In 1989 a two-year study began regarding possible mid-life upgrades for the USAF’s and European Partner Air Forces‘ (EPAF’s) F-16A/Bs. The resulting F-16 Mid-Life Update (MLU) package was designed to upgrade the cockpit and avionics to the equivalent of that on the F-16C/D Block 50/52; add the ability to employ radar-guided air-to-air missiles; and to generally enhance the operational performance and improve the reliability, supportability and maintainability of the aircraft. Aircraft receiving this set of updates are designated F-16AM or F-16BM.
Development began in May 1991 and continued until 1997; however, the USAF withdrew from the MLU program in 1992, although it did procure the modular mission computer for its Block 50/52 aircraft.
The first of five prototype conversions flew on 28 April 1995, and installation of production kits began in January 1997. The original plans called for the production of 553 kits (110 for Belgium, 63 for Denmark, 172 for the Netherlands, 57 for Norway, and 130 for the USAF), however, final orders amounted to only 325 kits (72 for Belgium, 61 for Denmark, 136 for the Netherlands, and 56 for Norway). The EPAFs redesignated the F-16A/B aircraft receiving the MLU as F-16AM/BM, respectively. Portugal later joined the program and the first of 20 aircraft was redelivered on 26 June 2003, with another 20 going through the update incountry at this time. In recent years, Chile, Jordan, and Pakistan have purchased surplus Dutch and Belgian F-16AM/BM for their air forces.
Development of new software and hardware modifications continues under the MLU program. The M3 software tape was installed in parallel with the Falcon STAR structural upgrade to bring the F-16AM/BM up to the standards of the USAF’s Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP). A total of 296 M3 kits (72 for Belgium, 59 for Denmark, 57 for Norway, and 108 for the Netherlands) were ordered for delivery from 2002–2007; installation is anticipated to be completed in 2010. A M4 tape has also been developed that adds the ability to use additional weapons and the Pantera targeting pod; Norway began conducting flying combat operations in Afghanistan with these upgraded aircraft in 2008. A M5 tape is in development that will enable employment of a wider array of the latest smart weapons, and the first aircraft upgraded with it are due to be delivered in 2009.