In the early 1990s, the Israel Defense Forces/Air Force (IDF/AF) announced that they were seeking a new strike fighter to replace the Kurnass 2000 (F-4 Phantom upgrade).
The proposed extended-range F-16ES (Enhanced Strategic) version of the Fighting Falcon was originally developed for the Israeli strike fighter competition. In order to provide increased range, conformal fuel tanks which hold an extra 3200 pounds of fuel were to be fitted. These tanks accommodated almost as much fuel as underwing tanks, and in addition they produced much less drag and freed up underwing stations for weapons. With these tanks fitted, the F-16ES would have a 1025 mile unrefueled mission range with a warload of 4000 pounds and four air-to-air missiles, which was 40 percent better than that which the Block 50 F-16C/D could achieve.
An additional feature was the replacement of the drag-inducing external LANTIRN pods by an internally-mounted system. The terrain-following capability was built into the AN/APG-68 radar, and an internal FLIR/laser system was added in which only the sensors and laser transmitters actually protruded out into the airflow.
The F-16ES was also to have been provided with a more automated cockpit, making it possible to carry out precision night strikes with just a single pilot, making a second cockpit unnecessary.
Unfortunately for Lockheed Martin, this project lost out to the McDonnell Douglas F-15I Strike Eagle in the competition, but Israel did arrange to take delivery of 50 early model F-16s.
Following the loss of the Israeli strike fighter competition to the F-15I Strike Eagle, Lockheed Martin has resurrected the project following an expression of interest by several other nations. Lockheed has begun flight-testing with F-16C 83-1120 carrying modifications designed to explore this project further. The aircraft first flew on November 5, 1994, and had aerodynamic shaping of the upper fuselage to simulate the 24-foot long removable conformal fuel tanks. The aircraft has also been flown with 600 US-gallon underwing tanks, along with an aerodynamic shape representing an internal nose-mounted FLIR (both above and below the nose), and a weapons loading of two 2000-pound bombs.
The flight test program was concluded in January of 1995, and the aircraft was demodified and returned to Edwards AFB on January 23, 1995. Although there are no immediate plans to produce the F-16ES, some of the innovations produced by this project will probably appear on the Block 60/62 F-16C/D if and when it is produced.