Stretching F-16 Service Life

The Air Force’s Fiscal 2013 budget request includes two life-extension programs for the service’s aging F-16 fighters to keep them viable until the F-35 strike fighter comes online in sufficient numbers to replace them. The Service Life Extension Program, or SLEP, will include “full-scale durability test and structural modifications to add eight to 10 years of service life to each airframe,” according to USAF’s budget overview, released Monday. The Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite, known as CAPES, will add an AESA radar and new cockpit display, along with data link enhancements and an improved defensive suite, to a substantial portion of the F-16s receiving the SLEP. Air Force headquarters spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy told the Daily Report that the notional plans call for awarding the first contract for 30 SLEP kits in March 2016, followed by a second contract for 48 kits in January 2017. She said the SLEP is meant to be “a depot-level upgrade program.” Earlier this month, the Air Force announced that it would upgrade approximately 350 legacy F-16s as part of these life extensions. The first SLEP-equipped F-16s are slated to join the fleet in 2017, followed by CAPES-enhanced airplanes the following year.