Feb 2, 2012
WASHINGTON By Jim Wolf
(Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force said Thursday it plans a $2.8 billion upgrade of about 350 of its aging F-16 multi-role fighter planes to help offset slower purchases of the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The work, running into the 2020s, will extend the service life of select F-16 airframes. Other upgrades include advanced radar, sensors, cockpit display, electronic warfare and communications capabilities, the service said.
"We have worked through the implications of the delays in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program," Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told the Air Force Association earlier in the day. "And we have made a further commitment this year to modernize about 350 F-16s in the fleet going forward."
Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman, said the upgraded F-16s would receive active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Northrop Grumman Corp and Raytheon Co build rival systems and are likely to compete for the work.
"Overall, the program will run into the 2020s and have an estimated total cost of $2.8 billion," Stefanek said in an emailed reply to queries from Reuters about Donley's remarks.
The Air Force will pick the "best of the fleet" to undergo the modernization for later-model Block 50 and some Block 40 F-16s, Stefanek said. The program is "scalable" based on the service's fighter needs, she added.
The Air Force has just over 1,000 F-16s in its current inventory, of which about 640 are Block 40/50s, distributed among active, Guard and Reserve components. None has yet undergone the structural "service life extension program" or capability upgrades now planned, the service said.
Lockheed Martin Corp builds both the F-16 and three versions of the radar-evading F-35, which is in low-rate initial production in a program co-financed by the United States and eight partner nations.