The US Air Force has awarded a phase one contract to Boeing, for the initial engineering, manufacturing and development of QF-16 full-scale aerial targets to replace the QF-4 fleet.

Under the $69.7m contract, a Boeing-led team will convert retired F-16 aircraft into QF-16s for use as aerial targets for newly developed weapons and tactics.

Boeing will equip the drones to evaluate how US fighters and weapons will operate against potential adversaries.

The drones will be flown either manned or unmanned within a controlled range, and used for testing.

Boeing will perform the QF-16 design and development work at St Louis Ground and flight testing and production at its facility in Cecil Field, Fla., near Jacksonville.

The QF-16 team also includes BAE Systems in Johnson City, NY.