McDonnell F-4F/ICE Phantom II

Last revised December 30, 1999




F-4F/ICE is the designation given to a substantially upgraded Luftwaffe F-4F. The Improved Combat Efficiency (ICE) program was initiated in late 1983 and was originally intended to produce an interim fighter with improved capabilities that would serve with the Luftwaffe pending the introduction of the EFA (European Fighter Aircraft) into service.

Under the ICE program, the simplified AN/APQ-120 radar of the F-4F was to be replaced with the highly-capable Hughes APG-65 digital multimode radar. This radar was originally intended for the F/A-18 Hornet, and had Doppler velocity tracking capability for moving target indication. In addition, the APG-65 had the ability to distinguish targets against ground clutter and had the ability to track multiple targets at the same time.

The F-4F was also to be given the capability of carrying and launching the Hughes AIM-120 AMRAAM missile. The AIM-120 missile was intended as a replacement for the AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar homing missile. The AIM-120 relies on semi-active radar homing for the initial flight to the target, but has autonomous midcourse inertial guidance and a radar transmitter in the nose to provide active terminal radar homing for the final approach to the target. The AMRAAM thus has a real measure of "fire-and-forget" capability. Since the AMRAAM has approximately the same size as the Sparrow, it could be carried within the Sparrow "slots" on the underside of the F-4F.

The F-4Fs were also to receive a new Litef digital fire control computer, a TST radar control console, and Frazer-Nash ejectors for the belly-mounted AMRAAMS. Also to be provided were a new IFF system, a new air data computer, and a new intertial platform.

The ICE upgrade program for the F-4F was initiated in late 1983, and initially called for the full upgrade of the 75 Luftwaffe F-4Fs belonging to the interceptor wings JG71 and JG74, with a more modest upgrade being planned for the remaining F-4Fs belonging to the fighter-bomber wings JBG 35 and JBG 36. Later, when JBG 36 switched to the interceptor role and became JG 73, it was decided that the number of aircraft to get the full package of ICE upgrades should be increased to 110.

It was decided that the ICE program should proceed in two stages. In the first phase, all F-4Fs would receive the Honeywell H-423 laser gyro inertial navigation system, the GEC Avionics CPU-143/A digital central air data computer, and a new Mil Std 1553R digital data bus. In the second stage, the 110 interceptor aircraft would get the full package of ICE upgrades.

The first phase of the upgrade began in October 1988. The Litton ALR-68(V)-2 radar warning receiver was added to the upgrade package in 1989. The first fleet aircraft retrofits began in March of 1990. This program is now complete.

Phase 2 of the ICE program took a lot longer than expected, owing primarily to problems and delays in the AMRAAM program. The first F-4F/ICE test aircraft was F-4F 3715 (USAF 72-1125), which flew for the first time in July of 1989. It was equipped to launch the AIM-120 but not to guide it. The second test aircraft (3713, USAF 72-1123) was provided with the full suite of ICE improvements, and began flight tests in April of 1990.

The program to retrofit interceptor squadron F-4Fs began in July of 1991. It is still ongoing. It was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of 1995. The first live AMRAAM launch by an F-4F took place on November 22, 1991. By July of 1992, six ICE conversions had been redelivered to JG 71 "Richthofen".

The rapidly rising costs of the EFA (now known as Eurofighter 2000) project gave the hard-pressed new unified German government a bout of cold feet. At one time, the German government had considered dropping out of the EFA project altogether, leaving their British, Italian, and Spanish partners to go it alone. Since Germany was carrying fully a third of the load, her withdrawal would undoubtedly have doomed the Eurofighter 2000 project. After much finger-pointing and arm-twisting, the German government was persuaded to continue to participate in the development phase of the project, with the final decision on whether Germany would actually order any production articles being deferred until after 1995. As of the posting of this article, it is still uncertain if the German government will actually order any production examples of the Eurofighter 2000. Even if they do, the Eurofighter 2000 will not enter Luftwaffe service until the year 2002 at the earliest. The F-4F/ICE will have to soldier on until least that time.

Sources:


  1. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume II, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  2. McDonnell F-4 Phantom: Spirit in the Skies. Airtime Publishing, 1992.

  3. Modern Air Combat, Bill Gunston and Mike Spick, Crescent, 1983.

  4. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  5. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  6. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft Armament, Bill Gunston, Orion, 1988.