The USAF plans to convert older-model F-16s into full-scale target drones under the QF-16 Air Superiority Target (AST) program. These AST drones are used in Weapon System Evaluation Programs (WSEP) for assessing upgrades or replacements for air-to-air missiles (AAM), and they are also useful for giving pilots the experience of a live AAM shot and kill prior to entering combat. QF-16s would replace the current QF-4 drones, the last of which are expected to be expended around 2015.
QF-16 Air Superiority Target (AST) Role Full-scale target drone National origin United States Primary users USAF, US Navy Manufacturer Boeing First flight 19 September 2013 Introduction 18 November 2014 Status Under Development Number built 126 (proposed) Program cost $70 million Unit cost Unknown Length 49 ft 5 in (15.1 m) Wingspan 31 ft 0 in (9.45 m) Height 16 ft 8 in (5.08 m) Wing area Empty weight 18,900 lb (8,570 kg) Maximum payload Maximum takeoff weight 42,300 lb (19,200 kg) Powerplant General Electric F110-GE-100 engine Fuel Maximum speed Mach 1.47 or 1,119mph/1,800km/ Ferry range Combat radius 295 nmi (546 km) Service ceiling 40,000ft Rate of climb Thrust/weight 28,600 lbf (127 kN) Guns Removed Air to ground loadout Hardpoints Removed
When the F-16s arrive at Boeing’s facility, they are stripped down to remove unneeded parts, including the fighter’s Vulcan six-barrel 20mm cannon and the APG-66/68 radar. Because the USAF requires that the QF-16 be able to fly in both manned and unmanned modes, Boeing will modify the flight control system, working in a teaming arrangement with BAE, the original equipment manufacturer for the F-16 flight control system.