USAF Authorizes F-16 Life Extension

The Air Force is contracting with Lockheed Martin to extend the service life of the F-16 fleet, as it begins to grapple with the decision to possibly retire the F-15C in favor of the Viper for certain missions. Lockheed announced Wednesday that the service authorized a service life extension program focused on reaching 12,000 flight hours, beyond the F-16’s original design life of 8,000 hours. A successful SLEP could mean Block 40 and 52 aircraft could fly beyond 2048, Lockheed said in a news release. The program covers 300 aircraft, including avionic upgrades and durability testing. The company did not announce cost figures for the program. The announcement comes after Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott West, director of current operations, said the service is looking at retiring F-15Cs. The F-15C’s current mission of homeland defense would instead go to upgraded F-16s. Lt. Gen. Scott Nowland, the deputy chief of staff for operations, said Wednesday upgraded F-16s, once outfitted with active electronically scanned array radars, could takeover the mission, especially with help with F-22s. The F-15 has been a great airplane and shown its worth in air superiority missions, but is aging and the F-22 is better at that mission now, Nowland said. Multiple Air Force officials have stressed that the possibility of retiring the F-15s is “predecisional.”