Pentagon plans 2018 F-16 upgrades

The U.S. Air Force plans to go forward with plans to upgrade and extend the life of 300 F-16s to protect the service in case the F-35 experiences more delays in the course of its development.

Col Mark Mol, programme manager at the USAF’s F-16 System Programme Office, spoke to Dave Majumdar at Flight Global providing more details on the service life extension program (SLEP) and a combat avionics programmed extension suite (CAPES) upgrades the Air Force plans to make.

Air Force officials have chosen Block 40, 42, 50 and 52 F-16C/Ds to receive the upgrades in the fleet.

Engineers will upgrade the 300 Fighting Falcons’ avionics with new radars and advanced software. Each F-16 will receive a new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, a new Terma ALQ-213 electronic warfare system, an integrated broadcast system (IBS) and a center display unit (CDU), according to Majumdar’s report.

F-16’s life expectancy tops out at 8,000 flight hours. A SLEP upgrade could extend those life spans an additional 2,000 to 4,000 flight hours.

The Air Force plans to upgrade the first of the 300 F-16s in 2018.

Lockheed Martin will receive a sole source contract to provide the upgrades. Other defense companies have taken notice of the need to upgrade the F-16 as international air force leaders expect the F-16 to fly for decades to come.

Floyd McConnell, vice president for BAE Systems’ Integrated Avionics Solutions, said at the Farnborough Air Show that he forsees a multi-billion dollar market to upgrade F-16s — whether it’s in the U.S. or the international market. Twenty five countries fly the F-16 and McConnell says it’s about time Lockheed Martin had some competition when offering upgrades to these buyers.

Some inside the Pentagon have argued the Air Force would be smart to invest more money extending the life spans of the F-16 fleet, rather than spending more on the F-35’s development. U.S. Air Force Maj. Joe “Buzz” Walter presented a brief that has made its rounds through the Pentagon and Congress that shows how many more planes the Air Force could keep if it shifted some of its F-35 investment dollars toward upgrades to F-16s.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • Lance

    Doing the same to F-15Cs too adding helmet missile guidance and new radars.

  • Joakim

    Truth is: F-15C and F-16C are better weapons systems than F-22 and F-35. More flexible platforms, and with new sensor suites and avionics they offer comparable capability at a fraction of the cost relative to F-22 and F-35.

  • Raraavis

    What the US needs is a cheap to build and cheap to fly long range light bomber with no bells and whistles that can be used in low threat environments that doesn’t require a 200 million dollar stealth plane.

  • Sev

    How about a sudden surprise attack on the enemy without warning so we can end the war before it even starts. WHy alert the enemy of our plans? Send in UAV “Kamikaze” drones to soack up their missile defenses and then use some long range munitions to take out remaining surface threats and then send in our squadrons to bomb the piss out of them

    • Brandon

      Yea they want that capability but it will never be used. Politics and the U.N. will cry and moan all day long if we did such to Iran or North Korea despite having dealt with them in the U.N. for a the last score of years…

  • TonyC

    The F-16 is a good fighter and should be kept in service as long as possible.
    The bench mark for potential adversaries of the US is the F-16’s agility, not the F-15 as would be expected. There is liited space for avionics upgrades in a small airframe, it will be intersting to see how Lockheed Martin shoehorns an AESA radar
    in that nose?

  • Nicky

    I think the USAF should just upgrade the F-15 to Silent Eagle and upgrade the F-16 to block 60 standard.

    • tiger

      That does little for other users of the F-35. Nor does it keep contractors & subs as busy as a new airframe does. You missing the bigger picture here.

    • utley

      An F-16 Blk60? 85 million bucks a pop. Might as well buy another F-35 at that price…

  • Chops

    So lets see,we pay 100 mil per copy more for each LM F35 and we also pay LM to upgrade 300 F16s because the F35 program is way behind schedule and way ove budget.What’s wrong with this picture, or is it just my imagination that LM is giving the American taxpayer a real working over?

  • Musson

    3 women were sitting around drinking coffee and talking about their love live. Woman #1 says, ‘Girls, my husband is a weight lifter. And, when we make love he is so powerful that it drives me crazy!” Woman #2 says, “My husband is a marathon runner. When we make love, he has such stamina that it is terrific.” They both look over to woman #3 for a comment.

    “Well,” she says. “My husband is lead engineer for the F-35 fighter program. We haven’t actually made love yet. But, when we finally do – he says it’s going to be incredible!”

    • Red

      That’s not really a fair analogy. It’s not like this is Lockheed’s first fighter; they’ve made plenty of aircraft before and this is a new and complicated project.

    • One said my husband is a butcher. He has this game we play, called “Hide the Salami”.

  • YourMom

    If the US wants ti have the ULTIMATE and unchallenged Air power:, they have to:
    1) Buy at least 220 more F-22’s, and upgrade them all with the current set upgrades [increment 3.1, 3.2 (A and B) and 3.3], and add to that a new helmet system.. preferable the one used on the F-35.. oh and add the F-35’s EODAS as well. Filled with amazing sensors
    2)Upgrade all F-15s to Silent Eagle.
    3)Upgrade all F/A-18 to Super Hornet Block 3. Ohh and add more EA-18’s.
    4)Upgraded all F-16s to the newest pack, F-16V?
    5)Upgrade all A-10’s to an even newer level.
    6) Kill the F-35. Use the F-35 as a prototype, and make the other jets stronger.

    • tiger

      Till Will Smith has to fight space ships next July 4th, Challenged by what? It’s not 1940. Hell, its not even 1962. Folks in New Orleans, need protection from flood waters, not MiG’s. We need to solve problems by talking rather than bullets.

      Not turning hippie, just practical.

    • ghostwhowalks

      The Chinese are happy to lend the US the money to pay for it.
      Sounds like you are following the 1930 French strategy for winning the next war

    • Sean

      Finally someone who has a clue. couldn’t have said it better.

    • Red

      I agree with all this, except the part about canceling the F-35.

    • Chuck

      F-35 is already in production, killing it now would have wasted all the money to produce all the aircraft already produced and bought. We have already procured nearly 100 aircraft. We are also buying them at a rate of 30 a year, and that should increase significantly in the next few years. What you suggest is to stop the F-16 program for upgraded F-4s just as the F-16s were entering mass production. Besides, the F-35 has considerably more upgrade potential, than the F-16s. If you want to upgrade the F-16, just consider the amount of obsolete electronics that you would have to deal with. Remember, the F-16s were designed inthe 70s.

    • HeavyArrow

      You know how much that will cost?
      With all of the people harping about costs of programs, upgrading everything to the standard that you are proposing would be insane.
      Upgrading older aircraft costs quite a bit of money you see.

    • blight_

      “Kill the F-35” is the same logic that froze us at 187 F-22’s and 20 B-2’s (though to be fair, the Soviets did disappear, so who are you going to throw masses of stealth bombers at? Or stealthed ALCMs?)

  • Warren

    Are chaff / flares useless? It seems to me that they are cheaper than a $150 million stealth airplane. It seems like we could put $150 million in R&D into chaff/flares that would fool any missile and then we don’t need stealth at all. Granted, I’m speaking as an outsider here, but we really can’t come up with some kind of cheap decoy that all non-stealth planes can use, rendering stealth unnecessary?

  • seeker6079

    Right now, a group of senior USAF generals are grasping this release with trembling fingers. They are thinking back to a week-long drunken debauch, a carouse of epic proportions. They are speaking with raspy voices and staring with red-rimmed eyes, and they are all having the same thought:
    “Wait. We decided to spend a reasonable amount of money to upgrade and extend a proven, effective and admired weapons system? Jeeeezus, just how blitzed WERE we?”

  • TimUK

    The whole F22 doctrine is now flawed. Too few jets , large infra-red signature , Aesa will have far less aspect then the one to be fitted to the Typhoon, Stealth covering means it can never maintain maximum stealth in high temp operations, no IRST, and a missile that is unreliable at high altitudes.

    For the F22 to be effective it needs a high missile kill ratio and to remain undetected and also be in enough numbers to counter a much larger force.

    Lockheed and the USAF have weakened the air dominance of the US by a huge margin.

    • Praetorian

      Sure, the Typhoon cant even beat the Rafael according to Indian pilots. Lost to the F-35 in Japan, lost to F-15K twice in Korea. And the AESA radar ( CAPTOR ) wont be deployed until 2015.

      ” Aesa will have far less aspect then the one to be fitted to the Typhoon ”

      What do you mean ” will have ” far less. The AN / APG-77 is installed on 187 F-22’s
      and the Typhoon still has a M-scan radar and still uses the same missiles as the F-22. The MBDA Meteor will be an upgrade on the trenche 3’s right ?

      Pratt & Whitney says this about thier F119 engine :
      ” featuring the latest single-crystal superalloy blades and advanced cooling technologies ” Large infra-red signature my a$$.

      You are right, when the CAPTOR E – is installed – will have a larger aspect then current AESA radars. Until then your stuck with the M-scan.

    • Chuck

      No, Congress and the administrations have done that. The F-22 should have been continued at a lean production rate designed to allow upgrades to the fighter, and to allow it to fight with UAVs in support.

    • banzai

      The comment, “Stealth covering means it can never maintain maximum stealth in high temp operations” is flat wrong.

    • So many falsehoods it is hard to know where to start.

  • BlackOwl18E

    The USAF is losing faith in the F-35A fulfilling their needs and the automatic $500 billion defense budget cuts have clouded the future of the JSF. The F-22 is great but it’s also unsafe and wasn’t built in enough numbers to be effective. F-16s and F-15s are still going to do the main work and will continue to serve the USAF for more decades to come.

    The US Navy was the first of the services to start seeing the flaws of the JSF. They should cancel the F-35C and just buy more Super Hornets as well as the Block III upgrades. Silent Hornets would be nearly just as good as F-35s in performance, but are considerably much cheaper to produce, acquire, and operate over the long term.

  • Mitchell Fuller

    The AF is putting itself out of the flying business by the poor weapons platform decisions it has made with the F22 and the F35. I looked up the fighter strength of AF over last 10 years and it has fallen significantly

    Upgrade the existing fighter platforms (as other commentators have written) and look at licensing the Gripen NG as a replacement for F-16 in future. Cancel F 35 program and use money to get fighter numbers back up. You still have to have quantity with quality in the defense environment

    • William C.

      Replace the F-16 with an even smaller airframe that has less thrust to work with? Despite the focus on the strike mission? Gee, great thinking there.

      • BlackOwl18E

        The Gripen NG is actually going to be better than the F-16 at many other things like short field take off, maintainability, and it has very good range for a fighter its size. It features a lot of radar-signature reduction features and makes extensive use of composite materials for a low radar cross section. It packs plenty of precision guided firepower. Along with that it uses a version of the proven F414 engine from the Super Hornet.

        The really cool thing about the Gripen is its rugged airfield capability. The Gripen’s short field take off performance allows it to land on almost any kind of road. Using only a couple of trucks, Swedish air crews were able to train how to provide fuel, weapons, and basic maintenance to Gripens in ordinary city streets within the time span of a matter of minutes. They were extremely paranoid over the idea of the Russians taking out all their airfields and developed this method to keep in the air. The Gripen NG is a superb aircraft and I think it would serve us well. The only reason I’m opposed to buying such an aircraft is that it is not American-made and I want to keep jobs here in the US. I often wonder if crews that operate with the Super Hornet, which also has good rugged air field performance, could be trained to do the same thing that the Sweds do with the Gripen.

    • Nicky

      The Gripen NG is a nice bird, but it is not the kind the US Air force wants. A Gripen NG is more suited for Small to Medium sized countries that want a Multi Role Fighter. They don’t want a high end fighter like the F-16 or SU-27. A Gripen NG would be more suited for countries like the Philippines, Thailand, South Africa New Zealand and even countries like Taiwan, or Mexico. A Gripen NG is a Multi Role fighter that would be suited for countries who don’t want a big air force, but want a sizable and manageable air force

      • Guest


        I totally agree with your explanation. Small fighters with low capability are more suited for Small to Medium sized European, some Asian/South American countries that want a Multi Role Fighter. Indeed, the Gripen NG is a aircraft that would be suited for countries who don’t want a big air force, but want a sizable and manageable air force.

        Another reason why small airframes are ideal for those countries is because they are surrounded by the small vast land areas and their range is not important for the requirements and also the fact is that European/Asian/South American nations have more surrounding air bases when the aircraft has an engine failure or hydraulic problems that can make an emergency landings which are ideal for short range fighters with either single or two engines.

  • mi1400

    US sattelites pick ballistic missile launch hundreds of miles away using IR sensors… granted F22 can dump heat in fuel tansk etc etc but when an F22 enters danger zone the advanced IR sensors can make F22 uy pee in his pants because not only he doesnt know how many IRs are trying to catch him from ground… because above all its/IR is passive tracking too unlike radar alerting pilot of locks.

  • Josh

    Gotta love the Lockheed business model… just in case the F35 is further delayed, the USAF gives them a big fat contract to upgrade the Vipers. Win-win.

    • tiger

      Sounds like LM is a better Stock buy than Facebook will ever be…..

  • Ron

    Northrop Grumman Help!!!bring back the YF23 from moth balled!!!

    • tiger

      The world does need a new “Cat” plane in the sky.

      • Ron

        You must not care about your tax money, Northrop is tested and proven. Had the Gov. went with Northrop instead of Lockheed we wouldn’t be in this predicament.

        • Praetorian

          Ron, I think you missed what tiger was trying to say :
          Grumman built the
          F4F Wildcat
          F6F Hellcat
          F7F Tigercat
          F8F Bearcat
          F-14 Tomcat
          Also the F9F Panther

    • Jason

      Best fighter ever designed. Thrown away for politics.

  • The Teen Series (F-15,16 and 18) are deaded than Elvis now that the Russians are selling their S-300 and S-400 SAMs. Give me a Table VIII certified PAC-3 crew and I could shoot down any upgraded F-16 ,F-18 or Silent Eagle.

    Why did China build the J-20? Enough stealth to defeat AEGIS and Patriot. And challenge the F-16’s in the pacific. Take those out and they own the sea.

    It’s only a matter of time until the Chinese and Russian SAM’s wind up in the hands of countries that hate us.

    Pundits during the cold war kept saying “Make cheaper aircraft, less high tech.” Then Desert Storm happened. Low tech aircraft died by the dozens. Pwnd by American air power.

    I’m a 14E, in Air Defense we study these things. The USAF needs a stop gap until the F-35 comes on line. It’s PASSING its goals. It’s FLYING. Only 300 upgraded F-16s? Yeah the Air Force is just making do. Nothing can stop the advance of metal fatigue.

    “F-16’s life expectancy tops out at 8,000 flight hours. A SLEP upgrade could extend those life spans an additional 2,000 to 4,000 flight hours.”

    Just long enough to get taken out by the newer SAMs.

    • Chops

      Too bad no one has ever devoloped an anti air countermeasure like submarines have–seed the area being attacked with something similar to sonobuoy sized decoys that have a heat and radar signature similar to a fighter or light bomber–they can only have a limited number of top line AA missiles to throw at these things I would guess.

    • The F-16s after upgrade will be great unmanned targets for the first day of the war, a replacement for the NGC Chukars used in Desert Storm.

  • Pappa51

    The future of the AF is UCAV. Unless they are going to turn the F-16’s into Drones; this is all academic. I’d bet that the F-35 will be the last of the manned fighter/bombers. Wish it wasn’t so. . .

  • Tim Uk

    The fact is the JSF has been warped way beyond its original goals due to the failure of the F22 program. Which has left the US with a way too expensive and tech laden plane. It can barely afford never mind it’s allies.

    The US share of foreign weapon sales has collapsed over the last twenty years because the weapons are too expensive allowing foreign competitors in and increased proliferation.

    A terrible error for Foreign and Strategic policy and ultimately self defeating.

  • tony cabato

    just cancel all the legacy fighter & buy more F-22A raptor with software 3.3 version of another 600 more for the air-force, 500 forward swept wing variant 500 F-35B ,

    • Tiger

      Well when you write out a check, the Uncle Sam might think about it.

  • Red

    I have a question: Is it possible for the government to penalize a defense contractor that has cost overruns and delays, by disqualifying that contractor from winning, say, any defense contracts for several years?

    That would send a message.

  • Noj

    The P8 modified to carry 55 SDB’s would be great for low intensity and BVR engagements. If it could carry 4 Tomahawk’s, even better. Kill and replace JSF with F-18E/F and P8’s. Having these would reduce the flight hours per year of the current “real” bomber fleet quite a bit. While I’m off in fantasy land, a pair of Patriot Pac 3’s to keep curious fighters at arms length.

    Assuming the 325 billion earmarked for the JSF gets cut to 150 billion I would split the money as follows.
    46 billion for 200 bomber versions of the P8 (230 million with new weapons bay and IRST)
    104 billion for 1552 F-18E’s

    Compare that to 1200 F-35’s and it seems silly to keep the program.

    Even a restart of the F-22 line, could yield 1 “B” P8’s, 7 F-22’s and 20 F-18E’s for every 24 F-35’s.

  • 355TFSAMU

    The F-35 program seems like a pig. I think we need the F-35s but, geeze.. What’s up with getting them on-line. Bureaucracy? Is that the issue? We have to compete against Russia and China who are both quickly outpacing us. If we decide we don’t want to compete anymore then teach your kids to appreciate vodka and chop sticks, oh and no freedom.

  • freedom fighter

    you all should be charged for espionage

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      I ran the above through Google Translate, the updated version with the Troll – English translation feature, and it still came out as gibberish. And not even funny gibberish at that.

      Please try harder next time.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

  • hugh

    cx F35s, xfer AF tactical mission to land/sea capable Navy. AF would have bomber and cargo mission. save many dollars.

  • hugh

    sole source to lockheed? more cost overuns and delays

  • justme

    ahhh .. outsource .. that is the answer …. India, Japan, China … anything is possible

  • Billy the Boomer

    Fighters are fun! Bombers and Tankers make policy.

    • Tiger

      Lt. Jake Grafton: “Fighter pukes make movies. Bomber pilots make… HISTORY!””

      Quote From “Flight of the Intruder”

  • USAvenger

    US has to start thinking abt how to deal with china. china is gg to have lots of cheap planes, or even convert their old J6, J7 and even J8 into drones for kamikazi attacks. or use them as baits. can the expensive and few F22 n F35 afford to be overwhelmed by these cheap planes? like wat the Iran strategy, these countries use large and cheap weapon system to overwhelm the expensive and few US system. they r gg to overwhelm US carriers with 100s of cheap missiles n suicide boats. a few getting through is good enough for them.

    In addition, as US starts a arm race with china, it cant afford to be brought down by expensive n ineffective weapon systems. n with the state of the US economy, it will be very taxing for US. US has to be innovative enough to produce efficient n cheap systems. if not, china is gg to win the arm race with their cheaper n larger number of weapon systems. is all abt productivity!

    cyberwar is another big issue..given today’s environment, cyberwar could be the first to go. with all the cyberwar happening behind the media, n under the surface of smiling politicians on the newspaper. n it is cheap, china is aggressively building up their cyberwar, together with their SOE selling cheap trojan electronic equipments to the US n other countries. if the US lost the first round of cyberwar, it could lead to devastating lost of weapon systems n hardware. especially at the critical time of the war.

    Please be prepared!

  • Air

    Fact is stealth is required for a survivable air-frame in the 21st century. Problem is not with beating other air-frames in air to air encounters but with surface to air batteries or SAMs.

  • Deltadagger

    People–people— start the B-1 Lancer bomber system up the US AIR FORCE has 68 B-1B on Alert duty today the F-35 is a joke


    What the AF and all branches of our miltary needs to do is grow a pair, cut through all rules of engagement and all the other B.S. our well trained and willing men and women are forced to follow and use what we allready have and get the job done. Oh quit selling or giving our technolgy to other countries. Ed F. retired AF



  • Freeman

    Nature of combat is changed significantly since the cold war. SAMs have improved tremendously, on range missiles and precision ordinance has come to the point, fighter planes would not have significant role in future war. These things can work well for US Air force,
    1.Upgrade existing fleet of F-16s and others.
    2.Improve long range missiles to take out enemy targets.
    3.Improve radar capabilities to identify and destroy intruding aircrafts.
    4.Invest more money on drones program rather than F-35 like fighters.

    End of the day, fighter planes and technology would not make much difference for American Air Force in the technological backdrop of China and others. Spending more to develop expansive programs like F-35 would not justify the cost or capabilities to counter future threats. It’s the culture, trading of men, focus on radars development, bvr systems, long range but cost effective non nuclear missiles, and drones program.

  • Zspoiler

    Why don`t they build F-16 XL with upgrades.

  • Viper jet 16

    The f-16 is a very good jet fighter. But they are replaced by f-22,f-35,t-50 and other fifth generation jets.We can upgrade it with advanced radar targeting systems and stealth technology, a upgrade for speed mach 2.8 to intercept enemy jets and a delta wing like f-16xl and then it would become a fifth or sixth generation high tech jet fighter.

  • William

    The old F15 and F16 jets should be kept flying as long as possible, right up to the point where their engines explode or their wings rip off. At that point the pilot simply ejects to safety. After all, that’s what ejection seats are for. This way, you know that you are pushing the planes right up to their maximum lifespan. I do that with my cars, I drive them right up to the point where the engine fails or the tires become bald (or they blow out even though they are not yet bald. )