How to Make a 1970s Fighter Jet Cutting Edge – IoT Upgrades

Internet of Things is the fusion of two transformational technologies: Big Data and connectivity. And IoT is here to usher our 40-50-year-old military designs into the modern-day. In this article, I’ll discuss the IoT upgrades that make the F-16V a cutting-edge platform, even though it’s based on a design that went into full production in the 1970s.

While it could be argued the networking in place within the military might not technically count as IoT (since we’re not talking about the public internet), the Big Data and connectivity principles are hard at work here. The definition of IoT still includes Machine-to-Machine, Connected Environments, and Situated Computing. I’m going with it.

Already Modern – The IoT Powerhouse F-35

In our highly popular article The Top 3 IoT Devices in Aviation Right Now, I listed the F-35 Lightning II as the #1 IoT device ever…aviation or otherwise. This airplane is a sensor, data, and connectivity platform that completely changes the nature of the battlefield. It is the future of warplanes.

The Top 3 IoT Devices in Aviation Right Now

Here’s how the F-35 design team describes the IoT nature of the airplane:

“Advanced avionics give the pilot real-time access to battle space information with 360-degree coverage and an unparalleled ability to dominate the tactical environment. Data collected by sensors on the F-35 will immediately be shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing an instantaneous, high-fidelity view of ongoing operations – making the F-35 a formidable force multiplier while enhancing coalition operations.”

Here’s some insight into its Big Data core:

“That’s where the Autonomic Logistics Information System, better known as ALIS, comes in. ALIS acts as the information nerve center of the F-35, providing a comprehensive platform that transforms vast amounts of data into actionable information. ALIS provides mission planning capability, tracks training plans, logs maintenance activity, automatically orders parts and displays tailored step-by-step maintenance instructions. With big data analytics, ALIS pinpoints trends to keep the F-35 fleet in peak flying condition.” Lockheed Martin

And from a commander’s perspective:

A “game-changer,” said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces, is the ability for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to “suck in all that information” from various sensors and fuse it together to give pilots information in “a great, clear picture of who’s good and who’s bad.”

In fact, just last month, several pilots were interviewed about the F-35. Listening to them describe their “aha” moments is fascinating. The huge amounts of data are presented in an extremely simple manner. Check out the interviews on The Aviationist »

But, as most know, this platform has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.

So to fill the gap and ensure current fighter jets maintain relevance, upgrades can go a long way. What do pilots and commanders want in terms of upgrades? Bigger weapons, tighter turning, faster speeds?

While the Russian designs emphasize brute power and exceptional close-in performance, particularly with the Flanker derivatives, that’s not exactly what US pilots are after…

Are there particular upgrades you’d like to see?

“In this day and age, it’s mostly software upgrades.”  Interview with Super Hornet Pilot

So let’s look at how IoT is changing our current forces and how they are benefiting from the development of F-35 technologies.

Making the 1970s Relevant in 2016

The majority of the current US fighter jets are based on ideas from the 1960s and designs from the 1970s. The F-16 went into full-scale development in 1975. Prior to this were design, prototyping, and vendor competition. That’s an old plane! What else from the 70s do you still use as part of your daily life? Not much.

The 1960s and 70s design: the F-16

To put that in perspective, here’s a car from the same vintage (in fact from 1977):

1970s design: Oldsmobile
1970s design: Oldsmobile

Don’t see many of those driving around today, do you?

But here’s what you will see, the most technologically advanced 4th generation fighter in the world:

1970s F-16 design packing spanking-new tech - F-16V
1970s F-16 design packing spanking-new tech – F-16V

The Top 3 IoT Devices in Aviation Right Now

Introducing the F-16V: How IoT is the Game-Changer for the F-16 Platform

The answer is the new F-16V.

“The Lockheed Martin F-16V is the latest and most advanced F-16 on the market today. The F-16V configuration includes numerous enhancements designed to keep the F-16 at the forefront of international security, strengthening its position as the world’s foremost combat-proven 4th Generation multi-role fighter aircraft.” Lockheed Martin

Here’s a quick summary of the upgrades:

  • Integrated capabilities through data link (here’s a technical document on the voice and data link network used, including the F-16V’s Link-16)
  • Modern avionics designed to fuse data and improve the pilot’s situational awareness
  • Large, high-resolution display
  • The high-volume, high-speed data bus
  • Enhanced radar and battlespace awareness
  • Auto GCAS (ground collision avoidance system)

This set of upgrades brings advanced networking and data to the F-16. Specifically, it brings much of what the F-35 offers to current platforms:

“In today’s world, we stay connected with our network at all times. The F-35 is no different. Equipped with a sophisticated mission systems suite, it enables seamless communications across the entire fleet in any battlespace. The F-35’s advanced sensor fusion gathers information from the aircraft’s multiple on-board sensors to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield.

Through secure datalinks, this data is automatically shared with other pilots and command and control operating centers, helping not only the F-35 pilot, but all of the allied forces.” Lockheed Martin

See it for yourself in this demo of the new F-16V pilot environment, with Kenn Cooper providing a walk through some of the new features as he flies:

The challenge Big Data and connectivity answers is that of situational awareness

Pilots fly in highly demanding situations. It is physically hard to fly. Visual input is off the charts. Auditory input is constant: warnings, tones, beeps. Plus, pilots have historically verbally shared information they are able to collect, such as targeting data.

The tenants of IoT allow this sensory situation and pilot workload to be greatly improved. No longer are they operating as an individual platform, but as part of a deeply integrated platform of airplanes, ships, satellites, and ground-based solutions.

“Through integration, Luke’s F-16 pilots are learning how to accomplish missions by complementing their toolset with the numerous, new capabilities of the F-35, including stealth and advanced sensors.” Luke Air Force Base

The F-16V features dramatically improve situational awareness for not only the pilot but also the rest of the connected battlefield.


To rule the battlefield today, data and connectivity are kings. IoT is changing nearly every sector, but it is delivering fascinating advances in military application, hopefully improving outcomes and reducing the duration and reach of conflicts.


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