US F-16 Jet Fighter to Fly and Fight until 2048
The U.S. Air Force has finally moved forward with its long-delayed plans to upgrade its General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighter so this iconic aircraft that first flew in the 1970s can soldier on until 2048.
Some 300 F-16s will receive structural and avionics upgrades as part of a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP). Structural improvements to the jet will add at least 4,000 operating hours to their original life cycle of 8,000 air-hours. The upgrade will start in 2018.
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More important, however, will be modernizing the Fighting Falcon's avionics to include an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that allows simultaneous targeting of both air and ground targets. The radar deployed on the F-16C and D is a mechanically scanned array.
"Following F-16 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) structural modifications, the U.S. Air Force could safely operate (F-16C and D) Block 40-52 aircraft to 2048 and beyond," said Air Force officials in a statement.
The fighter entered service with the air force in 1978 and over 4,500 of these agile fighters have been built. The fighter is also in service or has seen service in 25 other countries.
Over the next four decades, the F-16 bore the brunt of the U.S. air campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, mainly in the ground attack role. It flew more than half of the 87,000 sorties flown against ISIS targets as of March.
It gained fame as an air superiority fighter, however, in the hands of pilots of the Israeli Air Force and the Pakistan Air Force. During the 1982 Lebanon War, Israeli pilots flying the F-16 were credited with 44 air-to-air victories. Pakistani F-16 fighter jocks shot down eight Soviet aircraft flying from Afghanistan during the period 1986 to 1989 during the Soviet-Afghan War.
The U.S. Air Force retains close to 1,200 F-16s in active service, or slightly more than half of the aircraft in its inventory.
It was back in 2012 when the air force approved plans to upgrade and extend the life of the 300 F-16s to retain the air force's combat strength in case the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter experienced more delays in the course of its development, which it did.
The plan called for upgrading the avionics with new radars and advanced software. Each F-16 was to receive AESA radar; a new Terma ALQ-213 electronic warfare system; an integrated broadcast system and a center display unit (CDU).