aerial target vehicles.

Fifteen F-16 Block 25 and Block 30s will be converted into QF-16 full-scale aerial targets under the contract awarded last week, the outlet added.

To Replace F-4 Phantom Target Drone

The QF-16s will replace the QF-4 reusable, remotely piloted aerial targets modified from the airframe of the third-generation McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom fighter, retired in the 1980s, enabling warfighters to test their weapons and tactics on a fourth-generation airborne target.

The air force has been using a range of modified retired aircraft since the 1960s as target drones such as the F-100, F-102, and the F-106, some of which are destroyed during weapons tests. The QF-16 will help bring air force warfighters up to speed with today’s airborne threats.

Performs Autonomous, Ground-Controlled Flights

According to Boeing, the conversion entails “modification of the airframe and installation of major components,” enabling the platform to perform both “autonomous maneuvers through autopilot and controlled maneuvers through ground stations.” 

According to Air Force Technology, the QF-16 features “a universal remote auto pilot, auto-throttle, and peculiar support equipment with improved fault-isolation capabilities.” The platform also reportedly includes “a flight termination system that can destroy the drone if it goes out of control.”

The air force is expected to purchase 210 QF-16s through 2022. Boeing has delivered 50 QF-16s out of a contract for 120 aircraft signed in 2015.

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