QF-16s: Look Ma, No Hands!Dec 11, 2012 12:14 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
QF-16s are former F-16 fighters that will be fitted with equipment for remote-controlled flight, and used as aerial targets and decoys for testing against air-air missiles, radars, surface-air missiles, etc. The QF-16 is a follow-on to the QF-4 aerial target drone, which are converted by BAE Systems.
The USAF is running out of F-4 family airframes to convert, and production is set to end in FY 2013. The QF-16s will be their replacements, but the conversion process must still be developed and tested. The QF-16 program is expected to reach Milestone C and a low-rate initial production decision by Q3 2013, giving the USAF time to produce enough of them for a full switch by FY 2016. BAE Systems won’t be leading the QF-16 program, however; Boeing won that contract.
Contracts and Key Events
FY 2011 – 2013
Nov 19/12: Testing. The 1st QF-16 drone arrives for developmental testing at Tyndall AFB, FL. Boeing Global Services and Support will conduct testing on the QF-16, which will undergo approximately 6 months of testing to validate their capabilities and ensure compatibility with the Gulf Range Drone Control System. Next, the aircraft will deploy to Holloman AFB, NM, for 4 more months of integrated testing.
When all test milestones are complete, the aircraft will return permanently to the 53rd WEG, complete a transition period, and achieve initial operational capability at Tyndall AFB. The first production QF-16 is scheduled to be delivered in 2014. USAF | Boeing.
May 4/12: 1st flight. Boeing and the U.S. Air Force complete the 1st QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target flight at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, FL. For safety reasons, initial flights take place with a pilot on board. Boeing.
July 7/10: Sub-contractors. Herley Industries’ subsidiary Micro Systems, Inc. in Fort Walton Beach, FL announces a development and production contract from Boeing for a QF-16 command and control transponder and a ground systems module. This development contract has an initial award of $2.3 million, and a total potential value of $19 million.
April 22/10: F-16 arrives. The first retired F-16 Falcon arrives at Boeing’s Cecil Field facility near Jacksonville, FL to begin conversion into a QF-16 aerial drone. The team will receive 6 F-16s during the program’s development phase, which will be modified and serve as prototypes for engineering tests and evaluation prior to low-rate initial production. Boeing.
March 8/10: QF-16 EMD. Boeing in St. Louis, MO announces a $69.7 million contract to develop and provide QF-16 “optionally manned” full scale aerial targets. Phase I covers engineering, manufacturing and development. Under the terms of the remainder of the contract, expected to be awarded in coming years, up to 126 QF-16 drones will deliver beginning in 2014, and 2014 is also the expected year for full rate production. The USAF expects to buy 220 QF-16s over time.
QF-16 design and development will take place in St. Louis. MO. Ground and flight testing and production will be completed at the Boeing facility in Cecil Field, FL, near Jacksonville. The Boeing-led QF-16 team also includes BAE Systems in Johnson City, NY, who led the QF-4 program. For the Boeing QF-16 contract, $950,000 is committed at the outset by the 691st Armament Systems Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, FL (FA8678-10-C-0100). See also Boeing release.
October 2009: QF-4s. In a presentation to the NDIA, Deputy Director of the 691st Armament Systems Squadron Mike VandenBoom sketches out the remaining QF-4 program. As of October 2009, they had completed Lot 13 production and begun Lot 14 deliveries, with 256 QF-4s delivered to date. Production is now down to using RF-4C reconnaissance aircraft instead of F-4E fighters, which will provide another 3 years of full production capability until Lot 17, the final production lot.
QF-4 Lots 15-17 will comprise 36 aircraft, with deliveries lasting until July 2013, which is expected to provide enough inventory through FY 2015. Successor “QF-16″ aircraft will need to pick up the job from there.