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.