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Tue, Apr 06, 2010

USAF Looks At Extending F-16 Lifespan

Hedge Against Possible F-35 Delivery Delays

The U.S. Air Force has begun conducting structural stress assessments on its existing fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft in an effort to assess the feasibility of continuing to fly the jets for an additional 10 years. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norman Schwartz confirmed the action is underway as a hedge against the possible delay in the delivery of over 1,700 F-35 JSF aircraft.

In a speech to the Air Force Association, Schwartz said "I think it's pretty clear that our strategy is to pursue service-life extensions [SLEPs] to the extent that is affordable rather than purchase new generation four-and-a-half aircraft while we're working hard to bring on F-35," said Schwartz. "I do not think it is wise to dissipate the limited pool of resources available for F-35 by procuring less capable aircraft that will last as long" as the new generation fighters.

Defense News reports that some members of Congress think the Air Force should procure what are called 4.5 generation fighters (the JSF is considered a 5th generation fighter) to prevent what they see as a "fighter gap" between the end of the service life of the current fleet and the availability of the F-35's. Those in-between aircraft would be planes like the F-15 SE Silent Eagle or the Block 60 F-16.

Schwartz insists that it would not be prudent to spend limited procurement dollars on anything other than the 5th generation fighters. The Air Force plans to retire as many as 250 of the longest-serving F-15 and F-16 fighters, as well as a few A-10 Thunderbolts over the next five years for a cost savings of about $3.5 billion.



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