The U.S. Air Force plans to upgrade more than 300 and potentially additional to fill the gap caused by delays to the Joint Strike Fighter program.
The service shortly will announce plans to extend the service life and upgrade the avionics on 300-350 late-model Block 40 and 50 F-16s, Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, told Congress last week.
The structural and avionics upgrades are projected to cost $9.4 million per aircraft, he said. Extending airframe life to 10,000 hr. from 8,000 will add about eight years of service life and extend the capability of the F-16 fleet to 2030.
The service life extension is required because of delays in developing and fielding the F-35. Initial operational capability (IOC) of the Air Force’s F-35A variant was planned for 2018 but has slipped by about two years, Carlisle said.
The new IOC date will be determined once an updated F-35 integrated master schedule is completed. This is expected “fairly shortly,” Carlisle said. Built on a technical baseline review that extended JSF development by two years, the new schedule will detail how the F-35 will be fielded to replace F-16s and other aircraft in the active Air Force, Air National Guard and Reserve.
Although the Air Force has enough Block 40 and 50 F-16s to upgrade as many as 600 aircraft to cover any fighter shortfall should there be further F-35 delays, “we do not believe we will have to go there,” Carlisle said.
The Air Force is already upgrading 176 F-15C/Ds to operate through at least 2025 and fill the gap left by termination ofproduction after 187 aircraft. “We may extend ‘long-term’ status to the entire 250-aircraft inventory based on requirements of the future force structure,” Carlisle testified.
The F-15s are receiving active, electronically scanned array radars, and bothand have responded to a prior Air Force requests for information to install similar high-performance radars in the F-16.