May 9, 2014
Unmanned QF-16 to be used as UAV
Boeing is working to convert F-16 fighter aircraft into fully-fledged unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for potential use by US armed forces.
The company has already converted the first six of 126 Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons into optionally piloted QF-16 target drones for the USAF, but is looking to add improved datalinks to enable the QF-16 to fly as a conventional UAVs. .
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has previously highlighted the potential for an aircraft like the QF-16 to provide close air support to troops in future combat.
The QF-16 is currently restricted to 'line-of-sight' operations at two bases in the United States: Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. At present, the QF-16's ground control station would lose touch with the aircraft if it flew over the horizon.
The QF-16's capabilities are the same as a manned F-16, except for the internal cannon.
An issue that might limit the practical utility of a QF-16 UAV is its range. By comparison to Predator and Reaper, the F-16 is a short-range aircraft that requires aerial refuelling to conduct medium- or long-range strike missions with a meaningful payload. In the near term at least, it would not be possible for an unmanned QF-16 to perform aerial refuelling with the current generation of manned tanker aircraft.