In light of delays with the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. Air Force is set to begin looking at which of its newer F-16s will receive structural refurbishments, avionics updates, sensor upgrades or all three, the service's top requirements officer said today.
The service has already begun discussing "how to move the old [tactical fighter] fleet to the right" to keep them flying until the JSF comes online, Lt. Gen. Philip Breedlove, chief of Air Force operations, plans and requirements, told reporters today at a Defense Writers Group breakfast.
"We're not going to do a blanket upgrade," Breedlove said. Instead, the service will inspect its Block 40 and 50 F-16s "on an almost tail by tail basis" to decide what structural refurbishments the jets will need along with which planes will get communications, navigation and even radar updates, the three-star said. "Almost all" of the planes will need at least some structural modifications to keep them flying to their "economic service lives," he noted.
The service will decide on how to upgrade the individual planes based on the type of missions they are slated to fly and how much service life is left on their airframes. For example, F-16s used to patrol domestic airspace under the Operation Nobel Eagle mission may not receive the same updates as jets that are used for expeditionary missions which could require "more sophisticated" upgrades, said Breedlove.
The Air Force has already made decisions on which structural modifications are needed for the Block 30 and earlier model F-16s, according to the general.
The service has long discussed the possibility of upgrading the its F-16s and F-15s -- many of which were set to be retired in the coming decade, especially those in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve fleets -- in order to keep them flying longer than planned in the wake of reduced F-22 Raptor buy and a delayed F-35 program.