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The U.S. Air Force recently authorized extending the service life of the Lockheed Martin F-16's designed service life to 12,000 Equivalent Flight Hours — far beyond the aircraft's original design service life of 8,000 hours.

An F-16 undergoes durability testing in Lockheed Martin's Full Scale Durability Test facility in Fort Worth, Texas. (Lockheed Martin photo)

Following F-16 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) structural modifications, the U.S. Air Force could safely operate Block 40-52 aircraft to 2048 and beyond. The Air Force and Lockheed Martin also reduced projected service life costs for the Block 40-52 fleet, paving the way for safe, cost-effective F-16 flight operations decades into the future.

“This accomplishment is the result of more than seven years of test, development, design, analysis and partnership between the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin,” said Susan Ouzts, vice president of Lockheed Martin's F-16 program. “Combined with F-16 avionics modernization programs like the F-16V, SLEP modifications demonstrate that the Fighting Falcon remains a highly capable and affordable 4th Generation option for the U.S. Air Force and international F-16 customers.”

Validation of the extended flight hour limit directly supports the SLEP goal of extending the service life of up to 300 F-16C/D Block 40-52 aircraft. SLEP and related avionics upgrades to the Air Force's F-16C/D fleet can safely and effectively augment the current fighter force structure as U.S. and allied combat air fleets recapitalize with F-35 Lightning IIs.

A second phase, or Part II, of the F-16 SLEP airworthiness process continues with the request for Military Type Certificate (MTC), which will be submitted to the Air Force's Technical Airworthiness Authority in the coming months. Part II seeks to validate further extending the F-16's operational life based on final service life analysis from extended durability testing.

Developed by General Dynamics and introduced into service by the U.S. Air Force in 1978, the F-16 continues to prove itself as the world's most successful, combat-proven multi-role fighter aircraft, having served with 28 customers around the world. The F-16V, the latest F-16 avionics upgrade configuration, includes numerous enhancements designed to keep the F-16 at the forefront of international security. The F-16 Block 70/72, the newest and most advanced F-16 production configuration, combines capability and structural upgrades, as well as Northrop Grumman's advanced APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar that delivers greater situational awareness, flexibility and quicker all-weather targeting. The APG-83 provides pilots with unprecedented target area detail and digital map displays that can be tailored with slew and zoom features.

The U.S. Air Force also recently announced that the APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) has been selected as the active electronically scanned array (AESA) for a planned radar upgrade on 72 U.S. Air National Guard F-16s to meet a U.S. Northern Command Joint Emergent Operational Need for homeland defense. The greater bandwidth, speed, and agility of Northrop Grumman's APG-83 SABR enables the F-16 to detect, track and identify greater numbers of targets faster and at longer ranges. In addition, the radar can operate in hostile electronic environments and features all-weather, high-resolution synthetic aperture radar mapping, which presents the pilot with a large surface image enabling precision target identification and strike.

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Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the August, 2017 issue of Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine.

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