USAF backs away from F-16 upgrades

written by australianaviation.com.au | February 4, 2014
An F-16C 'Aggressor' from Nellis SAFB heads out on a Red Flag sortie. The USAF looks to have backed away from plans to upgrade 300 of its F-16s.  (Defence)
An F-16C ‘Aggressor’ from Nellis AFB heads out on a Red Flag sortie. The USAF looks to have backed away from plans to upgrade 300 of its F-16s. (Defence)

The latest US Defence budget ‘omnibus’ planning document for FY15 has reportedly failed to allocate any money for an upgrade of some of the USAF’s F-16 fleet.

The previously touted combat avionics programmed extension suite (CAPES) would have seen about 300 late build F-16C/Ds upgraded with AESA radars, new weapons and other service life and capability enhancements as a hedging strategy until the delayed F-35A enters service in appreciable numbers next decade.

But instead, the FY15 budget has allocated additional funding to a continuation of the F-16 service life extension program (SLEP) which is aimed more the management of structural, obsolescence and configuration issues with the F-16 fleet.

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The decision has implications for US allied F-16 operators wishing to similarly upgrade their fleets, as some had hoped to acquire a similar capability with the savings realised from the economies of scale of the large US program. Countries like Singapore and Taiwan were reportedly waiting for a CAPES commitment by the USAF before embarking on their own programs. Ironically, the US had convinced Taiwan into doing a CAPES-like upgrade on its 146 F-16A/Bs instead of selling it 66 new build aircraft, reportedly in order to placate China. South Korea meanwhile has embarked on its own KF-16 upgrade program headed by BAE Systems and using Raytheon’s RACR AESA radar.

Singapore may also have to re-think its plans – as recently as January 14 the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) had informed Congress of a possible upgrade of 60 Singapore F-16C/Ds which would have included the addition of an AESA radar. But Singapore may be forced to look at the Korean upgrade model, or instead re-visit its previously stated position that it’s in “no hurry” to order the F-35.

The non-appearance of the CAPES funding neatly coincides with recent comments by the head of the USAF’s Air Combat Command, Gen Michael Hostage. Gen Hostage said he would “fight to the death” to preserve F-35 funding in the face of persistent pressure on the US defence budget. “If you gave me all the money I needed to refurbish the F-15 and the F-16 fleets, they would still become tactically obsolete by the middle of the next decade,” he told the Air Force Times on January 29. “I have to provide an Air Force that in the middle of the next decade has sufficient fifth-generation capability that whatever residual fourth-generation capability I still have is viable and tactically useful. I am willing to trade the refurbishment of the fourth gen to ensure that I continue to get that fifth-gen capability.”

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